Feluké – placed in the hands of God

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Straight outta Kingston, Jamaica, Irie Ites brings to your attention an interview with Denver Smith aka Feluké. The versatile artist is known for his skilful percussions played at countless live gigs for the likes of Jimmy Cliff and Jah Cure and, recently, in the recording of Gentleman’s MTV Unplugged Set. Few are those who are aware that the young man is now on his way to pursue a solo career. With his expressive voice, his devotion to soulful music and his unparalleled passion and motivation, it won’t be long before the world turns an eager eye on him. Introducing: FELUKÉ!

Greetings! Where are we here and what is your connection to the place?

We are at Big Yard Studio, Scicron Entertaiment. This is where I do most of my work. I’ve been mentored by Robert Livingston, he’s the one guiding me now through my craft, making sure I’m on the right path and keeping me grounded.

Can you introduce yourself shortly?

Well, I am Feluké. I sing, I play percussions, I’m a musician, I write, I produce… but my main focus at this point is getting my craft out as an artist. I have worked many years with various artists, from the Marleys, Jimmy Cliff, Jah Cure to Etana. I’ve done a production with Gentleman, you know. So I’ve done the whole circle, and at this point I am getting ready to launch Feluké the artist.

What made you decide to pursue a solo career instead of being a musician?

Before all this, I always wanted to pursue an artist career, before even playing an instrument. As a child I used to sing in church, sing in the streets, always singing… in Alpha Boys School again, when I got booted from the band because of being ill, I turned to singing again. So I kept saying singing is the place for me. I started on the choir at Alpha Boys School, reached far, left school, started going from studio to studio but nobody took me serious. I guess it wasn’t time as yet. But I also used to play the drumset in church, so then I ended up starting to play the drum set for people. I also played in a group named Ashé. I joined them and there I learned my craft and honed my skill in terms of singing, acting and dancing and also in songwriting. That was where drumming was pushed on me, that’s where my craft in percussion came about. When I left Ashé I played the drum set for other bands. I started touring with Jimmy Cliff, then Luciano, I was their percussionist. Then I started moving on, I was musical director for Etana, went back to Jimmy Cliff again for a couple of more years. Then I went to Jah Cure where I’m with now, as a musical director and percussionist. I worked with Stephen Marley on his Mind Control Acoustic Grammy album, then on Revelation Pt. 1, the Grammy album again, I also worked on that. I am now working with Jah Cure and Ky-Mani Marley as a musical director for both of them (laughs). I did some work with Gentleman which was a great experience, I went on tour in Europe with Jah Cure last year which was also good. But I’ve also been recording a lot since last year! I released one album already which is called Musically Disturbed, it is online now for sale. My artist name there was Denver D. That was the name everybody knew me as. It has been out since 2012, my debut album – that was a trial. There are a lot of people who are still asking for that album because it represents who I really am as an artist. That’s where you’ll get the full performance package of Feluké. It comes off very world… it’s not labelled Reggae or Pop, it’s just World Music. There you’ll get singing, playing, emotions and that’s who Feluké is, a full artist.

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Anybody who has seen you perform as a percussionist might get a hint of what passion you put into music. Is it the same now when you sing and perform?

Even more! It’s a lot more because I am now at the front and I have to be the presenter and not the accompanier, if there’s such a word (laughs). It means that now I am the one who has to relate directly to the people and not just enhancing the show. So, you’ll get a lot more.

Did you do any performances as Feluké so far?

Last year I did the Gungo Walk, my first performance as Feluké, and everybody was like “What?” (laughs) They used to see me as Denver performing, as percussionist. Now I was singing and I didn’t play any drums and they were like “Where the hell did that come from?” Nobody imagined me performing without having a drum in front of me. It was a change and a difference, it felt strange. But it also gave me the drive to even go further, it made me want to do more. There is a lot of music out and I tend to help people in terms of artist development, fixing their shows and making sure that their shows are right and the performance makes sense, that the songlist makes sense. I’ve seen a lot of mistakes being made in music and at this point, being around some of the greats, I can say I’m going to do this, I really want to make a change, I want to go to the next level. What I’m doing now, I don’t think there has been any percussionist in Jamaica who has taken that stand in terms of music. Not just doing music because we can sing… I want to make a difference in terms of the songs that are written, songs that I give on to people. It’s a spiritual vibe and I want the next generation to know that the music I come forth with is not another popcorn-music or lollipop-style where… you know, I don’t want it to be background music. I want it to be life-long music, like what Jimmy Cliff did for us, what Bob Marley did for us, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Toots, Michael Jackson, all these people… They did that to show we can make a change, you know, that’s really what I want to do.

And making a change, one of the first things you did was taking on a new artist name. Can you tell us what Feluké means?

Feluké literally means ‘placed in the hands of God’, it’s from Nigeria. For me, it’s a name that connects with me spiritually based on the fact that I’ve been through it, living on the streets and all. I had to leave home at 10 years old, my mother left me from when I was a toddler, so I’ve been through it. When I decided that I want to do this seriously I went around and I spoke to some people and they were like: “This Denver thing won’t work”. And I said “What do you mean?” and they said “Denver is a very powerful name, but it’s not powerful enough for who you are. When people see you perform, they see someone who can change their life, so you need to come strong and find a name that represents you!” So I started to look around and google along with my friends and family, and I saw this name Feluké. It was spelled Foluke, the original name, and I didn’t even realize what I did. When I found the name and I read what it means, I thought “Mad!”. I started spelling it that way because for me, Feluké is going to be a standout name. We did some research to find out if there was anybody else by the name of Feluké and there wasn’t, which is great for me and for the industry, because… coming from Jamaica, from the Caribbean there is such a standout vibe again… so Feluké is really a name taken on by me from the original word Foluke and right now, Feluké is the artist.

Now, speaking about your music, you said you have Musically Disturbed in 2012, right? Is there anything new on the way?

Yes, as I said I’m doing some work with Scicron and Llamar ‘Riff Raff’ Brown, he is a producer that also works with Stephen Marley. So I’m doing work with these two great producers and Robert Livingston is helping me literally hands on with my craft, making sure I don’t sing any old foolishness. So if I sing a song and it’s not of his liking, he’s like… “Naaa… Where you go wid dat?” He’s like a father figure, a mentor, he just sits down and councils me to make sure that I don’t do this, don’t run there, you know … To be honest with you, when I look at it, we’re not runners. That’s one thing I like about the team I’m working with. We’re not runners, we’re creepers. Like, we do everything slow now, there’s no running to try and reach the finish line because race is not for the swift but for who can endure. So, at this point we are just creeping, enduring, observing the market and see where it is going, what is changing, how it is changing… we’re just creeping through, doing great music. We have three songs out, we do some teasers on Instagram… And now here comes my brother Riff (Riff comes up, exchanges greetings). Literally we’re just working, getting things through. And Robert is making sure that every word I write or that he helps me write is of fond quality, of excitement and also of teaching value. So when you listen to a song from Feluké, you will hear experience from either Robert Livingston, myself or Riff, you hear fun, passion, pain, a little of everything. On my website (www.feluke.com) you find 2 songs, Lost Your Way and Love Was There, and there’s a new song produced by Techniques Records, it’s called Fine Wine.

Like wine in drink or wine in dance?

(laughs) Like wine in drink. It says a woman is like a glass of fine wine. Some people might say that she’s not good enough to be around, but when you get to know her you realize “Wow, she’s more than just beauty. She’s just as good as a jug or a barrel of fine wine.” So that’s basically what the song is about. As a sistren told me yesterday, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s true! Everyday you look around and some people will say “Yo, look at that girl, she’s hot!” and then some guy will be like “Naa.”, so beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Every single person is beautiful in their own right, and every person has their own energy and spirit to pass on. It’s just that some people have to learn to tolerate the spirit of another being, to look beyond the surface and realize “This person is more than just flesh and bones, there’s a lot more to them.” And that’s one of my aims in life, to teach humanity. Because right now a lot of we young people have lost our way in the love of humanity. We are more into the lifestyle than humanity, and that’s one of my dreams to really teach love and acceptance of humanity. Because humanity is natural, it is the law of the Almighty. I breathe just like you, I eat just like you, I sleep just like you… life is what it is. That’s basically what Feluké is about right now, trying to make a change.

Scicron Entertainment is a company that does music with a change, you won’t get the regular music out of Scicron Entertainment. You are going to get something different, you are going to get something unusual, love… you get to feel love coming from the company. So it’s a joy working with these people, and all the artists I’ve worked with they have taught me so much, I don’t think they realize. Being with Jimmy Cliff I got to see a wider side of music, on tour with him. There is no genre, there is no boundaries in music for me now. Being with Stephen Marley, same thing. I see things, I hear things, I vision things. Sometimes I jump out of my sleep trembling, crying, because so much music is coming out of me that I just want to release. But then there was a fear in doing it because who was going to accept it? Then I realized there will always be someone out there who likes what I’m doing. Even if it’s just 10 people in the beginning. So that’s why I say we are creepers, not runners. We are taking it very slow. Because, as you notice on this wall, there are some vines growing. It may look very small now, but I guarantee you in a couple of months or years, the whole wall will be covered, and that’s because it takes its time growing, it’s a creeper!

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Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years from now?

To be honest, sometimes I’m afraid of trying to see where I will be in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years… sometimes I’m afraid to even look at it. With Musically Disturbed, I remember telling myself that in 5 years time I should be up here. And I remember when the disappointment came, I was one of the first persons to break down, I started crying because I realized music doesn’t work like that. People on a whole don’t work like that. How it works is you take your time and build. Everything starts with a dream, from a dream to a vision, from a vision to action and from action to sustainability. Because from when you sustain it, you have to start building and then the minute you start building, you can determine how you want to build. How big you want the building to be. Sometimes it doesn’t take money. What it takes is the drive of you as a person to want to do it. The next thing is you have to learn to share. Greed is what kills a lot of us. And I’m not talking about music only. I’m talking about the whole idea of life. Nobody wants to share, nobody wants to sit down and say “I have a dollar, I can give you a fifty cents.” Everybody wants to hold on to the dollar, everybody wants the dollar to work for him and only him. So at this point, what I’m doing is I’m trying to share with whoever comes to me and says “Oh can you help me with this?” I gladly move in to help, because that’s how a real building is built. You alone cannot build a whole factory, you need workers, you need a team and at this point I can’t say “This is where I see myself in five years.” What I can say is that in the next couple of years I’d like to see myself with a solid team of people who believe in me and who want to help building the dream and also share the pie with me, because this pie is very big and I alone can’t eat it off. So in five years time I’d like to see myself with a solid team, a supportive team, so we can share the pie and we can break bread together as they say, not on our knees, but walking up and down, singing, laughing, just being me. So that’s where I see myself in 5 years time. Not on a big stage, but with a solid team of people who believe in me.

But still I want to see you on the festivals in summer!

(laughs) Yes, I’d love to be on some of the festivals in Europe! The thing is, I think I can help myself on a major stage in terms of performance with my brothers and sisters and the right team. Robert and Riff and myself, we are trying to get this thing solid and ready, we don’t really want to make any mistakes. Because sometimes you run out too early and you are not firm so we’re trying to go slowly, not in a rush. A lot of people will ask me “When will I get a CD?” But I wait first, me and the team, trying to make sure that when we put out a CD or EP or album it is going to be catchy. And I’ve gotten some good responses so far from the Radio Stations in Jamaica and Robert himself has gotten some really great results from the DJs and Riff from the people in the streets, like reviews that have been coming back to us, it’s good. So we want to continue, not just continue with the same thing but grow stronger, coming forth, knowing that the creeper is going to take over the wall (laughs).

In terms of what is called Reggae Revival, would you class yourself with the young artists that represent this movement?

Well, that is a story that I don’t really want to touch in terms of “revival” of Reggae. What I will say is in terms of conscious music that is being put forth right now by these younger guys and stuff – it’s great! I have always been different from everyone else… like I’ve never ever been the musician or the artist to do what someone else is doing. And this is one of the reasons why people will always look at me different because I’m always different. I will dress different from everyone else, I will stay home and not go to parties at all. Or I will walk into a party and become the life of the party. I will walk into a studio and it’s not my thing unless I want to be a part of it. And I will sing a song that has nothing to do with Reggae music but it is Reggae music so it’s like I’m different. So in terms of saying is it the same type of music I would say it’s different. You get a wider scale of music from Feluké because I’ve been exposed to so much. It’s hard to say I’m doing the same or be a part of something. As I said, I really like what these guys are doing. I went to the Protoje album Launch last night and it was a good vibe, a really good vibe, so I really like those things and the music is felt continously. I watch Chronixx’ works, this youth has a nice vibe… Jesse Royal is one of my favourite artists, I like his work and how he writes. Kabaka Pyramid is good, Dre Island, the whole of them… I really observe and listen to them. But I am not a follower, I guess that’s because of my craft and what most people hire me to do. Most people hire me to make sure everything is right , so… I’m always a leader and since I’ve been around Robert I’ve even learned more how to be a man that stands up for something and not just falls for everything.Looking at it, I want to make a difference, I want to be different! Like you are here saying “When I see you on stage with Jah Cure, I see something different.” I have already passed on the percussive craft to one of my students… I still play percussion, I still do that, but I focus more on Feluké right now. Change! Change is on it’s way.

I think these are the best closing words. Thanks for your time and all the best for you!

Interview & photos: Gardy Stein

Homepage FELUKÉ

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Gardy

About Gardy

Gemini, mother of two wonderful kids, Ph.D. Student of African Linguistics, aspiring author...