by / October 30th, 2008 /

Interview: Roots Manuva

Ahead of his Dublin date in the Academy this Saturday, State talked to Rodney Smith about life, politics, his obsession with Father Ted (really), how honesty doesn’t help him, why Dub is like trad, Toddla T and why he ended up in a hotel reception without any trousers the last time he visited Ireland.

Hey Rodney. how are you doing?
i’m feeling fine in my good self. Are you feeling fine in your good self? I so love the Irish way of talking.

Have you ever heard the Irish language?
No, I’m not that deep. I’m a big Father Ted fan. Massive. Father Ted is my friend. (laughs)

So you haven’t been over to Ireland for a while?
It’s madness. I think the last time I was there I ended up without any trousers on at the hotel reception, thinking ‘How the fuck do I have no trousers on?’. I messed around with the Guinness. It’s no different from the Guinness in London? But the Guinness is different! Wow! I was having amazing dreams of green fields and lovely voices in my head.

Y’know in Brixton as a UK British man, a British Jamaican, We have such a massive affinity to the Irish. There’s a Jamaican drink called Irish Moss. Jamaicans refer to a potato as an Irish potato. Yeh, the affinity is just there.

What’s the setup for your live show?
We got drums. Ricky Ranking on vocals. We got keyboards, a DJ spinning different beds of rhythm tracks. It’s pretty old-school. Not totally back to two turntables and a microphone but sort of.

Are you doing new stuff mainly?
Ugh. That’s a big bone of contention cos I have no control over….People have a catalogue of what they want to hear! It’s really hard. I try to force some new stuff down them for the start but then it goes back to memory lane as we go on. It’s hard to pick a setlist because there is so much appeal to different people for different reasons. Ugh, You’re confusing me! Trying to do one show without ‘Witness’ even though we love it. It’s the hardest thing. People are gonna kill me if I leave the stage without that song. They want their songs. It’s beyond me. It’s nothing to do with me. People have created the essence and the resonance of what the Roots Manuva band. Brand, collective, Banana Clan means to them. It’s beyond me.

Those songs go to another place. Just as a human being, in my general life, people come up to me and tell me ‘That song there made me feel like this! That song reminds me when I was doing this!’. I’m like fucking hell maan! I don’t know this! I’m just making a noise! I don’t calculate. I don’t sit down and make a song that helps people get over their drug addiction or their love lost. The circle of the whole creation is magnificent. It knocks me out the whole time. It’s all good.

In terms of your song creation then, what inspires you to do it?
Generally speaking, I’m just having a laugh. I want to say something that’s provocative. Someone who’s a wisecracker. That’s what I want to do. Sometimes it might be too close to the bone. Sometimes it makes you laugh. Just life and conversation. Observation. Trying to contain aspects of egotistic-ness. (Pause) Trying to be a peacock! But a philosophical peacock. ‘You think you can say that? You think you’ve got problems? I’VE GOT MORE PROBLEMS THAN YOU!’


Like Father Ted again. I’ve been banging on about it this whole campaign. That entertainment, that humour. The edutainment. Father Ted. You can tell everyone – that’s Rodney’s Grandfather. Wow, just the realness, the frankness, is wonderful. Just amazing. I’m the son of a man who used to preach, he still does now. He’s a Deacon which is like a substitute in my community. He didn’t want the stress. He had the talent but not the full preacher. That connection is just there. It’s information. I can’t go on about him enough but Father Ted is a massive influence to me, my music and the frankness of my songs.

What was it about Toddla T that made you want to work with him?
He engineered some of the earlier sessions that are not on the album.Just his attitude as an engineer. It may sound vain or egotistical but he’s just so patient, he’s ready to wait. He doesn’t try to enforce anything. I saw him in Sheffield and I asked to hear his beats. The music we made that made it onto the album. To have something as ‘Buff Nuff’ out as the first single was a shock. I was just mucking about, having a real laugh, working with young producers, screaming and just being stupid as possible!

So can you pass on any of your experience to Toddla?
Toddla’s gonna help me! I can’t help Toddla. How he’s getting into the business it’s all about passion and it reminds me.. [of himself?] There are so many people that work in the music industry, they do things for calculated reasons and it’s a bit more contrived. Toddla’s just mad. He DJs, he makes music and he does it off a nuance that is so hard to describe. When you see him do a DJ set and he’s just skanking to the bass, it’s amazing.

I’ve just recently been to see one of my stepsons who plays the harmonica. Every time he plays it i’m like ‘You’re playing with your heart ain’t you? Do it again, one more time!’. It’s just nice to hear some un-vain music man, there’s so much vain music and contrived stuff. Things that are being thought about way too much. John Martyn, John Lennon and Lee Scratch Perry, Shaun Ryder. All these guys. I don’t think they thought about what they was doing. They just felt something and expressed it.

You mentioned Lee Scratch Perry. How important is Dub music to you? Do you remember when you first heard them?
It’s my lifeblood. I gotta confess to you.. I was never really interested in music. Music was for cissies as far as I was concerned as a teenager. Nobody makes music which is hard or tough. Then, Dub come along and it just changed my thinking. It reconnected me to the whole tribal thing. Dub is literally the same as some traditional Irish folk music. It’s a reasoning, a hope, a faith. An amazing honesty. Like when people sing for something they do not have. It’s done for higher reasons.

There’s an honesty in your lyrics..
It’s beyond wanting to convey an earnest message to my fellow man. It’s more like, the motif of it is more like, that whole kind of after-hours drunkard man, drunken uncle, Father Ted kinda context. To some people it might be really be really boring, but I’m obsessed with Father Ted and his cohort who says ‘DRINK! DRINK!’ all the time. It’s so much a part of all of us. Art which has a reflection on the taboos of life, love and want and discontent. It’s telling you things about yourself but someone else has said it.

Does that honesty help you?
It probably doesn’t help me. I’d probably be better off sitting around and consuming and not trying to add to the conversation. I’m a bit of a fatalist, I get into something and I stick to it. If it’s something that’s quite left of centre then.. I don’t know. Like Communism, Socialism, Unionism, it’s something that you get into. It feels wonderful to go against the grain and then within that, still have some kind of weight in the mainstream.

I’m probably getting way too deep here but I used to go to young socialist meetings in South London but they paid you to go! Twice a week, you could go, get five pound. They told you about socialist ideals. I used to deliver a communist paper, a socialist paper. I’m part of philosophy and thinking. Wanting to kind of detach the crown , the King and the Queen, overthrowing stuff. It’s really weird.
Probably the actuality of trying to engage and do something is better than the outcome. But we enjoy trying to get to know. I used to be into the Liberal thing, I was student Liberal candidate. I knew the tactics I was using there was like Robert Mugabe forcing it down everyone’s throat. My main politics now is more armchair politics. It’s more out-there, consideration of the universe. You’ve got to look at breaking down the system in front of us and recognising what is Babylon? Everyone sings about It. (mimicks lyrics about Babylon) Breaking it down…(He trails off and there’s an interruption)

Another call? Oh shit! Sorry man. Got to go. What’s the name of the magazine again?

State, State Magazine.

Go ahead man. Do it. Do it. Do it because you can’t help doing it! Y’know, you sound passionate. I’ve never met you before but you sound like you know what’s going on. I can’t wait to come to Ireland and see what’s happening. Cheers!

Roots Manuva plays The Academy on November 1st. Tickets €20.45 available here. His latest album Slime and Reason is out now on Big Dada.