Rebuilding his career after nine years in jail, Jah Cure is making his best music ever.
John Masouri takes his medicine.
After resisting the temptation to travel all the way to Paris for a 15-minute interview, I caught up with Jah Cure on the phone as he relaxed with a Polish family he’d just met, and who’d invited him to stay with them for the weekend whilst he awaited a flight back to Jamaica.
Yes really. The artist currently sitting at No. 1 on the Billboard reggae charts is quite a character, and unafraid to trust his own judgment about what’s best for him and his career, which may explain why his latest album – called simply The Cure – is so outstanding.
The 37-year-old singer is now the finished article, and unwilling to dance to anyone else’s tune – least of all record companies looking to exploit the most original vocal style to emerge from Jamaica since the late Garnett Silk. The Cure is already many people’s Reggae Album Of The Year, and breathtaking in its range and quality. It’s a masterful demonstration of how reggae music can continue to evolve whilst assimilating other influences, and it’s well balanced, too, in terms of reality and lovers material. Cure financed the project himself and, in his own words, “dedicated his heart to it.”
“The sessions usually happen after I come back to Jamaica from tour with money in my pockets. One time I used to buy fancy clothes and this and that. Now I’m telling myself that I don’t need a car or a house, but a great album. I knew that I’d never get back the money I spent on it, but I feel good knowing these songs will live on for other generations.”
This much is true, but expectations were running high after the success of his last album World Cry and Cure knew it.
“That is the album I was competing with, because you know why? I was treated so bad by the people I made it for – people who know nothing about music and never even give me a physical copy. They cut me off with no communication, then they just put it out without telling me. Can you imagine? It was such a good album, and yet it never reach too far outside the box like it should have done.
“It’s a sad story and I didn’t get any of my rights for those songs either. The whole thing hurt me so much I cried tears, but it make me more determined as well, so if you buy a hard copy of The Cure, you can read where I say, ‘Thank you so much Mr. Cecil Barker for inspiring me to make this album.’ The way he treat me, it make me want to produce hit after hit, and I tell myself that I will never, ever sing another album for anybody again in my life.
“That’s when I decided to make an album for myself and if it wasn’t better than World Cry then I was going to be so ashamed, and I would have to go back in the studio and remake it until I achieve what I set out to do.”
It’s not always easy for artists to take charge of their own sessions, and yet the role of producer clearly suits him.
“It’s so much fun I can’t tell you,” he says. “People think it’s hard, but no, it can never be hard. When you’re passionate about what you’re doing and working with good people, then it can only be a joy, trust me.”
All 13 tracks fly the Iyah Cure banner, but were produced with help from leading Jamaican session musicians such as Dean Fraser, Clive Hunt and Llamar “Riff Raff” Brown, who’s also played on albums by Stephen and Damian Marley, Busy Signal and Morgan Heritage. Riff Raff co-produced several tracks on The Cure, including a cover of John Legend’s All Of Me that Cure has now made his own.
“I’ve never heard anything from the John Legend camp, but I’ve heard from the world and people are telling me they love my version more than his,” he says, laughing. “That was a tester to see if I could produce for myself. I went into the studio with the lyrics written down thinking we were doing a test vocal, but the lines I sing on it were so sweet I didn’t have to repeat or go back, and it just take the song to a new place.”
Riff Raff also co-produced the steppers track Stay With Me and Rasta – a former single that’s now been remixed using a live rhythm, as opposed to programmed beats. Most impressive of all is Corruption, which finds Cure decrying “the greatest enemy known to man.” The sound he gets on this track is reminiscent of the heavy, gully bank anthems Junior Reid used to record before joining Black Uhuru. Cure even works in a little of Reid’s distinctive sing-jay style on a track that’s tailor-made for reggae sound-systems.
“Junior Reid has one of the roughest original sounds coming out of Jamaica. He’s a friend of mine and he loves Jah Cure. Junior Reid was singing Free Jah Cure everywhere he went when I was in jail. He respects me, and the man sing on some of the biggest hits in reggae history, like One Blood. Junior Reid produce that, and this is why I have to take a step towards those guys.”
Since he’s mentioned it, let’s just take a minute to recap on his past a little. Cure – real name Siccature Alcock – is from Montego Bay and voiced his breakthrough hits for Beres Hammond in the mid-nineties, at a time when Sizzla and Capleton were at the height of their popularity. Like them [and also Junior Reid], Jah Cure was a Bobo Ashanti, who wore his dreadlocks in a turban and took his religious beliefs seriously. Soul poured from every note he uttered, which made it even harder to understand when he was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to a lengthy jail sentence after being found guilty of rape, robbery and possession of an illegal firearm. Cure continued to maintain his innocence from his cell and also to make hits like True Reflection, which remains one of his signature tunes. After nine years in prison he was finally released in 2008, whereupon he’s toured extensively throughout Europe and the Caribbean. Whatever your thoughts about the charges leveled against him, the victims or the hero’s welcome he got after walking free, Cure served his time and deserved the chance to make a fresh start – yet he was disqualified from the MOBO Awards in 2011 and the British authorities still won’t let him into the country.
“It’s been a lot of years, so that should be enough for them,” he reasons. “I’ve done my time and in the years since I’ve been released I’ve played on many big shows, made some hits and the people love me, so what else am I supposed to do? I’m not living a life that’s illegal in any way, but how long will it take them to notice that? Because I’ve just made my third attempt, and I still get turned down. That’s where Life We Live comes from. I tell myself not to care but then when I finish writing the song, I see that it’s all about the disappointments surrounding my case.
“When I eventually get to England, I’m going to sing my heart out man. I need a house there. I want to spend some time in England, just like Dennis Brown and the rest of the reggae legends.”
I Surrender is another track containing thinly veiled references to his visa problems. “I’m a good man and I do the best I can,” he sings. “Look what I’ve been through. Paid my dues times two. What do they want me to do?” The emotion in his voice is killing, whilst Life We Live describes how “every time you take one step, something pulls you back.”
The new album has its darker moments, but songs like those don’t tell the full story by any means. Tracks co-produced with Christopher “Sketch” Carey have a lighter side to them and especially love songs like Set Me Free, which is full of catchy melodies. Other Half Of Me was inspired by his wife and mentions sipping tea by the fireside – lyrics that you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with a Jamaican artist, whilst Sketch also worked on Made In California, which is a herb song, but could easily be mistaken for something more romantic. The production on that track has a touch of dub-step about it. It’s the product of some progressive thinking, just like Still Remains or the opening No Friend Of Mine, co-produced with Justin Nation. Cure describes him as “a genius,” and “a little white kid I met in Antigua.”
“He’s had a rough life and a rough history, but he has some cool songs with some weird chords and that’s what I’m into. I want to try out some unusual sounds. I’m not just talking about reggae. I want to make music, and I’m so serious about this. In my country where reggae was born, there’s a big problem going on because you find people from all over the world will come and make some reggae that’s better than us. It’s like we get carried away, and think we can have good production without spending any money. Everybody is doing things on the cheap and nobody wants to give work to musicians like Clive Hunt, Nambo, Dean Fraser or Robbie Lyn anymore but I really rate them man, so I just call them up. I want to put them to use before they grow old and die because they are legends, and I want to involve them with my work every chance I get.”
Clive Hunt has also brought his old school mastery to bear on albums by Etana and Duane Stephenson of late. He first worked with Cure on That Girl which may date from a couple of years back, but still has the potential to go mainstream.
“After I wrote that song I said, ‘Clive, I’m going to give you some work. I notice these young producers aren’t calling you because everybody’s doing digital rhythms and think they can produce, but that’s not how it goes.’ People worldwide, who know good production, they can’t be fooled,” he continues. “They know the difference between good and bad, and that’s why we can’t keep short-changing them. We have to set the trend and then when they see the goodness, they will follow but this is just a test to show people what I can do and then in future, it’s going to get even better, I promise you. I’m going to mix it up and create a different fusion. You’re going to be hearing some hard reggae, but with some smooth topics. I’m just sharing some crazy ideas that are flying around in my head but it’s not going to be a hundred percent harsh. It will be sweet, but not too sweet.”