Chuck Fenda "We resurrected culture music in dancehall"
by Written by Davina Hamilton
Reggae star Chuck Fenda on slowing down dancehall’s pace and bringing one-drop vibes back to the genre.
IT GOT to a stage where all the music in dancehall was just ah run like a racetrack.”
This observation from Chuck Fenda was what spurred the singjay (singer and deejay) to make his own foray into the world of reggae music.
Tired of the multitude of fast-paced tracks the genre was spawning, Fenda decided his music would be part of a movement that would put the focus back on slower, more spiritual music – like that of the reggae “elders” who came before him.
“The Fifth Element family – myself, Richie Spice, Anthony Cruz – we’re the ones who really resurrected culture music back into dancehall,” said Fenda, whose 2004 debut album Better Days was released through record label Fifth Element. “Before that, it was all fast paced music.
“That’s not to tek anything away from dancehall, but the culture music needs to be in dancehall,” continues the New York-born, Jamaica-raised artist. “It’s the heartbeat of the people and you can’t kill the sector of the music. Bob Marley, Burning Spear and all the elders before us set the template and we have to carry on that energy. So we really resurrected culture music; before that you never hear nuh one drop ah play in the dance in Jamaica. And the DJs didn’t want to play any one drop on their programmes – pure fast music dem ah play.
“So we decided to slow it down and touch people’s hearts with real messages. And people all over the world love reggae vibes right now. Rihanna, John Legend, all of them are feeling the reggae energy. That’s what people are crying for right now.”
Quickly finding favour with a host of hits including I Swear, Coming Over Tonight and the controversial track Gash Dem and Light Dem, Fenda’s ability to identify with those living in poverty and hardship earned him the moniker the ‘Poor People’s Defender.’
Explaining that he too was born in poverty, the 41-year-old, who recently released his new album Jah Elements, says he was determined to be the voice of the people.
“I come from the slum; from the ghetto. I had one khaki school uniform, so when I got home, it had to be washed and put on the line, ready to wear again the next day. So I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth – I had to work hard.
“I was from the ghetto and I had so many friends from the ghetto and I wanted to make a difference; to help people rise out of the ghetto,” explains the singer, who was raised in Spanish Town. “And when I did songs like I Swear and Gash Dem and Light Dem, yout’s came to me and told me, ‘Bwoy, Fenda, ah you mek mi put down mi gun and start think differently.’ That gave me the motivation to work harder because I realised my music really was making a difference.”
And unlike several Jamaican artists, who, for one reason or another, struggle to obtain visas to travel and perform overseas, Fenda is free to travel anywhere in the world.
Being born in America and owning a US passport has enabled the artist to have the freedom to travel overseas that so many other Jamaican artists long for. And while some might consider Fenda’s birthplace a stroke of geographical luck, the singer insists his path was “ordained.”
“My mother was in Jamaica and she got a 10-year visa, but when she arrived to America, she realised she was pregnant with me,” he says. “She had me in New York, but she was working and she couldn’t manage working and looking after me because she was young at the time. So she called her mother back in Jamaica and told her she couldn’t manage. She then took me back to Jamaica when I was six-weeks old, she returned to America, and it was my grandparents who raised me.”
Though Fenda says his mother hasn’t returned to Jamaica since leaving her young son with her parents – “we’ve spoken about three times on the phone,” he explains – the artist insists he has no hard feelings towards her.
“If she didn’t bring me back to Jamaica, you wouldn’t be speaking to me today. I can’t be angry with her because I believe it was ordained to be that way. I can go to any country in the world. A lot of Jamaican entertainers have their visas taken away or they can’t get visas and so they can’t got to certain countries. I can go anywhere in the world and sing Jah music. So it was ordained that I came into the earth that way.”
Fenda’s next performance destination is right here on our UK shores, as he’s amongst the impressive line-up of Reggae Salute. Taking place tonight (Sep 29) at the O2 Academy Brixton, the show will feature Fenda, alongside reggae stalwart Luciano, and other leading artists I Octane, Etana and Christopher Martin.
“I haven’t performed at Brixton Academy before, so I’m excited,” says Fenda. “There are a lot of artists on the bill and this is a special show, so everybody go and get your tickets. If you miss this show, you ah go miss one of the greatest shows to ever touch England!”
Jah Elements is out now, available on iTunes. Reggae Salute takes place at the O2 Academy Brixton, London SW9 today (Sep 29). Visit www.ticketweb.co.uk