I meet the Creation Rebel and African Headcharge drummer at one of the North London branches of the On-U Sound family. Eskimo "Mus'come" Fox is a Rastaman, and as such imparts a dignified, reflective and meditative vibration to those around him. Eskimo is a man who has played drums in the UK for 30 years now, and as he explained to me, started playing as a young boy in the mountains and glades of Jamaica in Kumina drumming Grounation communities. From there, he went on to be trained by the Nuns at the now legendary Alpha School in Kingston, later moving to London in the mid 70's.
A calm and peaceful man, throughout our conversation he emphasised repeatedly his belief in the importance of originality, the central role of spirituality in music as well as his belief in discipline of method, and a devotion to classical craft when creating music. From his spacious and disciplined Rockers styles in Bim Sherman's Devious Woman to his deeply inventive snare and roto tom interplay on Crocodile Hand Luggage and on to his extreme experimentation on the later African Headcharge albums, Eskimo's drum patterns have consistently manifested that originality so important to him. His new album is a continuation of this searching for new sounds. At the same time, it is expressive of his contemplative personality.
This is how our reasonings ran:
I was with The Dove Rocks when I first came to UK around 74/75. We were just a group of young guys who started playing together as soon as we came in from Jamaica. We rehearsed hard, and then worked with great men like Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Jimmy London, Keith Poppin, Delroy Wilson, Trinity, Dillinger, and Eric Donaldson. I loved Eric's voice.
Men like Eric Donaldson were my teachers. I learnt so much from all of those artists. They gave me the confidence and the discipline to remain and progress as a creative drummer, to know what music is truly all about.
We were one of the leading backing bands of the time, working with artists as soon as they got in from Jamaica. Singers such as Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs worked with us too. Actually, that was how I met the young Adrian Sherwood! He was in the audience at one of the gigs I was playing at, and he told me his ideas about setting up On-U Sound.
I also worked in a band called The Freedom Fighters. These bands were nothing to do with Creation Rebel. This was before Creation Rebel. Bob Marley moved with King Sounds in those days too, and he moved with us, spreading his vibes amongst us. King Sounds linked us to so many people.
Working together with Delroy Wilson was a very nice experience. Just two or three weeks before he passed over, we worked in The Jazz Café in the West End of London, then he went to USA and passed on. That was so sad. Delroy worked between roots and lovers, and we were a part of what he was creating. Great singers like Delroy or Dennis, they came with their vibes, and we contributed our vibes, and that was how we worked together when we created music.
Keith Hudson was a close friend of mine in those days in London too. I was very close to the man - Keith was my brethren you understand? I really liked the man's vibes, his atmosphere, and what an unusual artist he was! He had such an unusual way of approaching his work! He was an original. That man had original status, seen, and from those times until this time, I just grew to accept that truly original way too.
We all worked and lived in one harmony at that time. Brothers. My home was his home, you understand? He was such an influence on all of us. We had a strong link - all of us in Harlesden - Jah Whoosh, Jah Shaka and the rest, we had a real close link together. We learnt so much from each other, and I guess you could say that Rockers drum pattern you can hear in Rasta Country was THE home style we were all working on in those days. That drum pattern was like our back-bone out of Jamaica. It was our home style at those times.
Keith Hudson was my influence at that time it's true, but we all influenced each other! We all ran with each other in those days and influenced each other! So you need to understand, it isn't so easy to draw a fine line between who specifically influenced who, and that means both on the Jamaican scene and the UK scene, because we all grew from each others works and vibes.
Those drumming patterns from that time were like the result of collective effort, collective shared vibes exchanged between Jamaican drummers still based in Jamaica, and Jamaican drummers who had left their homes to live and work in the UK. So there wasn't a strict division as such between UK reggae artists and Jamaican reggae artists, because we all worked together all the time, and lived together in one unity. I'd like to make that point very clear.
I was very, very busy at that time: We worked on so many sessions that often we didn't get credited. It didn't matter to us at the time though, because we weren't aware of what we were all working towards in any wider sense - we were just working! You understand? This was common for a lot of us singers and players at that time. But in the mid 70's I was so young - I was fresh from Jamaica, and I wasn't only thinking of the tunes I was recording - I had so many other things to think about, so many other things on my mind, like settling into (what was at the time) this foreign environment here in London, settling into my house or whatever.
I did a lot of works for Count Shelley too, but I was so young, just a young man! I was freshly in the country, I was quite preoccupied, and I wasn't worrying about "who is this guy I'm working with!" or, "am I going to get credited on the sleeve notes" or whatever: No, I was a working drummer getting used to a new environment.
In the early days, I focussed a lot on roto tom, syn drum, and timbale tones. I used a rich tone at first: I used to tune it to my own sound hearing and I'd listen carefully for the sharpness of the sound. I love the richness, the sharpness of the acoustic drum kits, but then things started moving in the direction of electric percussion. So ultimately, I love a fusion of the two - both acoustic and electric. Anyone who knows Eskimo Fox's works knows that I am a man who goes into sound, looking for freshness and originality. I'm a person who is a searcher; a seeker after originality and original vibes.
Natty Farmyard is a song I had heard in my inner self some time before I recorded it: I had been visioning it through my cycle of time, long before I created it. It came to me in a vision. I'm a man who is always ahead in striving to create something new - something original. I'm not just creating music as a dance track, but as a sound of sound.
So I had this idea with my music to give something back to the earth, to give something back to animals and nature. I'm a man who grew up in the hills in JA, close to nature, close to animal life. I'm a man who still raises animals in the hills in Jamaica. I still have a little house up in the hills in Jamaica, far from the city, where I escape to whenever I am able to. I go there to experience reality and stillness, and to meditate.
My creativeness comes from nature, and it comes from closeness to animals too. That is how I look on it. I look to the creatures around me, the nature sounds, and this is where I get my deeper inspiration from: Naturality. So when I created that track, I incorporated animal sounds to make up the entire track. Even the bass line is constructed from, and made up of animal sounds!
So I'm a seeker. The bass line tones and groove is a recording of an animal. Even the drum tones and guitar tones are created from animal tones. These were vibes I created long before in my mind: I was thinking it before it was physically manifested.
The brethren I worked with on those tunes are my brethren from my village. By that I mean either my village in Jamaica, or my village here in Hackney and Dalston. Renee Bailey plays guitar, and he understands how I communicate musically - our mind is in the same place. I lock on to the way he presents his tones, and he sends my mind back to a state of remembering - Remembering how I grew up; how I grew up in the hills in Jamaica and how I then moved to Kingston.
Then I am taken back mentally, to my youth, my moving around Kingston, and then back even earlier to my life in the Alpha home. Everything started for me in the Alpha home - Alpha home is inside me. I still have the Nuns feeling, and this is where I got my spiritual vibes, which still maintain me in my musical life to this day.
As soon as I woke up in the Alpha home, I would hear the hornsmen blowing, the drummer man doing his thing, the Nuns chanting, so immediately, you'd wake up with this feeling,"what is that beautiful sound? Where is it coming from?" So I grew up with it, I grew up in it. I was around sound and intense vibes every day. Growing up with it, it leaves you with an impression that those are your aspirations too.
Those experiences left me with so many deep impressions. So that is my foundation, my influence, which made me into the person I have become, and the kind of musician I have become. That spiritual approach to music is deep within me. Spirituality has a powerful touch, and music without spirituality is nothing. It's a natural thing. Many think this way, but few have the chance to express it through the medium of an instrument, to express that goal. It's a spiritual freedom and it's a very deep thing within me, and it has always been with me from a very early age. Spirituality and spirituality within sound has always been with me. Within. I will make it live with me for now and forever.
Man is a spiritual being, and that righteousness is a very deep manifestation of that life force. I always like to create a spirit in my music, because I'm a spiritual man - musically. Understand? It's always been with me. It's what I believe in. Yeah, you know, so that is what I'm really focussing on, and always have been. This music is not a shallow thing.
But even before that remember, I grew up in the hills and I grew up around Cumina players, Cumina drummers. I grew up around those drummers every day. So when I left the hills and went to Alpha and heard more classical drumming, I fused both aspects together. Cumina was like Binghi drumming, heartbeat drumming. In those days, the emphasis was on drumming, and really, it's a part of our culturful way of growing, so you can't get away from it. Everyone where I grew up was into it.
As a child then, I had this beautiful opportunity to grow up around it, to get into the spirit of it, long before I got the chance to even see a conventional drum kit! I grew up playing rhythms on rocks and stones, and creating wooden boxes with their own tones and vibration! So that was how we started to create these patterns: It was by playing on wood and stone and rock!
learnt a lot from sound system, whether it was Duke Reid, Coxsone, or
King Tubby's. We learnt a lot about the sharpness, tone and subtlety
of their sound system - not only from the records played through their sound
system you understand, but importantly , bands also used to play through
their sound systems too, so we'd learn a lot about sound manipulation
this way. We'd compare how a band would sound through the sound system
with how a record would sound played through the same sound system.
Bim was a man who liked things nice, cool and easy. He was a good gentle person. By the time Bim came on the scene, we were all close to Adrian. But you know, I don't even have copies of those early On-U Sound records anymore. I just passed them on!
Bim was so close to me. He is related to me through my cousin. He was a peaceful man, a calm man - No rush you know ? He always dressed perfectly: Tailor made suits, good style, well cut trousers, perfectly pressed. Bim was a Chancery Lane man, so that was his style. I didn't know Bim was ill before he was rushed to hospital, but now I realise that Bim himself probably knew he was dying, but he didn't want to tell anyone. That was his own situation to deal with, and I think he wanted to keep his own counsel.
I remember, he started giving a lot of his possessions away shortly before his death. Once he said to me, "Eskimo, let's take out your car and just drive." He seemed deep in thought, and just wanted to drive and think. One night when I was at his house, a few times when it was late at night, it was like he didn't want to go to bed, so he'd say, "Eskimo, stay awake a while and let's sit and speak." So when he passed, it was surprise for all of us. Very sad. Bim was a good man.
Bubblers and Don Campbell were very young in those times, very young men. Don Campbell used to run with Jack Radix and General Saint. Ruff Cutt Studio was our gathering place, and a lot of people used to gravitate to that studio because of the spirit of that place.
Angus, the Aswad drummer, used to sit down and watch me rehearse and play. Mafia and Fluxy used to watch my style too. They used to come and check us out at the 100 Club, checking out what I used to play. Brinsley Forde used to be part of my band too, the Dove Rocks. We were like a collective that just grew and grew, so at one point, we just sat down, more than ten of us, and said "OK , who wants to be in the Dove Rocks, and who wants to be in Aswad?" And that was how we went our separate ways.
I wasn't holding back; I wanted to release this heartical musical vibration,
to let the spirit of my heartical feeling rise up through my playing.
Can I ask you about Nuclear Zulu? That is a very powerful track.
Nuclear Zulu came from me and Lizard jamming at the 100 Club - original tune! The roto tom and snare use was the central point on which that track moved, twinned with the bass. We were in a sound check and Lizard just locked into this bass groove, "Listen to this!" he said. It was deep and repetitive, and then I laid down this syn drum vibe over it, "So hear this Lizard" I replied. And that's how Nuclear Zulu was created. In those days I used to have a syn drum in my foot drum.
So regarding Creation Rebel and our relationship with Adrian the thing was, we would lay down the rhythms, and Adrian would deal with the business side. But remember that Creation Rebel existed before On-U Sound. There is now some discussion about Creation Rebel reforming and working with On-U Sound again, and I'd love that to happen, but it would have to have all the original members such as Lizard and Dr Pablo. It has to be a collective thing, a creative thing, in which we all create together. Grounation style - a gathering together.
That's how I look at music. We work as a group, but the input of the individual
to make it grow into its fullness is pure and essential. This is my
way, I can't work with no computers. We start from a foundation point,
and work forward from that point up to the fullness.That's how I deal
with it. I can't just listen to another man's music and then some other
man says "Put your drums here". My reaction to that
would be, "Make another drummer do it", you understand,
because I'm not here to take the strain, you know? I come up from reality,
and work towards a unity. Make it live. Play it live. It just has to
be like that.
Can you tell us more about different members of On-U Sound and the early music with African Headcharge?
With African Headcharge, it was me that brought Bonjo I into On-U Sound music. It all happened one night down at Ding walls in Camden Town - Bonjo I was in the audience watching me playing, watching me closely, so instinctively, I played to him. So after the gig, I went over to have a word with him, and we start to talk, and he told me he was a percussion player too. You want to know about those early African Headcharge records? Those were extreme, extreme records we made as African Headcharge. In those days I was concerned with sound mixing, and into development of ideas: I like to go into that whole motion. I was crazy about it.
the intensity of sound on those early African Headcharge albums though,
to tell you the truth I cannot maintain that vibe for too long , because
it's just too extreme: It takes you overboard. But as a fresh
listening thing though, I can really relate to those early African Headcharge records. Those sounds were original vibrations. One thing's for
sure, you'd always get something original out of our corner and as I
said, I'm only interested in originality - I like to create new sounds.
I'm a searcher in my life, and that includes being a searcher for new
albums were important to you from the early On-U catalogue?
Leaps and Bounds I was experimenting with what were at the time,
new electronic sounds on my drum kit. I had got that drum kit through
my work with Dilllinger. That drum sound was totally new at that time:
It was only myself and a few others that had that sound in those days.
I put so much of myself into those drum sounds on those albums,
and when I hear some of them, it brings tears to my eyes; tunes like
Jerusalem on the Mafia album really moved me, and still do. So
in a way, I feel my new album is very much a continuation of those African
Headcharge and Creation Rebel albums - it's a continuing realisation
of those inner dreams and visions. Specifically Natty Farmyard
which we are going to release on vinyl as a four or five track 12".
Can I ask you about the introspection of the track Down Hail on your new album?
Down Hail is another track which
really stands out for me Down Hail is a spiritual place. In that
song, I'm thinking about the truth of a natural life, and somewhere
I can have peace of mind. I'm singing about this longing. This is the
place which we are all looking for, a place where we can find a better
way of being, a place to rest our head, physically and spiritually -
And that place is down hail. It's a spiritual place within the father
of I and I, and a way of relating I self to the spirit of the Almighty.
That is down hail - a spiritual communication, a place of quietness.
Spiritually, a place I'm going tomorrow, a place to find that silence
Your sister sings on the album too. She has a beautiful voice.
My sister is a very talented singer. She has always followed me in life,
and we have always been very close. She has a strong voice, and it's
true, she's coming from the oneness, the vibes of culture. Her vibes
are coming from the vibes of Hortense Ellis, Marcia Griffiths. This
is where she's coming from. But she only wanted to voice a few tracks
so we laid down those tracks; she just come in and laid down her vibes,
and that was it.
which albums influenced you as you were growing up and developing your
Upsetter did a lot for me too.Upsetter was realising it with albums
like Super Ape 1 and 2. I was very close to Jackie Mittoo
as well. He was the king. Just before he died, I was working with him
and Mikey Dread. He was a classical player, so highly into music. When
he played , when he reached heights, tears would come to his eyes. He
took his music so seriously, when you heard it, his sound, then tears
would come to your eyes too. All of us were shocked when he died.
Your new album has an unusual title: "Nattorius. Alter Riddim" What does it mean?
Nattorius is a combination of two words: "Notorius",
because On-U Sound albums have always been notorius, and the concept
of "nah tarry here", which is a spiritual perspective on life.
Because you know, living in this physical form, in this earthly realm,
we are all just passing through. This world is not a permanent place,
so this is no place for us to tarry. It is an impermanent state, an
impermanent place. It is no place for us to tarry here. Everything is
in a state of change.
Eskimo, thank you for your time. After knowing you through your music for some time, it is a pleasure to share reasonings with you and listen to your insights.
copyright 2004 Gregory Mario Whitfield
Interview copyright 2004 Gregory Mario Whitfield
to Richard Davies for his exhaustive referencing and cross referencing
of On-U Sound history, KiKi On-U Sound, The Eternal, and Choi Mi Kyoung.
"Knowledge is found in the Sacred Place of The Most High."
Thanks to Richard Davies for his exhaustive referencing and cross referencing of On-U Sound history, KiKi On-U Sound, The Eternal, and Choi Mi Kyoung. "Knowledge is found in the Sacred Place of The Most High."