By Stephen Cooper
Since moving to Jamaica from Australia in 2014, Nattali Rize has taken the reggae world by storm. Already Rize has worked with many of the industry’s biggest names; an activist by nature—and experience—everything about Rize’s music and revolutionary, rebel style (or “frequencies,” as she calls them), resonates with conscious, roots reggae music, and vice versa.
On February 11, 2018, Rize delivered a soulful, spellbinding performance before a motley but mellow crowd of thousands in Long Beach, California, at the One Love Cali Reggae Festival. When she was done, she gregariously walked off of the stage into the crowd to sign autographs, take pictures, and otherwise greet her many enthusiastic, adoring fans.
Afterwards, the songstress generously spoke with me backstage for approximately half an hour. The many topics we discussed included: the approaching one-year anniversary of the release of her first full-length solo album “Rebel Frequency;” some of the challenges of being a touring reggae band; the brutal occupation of West Papua by Indonesia and the Free West Papua movement; the infancy of her musical career “busking” on the streets of Byron Bay and the level of support for reggae music in Australia; the status of her band Blue King Brown; the decision to film the official video for her song “Warriors” at a sacred place for Rastas in Jamaica called “Pinnacle;” and finally, what it was like to record at Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios. What follows is a transcription of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations.
Q: Thank you for taking the time. That was such a high energy, soulful performance you gave today – thank you!
Nattali Rize: You’re welcome.
Q: Next month will mark a full year since the release of “Rebel Frequency,” your first full-length solo album. Can you believe it’s been almost a year?
Nattali Rize: No, the year’s gone fast. But it’ll be a year in May, actually.
Q: Oh? In May?
Nattali Rize: Yeah. The whole album came out in May.
Q: I see. So, part of it came out in March; is that right? I thought you’d released it in March?
Nattali Rize: (Laughing) Maybe it was March? Fu*k. (Laughing) Maybe it was March? I think it was May still –
Q: (Laughing) You’ve been touring a lot! So, I feel like you’re coming up on the one-year anniversary –
Nattali Rize: It’s coming up, anyway. Yeah, this year’s gone so fast. We were touring at this time last year with Tribal Seeds and Raging Fyah and it’s already been a year. That’s crazy!
Q: Are you satisfied with how people have received this first album of yours?
Nattali Rize: Yeah man. It’s been really well-received.
Q: I’m a big fan.
Nattali Rize: Thank you!
Q: And many other people are too.
Nattali Rize: It’s had a great reception on an international level. As you know there’s great support for reggae here in America. And also in Europe. And also in Japan. It’s been really well-received.
Q: Looking back at this last year, as you’ve been touring [all over the world to promote “Rebel Frequency”] what has been the most difficult or challenging part of the experience?
Nattali Rize: You know, it’s the lifestyle we choose. So yeah, there’s challenges. Organizing and coordinating an international band. We’re five people from Jamaica and Australia, and there’s a lot of logistics and a lot of details. It takes a lot of time and energy to coordinate and for everyone to be able to travel. Especially when Jamaicans need visas for every country in the world.
Q: And it’s gotten harder these days to [obtain] those kind of documents?
Nattali Rize: It’s just a process. And it’s expensive. And racist. And just an unjust process. So those are our hurdles. Having to find the money to just come and play music – even here in America; we’re here for one show, you know? So, it’s not easy. We’re independent. We have a message and a vibration to share. And there’s nothing else we can do with our lives, because we’re here for this reason. The journey does have some ups and downs and we just [have] to power through it, connect and resonate with the communities that embrace this music – like this festival. This festival is amazing! There’s so much love for reggae right here. And I didn’t even realize how big this festival was!
Q: Me neither!
Nattali Rize: Yeah. So you can really see the power it has. And the crowd was so open-hearted and energetic, and responsive – it makes it all worth it.
Q: For sure. Now, I know you were born in San Diego [California, USA]. Is that right?
Nattali Rize: Yeah.
Q: And how is it you wound up moving to Australia?
Nattali Rize: My mother – well, I grew up in New Zealand and Australia. So when [my mother] and my dad – they actually met over there – and then they came over here, and then we moved back.
Q: An article published in July of 2015 in the Saturday Paper in Australia said that your mother is a “Samoan who worked with an indigenous organization.” Can you say more about that? What was that organization, and was it involved with the Free West Papua movement which I know you’re involved with?
Nattali Rize: Yeah, so, my mother’s heritage is predominately Samoan. Which is a Pacific island off of the east coast of Australia. And growing up she worked with numerous community groups and the government branch for indigenous affairs. So, growing up my family and my extended family were indigenous Australians from different parts of the country. Australia is very diverse in its indigenous population. Before there were white man’s borders there, there were over 250 countries with all different dialects – within Australia. Now when you refer to West Papua, West Papua is an island of off the northeastern tip of Australia. And it’s the western half of an island of New Guinea; the eastern half is Papua New Guinea, which a lot of people have heard of. And then, West Papua, a lot of people have never heard of. It’s been colonized first by the Dutch and [then it was] invaded by Indonesia. And ever since then, it’s been over 60 years of a brutal, militant occupation. And the reason you would have found that in conjunction with my name is because we work with the West Papua community to help raise awareness. To shine a light on the daily injustices that are happening in West Papua today. And the type of colonial regime, and all the brutality, all the fuc*ery that happened in Australia years ago, [and] that happened in America, is happening now to the indigenous people of West Papua. By Indonesia. So, yeah, it’s an issue that’s very close to my heart because my sistren who sing with us in Australia are West Papuan.