Interview with a Lieutenant: Lt. Stitchie
Teacher, father, author, honorary doctor, singer, performer… there are few things that this man is NOT. Constantly on the move, the energetic Cleveland Laing aka Lt. Stitchie is currently touring Europe to spread his words of love, faith and wisdom. On the night of his kick-off show in Hamburg, Germany, Irie Ites was granted a short interview to gain some insights into motives and motivation of this exceptional artist. And as if that intense personal encounter wasn’t enough to digest, he completely blew away our crew during his performance in Brückenstern. A well-meant advice: make sure you experience Lt. Stitchie live!
Lt. Stitchie in Hamburg – welcome! Or Moin Moin, as we say…
The last time you performed here was 1993, right?
Well, I came to Hamburg on a minor scale in 2009, I think, but that was just an on-off event that we whipped up in about a week. A friend had a place here, so I just passed through to greet him. But officially, it was ’93 yes. I came with Franky Paul and The Mighty Diamonds and 809 Band. It was a very good show! And now it’s long overdue that I’m back. (laughs)
True. Today is your first show of the tour. What do you expect in the weeks to come?
I expect a lot of support – we are going to have jam-packed events! The reviews and responses that I got so far on the social media and from the booker, Jamlink International, it has been great, so I’m expecting real good events. And even if it’s not full, I appreciate everyone who comes out, whether it’s one or two or a thousand. I’m never motivated by numbers, I’m motivated by the message that I bring and the support of those who come to see me!
You just came from Jamaica yesterday, right? Where do you live?
I live in Mandeville. Now to come here, it’s very different because of the weather. But I’m well prepared, I’m all dressed up for it. I got the boots and all the gear to cope with the cold (laughs).
I guess your stay in Nigeria last year was much warmer. What did you do there?
I went to Nigeria because I did a tour. I’ve been many places, some names I can’t even remember. But I do remember Jos, Bauchi, Abuja and Lagos…. the full cross section of what Nigeria is. I had a great time, I was there for about 3 weeks. It was very productive and I did several different concerts there. In fact, it’s set for me to return this year November.
And did the people there know your music?
Yes, they knew my music and came to the shows because they knew who I was in the larger picture of Reggae. I also did a major media tour, I went to several TV stations: CBN, 700 Club, Premium… newspapers and magazines too, that kind of stuff. It was very productive on that side as well. So it set the platform and the foundation for the next level, because I was going there for the first time.
Are there any other countries that you would like to see in Africa?
I would love to go to Uganda, to Ghana and Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya.
And how did people who didn’t know you before respond to your lyrics, to your music?
It was well received because the message is always positive. It’s never one to condemn, but to enlighten and spread a message of Christ on a platform of love to all, regardless of your age, your colour, your class, your creed, you know, it’s for everyone. It’s well received on a much wider scale than it was before the transition because the message is one that is universal and it’s about the most powerful weapon that we have and that we seldomly use, which is love. So the message is all about that.
Dancehall is often seen critical because of its gun lyrics and focus on gangsters, booze and women. It is great to see this kind of movement to put Dancehall on another level, to show people it’s not only about slackness, but about conscious words as well.
That’s something I’ve been doing for years and years. The responses have been tremendous and people have been embracing it big time, and the platform is getting bigger and bigger. People are now understanding that the message doesn’t have to be of the ones you described, you know, it can be on a different page in a more positive light, and it still has the energy. It has an even greater energy!
Do you also get controversial reactions to your Reggae and Dancehall Gospels?
No, that’s not my experience. The way I present Christ and I present Yeshua Hamashiach is never on a religious or confrontational basis. In fact, the scripture states: If anyone thinks that he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. So, it’s not to push my belief on anyone, but to share the love that I receive from Christ, to share it with you, to say ‘Listen, I would love you to taste and see.’ If you do, you’ll experience what I’m experiencing or even greater. But if you don’t, it is not my responsibility to condemn you and to tear you down and to speak negatively of you!
I think that’s a very important attitude for the whole world, because this respect and tolerance for other forms of belief is really lacking. And I see it as a way out to our current problems and conflicts…
The way I see Christ, he was never about condemnation, he was always about redemption. So that is very important to me. If I am to convince you that I am making the right step, the best and only way is to show you love. Which other way there is? And the most powerful medium to get that across is music. Music is an international language! And especially Reggae music, it has always been about message, about messages. So therefore the message that I present is one of love.
Would you say that music is your main occupation? Do you do any thing besides?
Well, music is my life, music is who I am. I was a teacher of biology and physical education. But once you are a teacher, you are always a teacher. I’m not active in the school setting like I used to be before, but I’m a teacher using music as the medium and the stage as the classroom. I’m also an author; I published a book entitled The Power Of Determination (available on Amazon). That makes me the first Dancehall artist who has done this. Books have been written about others and people have been writing books for them, but actually sitting down and doing this, that’s a new level. Also, I’ve been conferred with an honourable Doctorate degree by the Cornerstone Christian University in Orlando, Florida. It’s because a collection of things I’ve been doing globally that have been affecting people’s lives in a positive way. It was their way of acknowledging the works that I’ve been doing over the years and my consistent contribution to the development of Reggae music globally. Going way back, I was the person who brought Dancehall music to Germany and to all of Europe, as early as 1989. At the same time the Berlin wall was been torn down and I was physically here to help do that.
Really? You have been here in that time?
Yes, I was in Berlin. I remember when we came to the border where the soldiers were. I was one of the first Dancehall artists to be signed to a major label, Atlantic Records, and to hit the Billboard charts as the first Dancehall artist as well with a song called ‘Dress To Impress’ from an album entitled The Governor.
And you worked with King Jammy’s for a few years as well. What did that collaboration mean to you?
I was introduced to King Jammy by Steely from the riddim twins Steely and Clevie. I did some of my early recordings with him, but it was King Jammy that brought out my first hit record, ‘Young Girl Wear Your Size’… that brought me international and it established me as a serious Dancehall artist.
Turning to the present, what works do you have upcoming?
Several. I have two albums being prepared to be released as we speak right now. One is with a record label called Flashhit Records from France. We have released a few singles, namely ‘War Path’ and ‘Letter To Dad’ and ‘Turn It Up’, these are the three singles. And ‘Emergency’, I’ve done that with Million Stylez. My full album is entitled Salt And Light. It’s going to be released within the first third of 2016. I think they are currently putting the final touches on it as well.
I also have a new single out on my own label Drum And Bass Music, it’s called ‘Nuh Necessary’, and I also released a song entitled ‘Nuh Tek Nuh Talk’. That one is doing extremely well, it’s played on high rotation in Jamaica, in Miami, in New York, in the UK… and over this week, there’s a new single coming out called ‘Undisputed’ on a riddim called Life 101. Things are going really good where the recording is concerned. Now we have to get some videos done for these singles as well. We already have set up the script, it’s only because I’m moving constantly (laughs). After I came back from Nigeria in November last year, I went to the UK to tour until the 3rd of January, and here I am now in Europe. I’m going to be here until the third week of March and then I move on to the US.
And do you touch base in between?
Yes, but shortly, to spend some precious moments with the family before I have to move again. But that comes with the territory of being an artist, that’s how you take your responsibility, and music is something I love, you know, so… From the US I get back to Jamaica and then I’ll go to Bermuda after that.
Don’t get lost in the triangle!
(laughs) No, I’m not using a Cessna, I won’t get lost. From there I’ll go to Texas and then in May I’ll go to Florida. So it’s a busy schedule, which is a good thing!
Yes, a lot of people will get to see you!
It’s on a new level, a new message… or let’s say it’s an old message presented in a new way. Music is there to provide you with that level of entertainment and to take you away from your troubles or to bring you in confrontation with it and show you how to deal with it. That’s what the motive and the mission is right now. As the album is stating, Salt And Light… it’s to provide Light in the hour of darkness and to bring flavour to your life!
We are really looking forward to it. Thank you so much for taking your time to answer our questions!
Interview & Pictures: Gardy Stein-Kanjora