Sierra Nevada World Music Festival - 2004

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2004 Performers

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Gentleman - Photo by Julian Schmidt
Photo by Julian Schmidt

When Gentleman first left for Jamaica ten years ago, he didn’t know anybody there. In those days, the man whose given name is Tilmann Otto was a reggae-novice who owned but a couple of reggae records, most of which he had found in his brother’s record collection. On the island, he got to know the rough country life where the living standard is more than poor when you compare it to western countries. A few years later, Europe’s culture television channel Arte showed a programme on reggae in its ‚Lost In Music‘-series, with Gentleman featuring as one of the outstanding connoisseurs of reggae music. Jamaica has become a second home to the now 27-year old, and it is here that he found the elixir for his art. Gentleman is the prototype of a restless wanderer between two worlds. The many journeys to Jamaica have become a dear habit to Germany's only reggae star with international format and they have left a deep impact on him. Two hearts beat in the breast of the traveller between Cologne and Kingston, but they both definitely beat in the rhythm of reggae. The early enthusiasm for reggae in all its colourful variety has grown to a natural self-sufficiency and expanded consciousness which surpasses a simple knowledge of styles and sounds.

What’s more, Gentleman is raising a family with a Jamaican he has been with for seven years now. The close ties to Jamaica on both a professional and a personal level make him not only one of Germany’s most influential reggae artists, but they also give his music an authenticity which is beyond all doubt. This explains how he could give a spontaneous performance at the Kwanzah-festival in Kingston, singing in front of 30,000 local fans, an event which he will never forget. In the meanwhile, the man from Cologne had become the pioneer of the German reggae-scene; the path of the most flexible and melodious reggae vocalist of the nation led him from north to south and west to east: from the Pow Pow Movement and the Digital Diamond Crew (Roger & Shorty) in Cologne via the Silly Walks Soundsystem in Hamburg to Lipsia and finally to the Freundeskreis in Stuttgart. Gentleman is responsible for reggae’s popularity in his home country – no wonder, since he had the furious Killin Riddim Section backing him for several years.

In 1999, Gentleman released his highly acclaimed debut "Trodin On", which featured a wide variety of dancehall riddims. Now it is time for "Journey To Jah". If "Trodin On" can be seen as a first bright watercolour, "Journey To Jah" is a monumental oil painting in Jamaica’s traditional colours yellow, read, and green. The brimful longplayer pays tribute to the latest development of reggae: the return to roots reggae, which is perfectly represented in the best moments of legendary bands such as Aswad or Black Uhuru. ‚Modern roots‘ is what Gentleman calls this new artistic path, which also allows pop-harmonies like the wonderfully tempered opener "Dem Gone", "Love Chant", or "Jah Ina Yuh Life", equipped with sublimely purring choruses by the Daffodils and an adorable melody. But this doesn’t mean that Gentleman renounced the dynamic energy of dancehall riddims. "Leave Us Alone", which was produced on Jamaica by Richie Stephens, and "Runaway" and "Long Face", produced by Ingo of the Pow Pow Movement and Pioneer from Lipsia, respectively, are equal dancehall songs, where every beat fits like a straight punch. Here Gentleman can prove that his spirit knows no geographical limits - a fact that also explains the homogeneity of the album.


Nevertheless, most of the songs on "Journey To Jah" came into being on Jamaica. Gentleman has managed to create a lively patchwork of diverse superb musicians and producers. Those guest appearances of Jamaica’s superstars such as Bounty Killer, Capleton, and Luciano & Mikey General count among the absolute highlights and will remain unforgotten for Gentleman. Capleton appeared in the studio with an entourage of 30 sinister looking Rastafaris in full attire. But once the session started, Capleton was fully concentrated on the takes - as can be heard on the crackling "Fire Ago Bun Dem". Luciano, who recorded his part of "Younger Generation" under the surveillance of Roger & Shorty in Germany, turned out to be an enterprising host for Gentleman back in Kingston, even playing a sudorific game of soccer in Jamaica‘s midday sun. Further singing partners on the album are upcoming stars such as Jahmali and Daddy Rings, who will soon go on tour with Gentleman, Junior Kelly, Jack Radics, and the family clan Morgan Heritage.

But not only the microphones changed hands, behind the controls was a similar hustle and bustle of famous cracks. No-one lesser than the old master Dean Frazer made all the important arrangements in the legendary Tough Gong studio, the former working place of Bob Marley. Also, Gentleman managed to attract two of the most renowned producers of the day: Black Scorpio and Bobby Digital. Bobby ‚Digital‘ Dixon is a prolific disciple of the producer-genius King Jammy, and though he is specialized on digitally produced dancehall-sound, the songs he produced for Gentleman sound anything but clinical. The reason for this lies in the participation of several bands: the Firehouse Crew (former backing band of Luciano), Morgan Heritage, and Mafia & Fluxy. For this album, Gentleman was very keen on bandsound: "I have the feeling that musicians are getting more important once again. There will always be digital machines, but at the moment there is this consciousness for live bands. I really like that. I like the hardcore-stuff, too, but I realize that I can’t listen to it for very long. Not to mention the lyrics."

This is an allusion to the widely spread sexism and glorification of violence that Gentleman strictly objects to. His songs are concentrated on one recurring theme: the search for God. "It’s an attitude towards life, that I try to impregnate, to hold up, and to pass on. My object is to permanently reach a state that I have known for short periods only. This state is a kind of feeling of closeness to God." That does not mean that Gentleman has converted to the Rastafari belief, and he isn’t dogmatic about it, either. His search for Jah remains far from any traditional confession. Jamaica’s language, patois, a mixture between English, Spanish, and African elements, has become second nature to him, and this natural feel for their language has earned him a lot of respect from Jamaican musicians. His lyrics circle around the central thoughts from traditional reggae: consciousness, righteousness, and resistance. And though his songs are not explicitly political, the young father represents the moral codex of peaceful togetherness. His aim is to help make the future more positive and songs such as "Younger Generation" and "Children Of Tomorrow" pass his message on.

On his "Journey To Jah", Gentleman has drawn larger circles once more. The network between Jamaican and German musicians has never been as closely knit as it is today: Every now and then Jamaican musicians star in German studios, play at various festivals, or just call by to visit Gentleman. No wonder Gentleman is known as Germany’s ambassador of reggae. But what the man who crosses all borders and whose records appear on vinyl on small Jamaican labels and are regularly played at the local radio stations likes most about his second home is their freebooter mentality. On Jamaica, musicians head the frontpages of the newspapers more often than politicians. And surely, with "Journey To Jah" Gentleman has earned himself several headlines - not only on Jamaica.

Gentleman Links:

Listen To The Music of Gentleman - Track List


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