Q: What do you remember about that time in Jamaica, about the way that the people felt when [Haile Selassie I] came [to Jamaica,] and after he left, what was the groove like? What was the conversation in the streets about the fact that [Selassie] had just been there?
Duckie Simpson: You have to understand the people dem in Jamaica do not like Rasta. So they were all trying to act like we were all stupid.
Q: For thinking it was great that [Selassie] had come to Jamaica?
Duckie Simpson: Yes. They didn’t like Bob Marley neither, don’t let them fool you.
Duckie Simpson: (Laughing) (nodding) Don’t let them f*cking fool you. All these baldhead singers in Jamaica. All these singers that used to sing rocksteady and ska? They hate Bob Marley. All of them. I am from that era. I’m sixty-f*cking-nine. Garthie took me to Trenchtown. And that’s how I knew Bob [Marley]. And Bunny [Wailer]. And Wailing Souls and all dem guys.
Q: When you were around Bob Marley and the Wailers, [did you observe] what has often been written, that because [Bob Marley] was of mixed race he was often picked on because of his skin color. Is their truth to that?
Duckie Simpson: Yeah. Yeah. That’s why he became so tough. He was the only red guy in like tons of black guys. And these black guys were Rasta. Serious Nyabinghi. Death to black and white oppressors, you know? So Bob Marley was trained. Bob Marley was tutored by a Rasta named Mortimo Planno. He was my tutor also. At the age of 15, I was hanging with Mortimo Planno. He was from Trenchtown. He was the most educated Rasta. This guy [knew] everything.
Q: When you think about Bob Marley, what personal memories come to mind?
Duckie Simpson: I see a man who was crushed by f*cking poor people. I learned from Bob Marley that you cannot satisfy people. That’s where I learned that people are evil. And wicked.
Q: Because they always want more [from you]?
Duckie Simpson: Yes. And no matter how much you give them, they’re still aching. All these guys around Bob Marley, they were all dreadlocks. All of them professing Rasta. And when Bob died, they all f*cking trim.
Q: I read another book by that same [Jamaican] scholar [Ennis B. Edmonds], it’s called “Rastafari: From Outcasts to Culture Bearers.” And he wrote in this book: “Rastas regard themselves as the agents of Babylon’s destruction and reggae music as their primary weapon.”
Duckie Simpson: We ain’t no agent of no Babylon destruction. F*ck that! And our primary weapon is Nyabinghi. Not f*cking reggae. This guy don’t know sh*t he’s talking about. He’s not a Rasta. He cannot write about Rasta. Where does he get his experience? He doesn’t praise Selassie. What makes you Rasta? You have to praise Emperor Haile Selassie I. If you don’t praise Emperor Haile Selassie I, you ain’t no f*cking Rasta.
Q: The reason why I brought it up is because it made me think of your song Five-Star General [on the new album] where you sing, “my lyrics on my hip keep scratching like a glock.”
Duckie Simpson: Of course.
Q: Let me make sure I understand: Nyabinghi is when Rastas congregate and reason with each other, and play Nyabinghi drums –
Duckie Simpson: That’s a Nyabinghi, yeah. Like 7 or 9 days of drumming. Reasoning.
Q: [It’s called a] “grounation”?
Duckie Simpson: Yes. And that is the most potent music of Rasta. Not reggae. You have some Rastas who don’t want to hear sh*t about reggae.
Q: I know there are a lot of different mansions of Rastafari.
Duckie Simpson: Not a lot. Only three.
Q: Nyabinghi. Bobo dreads. And –
Duckie Simpson: Twelve Tribes. Only three.
Q: Can I ask, which one do you –
Duckie Simpson: Me? Nyabinghi. I’m not a Bobo dread. Because I don’t praise Emmanuel. I praise Selassie. I don’t praise Marcus Garvey.
Q: [Reggae star] Anthony B is a Bobo dread.
Duckie Simpson: Yeah, yeah. You can know them by –
Q: Their very distinctive headwraps?
Duckie Simpson: Yes. And then they say “Emmanuel” before Selassie [when giving praise].
Q: And then most of the [Bobo dreads] live in Bull Bay [in Jamaica]?
Duckie Simpson: That’s [where] their headquarters [is].
Q: There’s [been] a lot of talk about Buju Banton and his return to Jamaica after having served that [harsh] sentence [in the U.S.] There were a lot of different reactions in Jamaica from reading the news about it. Some people were thinking he shouldn’t have gotten a hero’s welcome. And some people who felt that all of the attention that was paid [to Buju Banton] should have been paid. Do you have any particular opinion about this?
Duckie Simpson: I tell you some people are f*cking wicked. They have no control over that. The guy is a superstar. And the guy has his fans. And the guy went to prison for some drugs or whatever. And that’s Buju Banton, man. The man is a mega-superstar! Going to prison for 9 years ain’t going to do sh*t. That’s Gargamel. He’s always going to be a big star.
Q: Mr. Simpson, it’s an honor to talk [with] you always. Is there anything that you want the world to know about Black Uhuru, about the “state of reggae music,” about Jamaica, or about Rastafari, or anything [else]?
Duckie Simpson: Well trust me, you know? All of that is in my music. If you listen to my music [it’s] about Rasta, Jamaica, [and] reggae music. It’s all [in] there. And I am not necessarily trying to make people know sh*t. Because people know what they want to know and think what they want to know. You gotta be careful of the fans, you know?
Q: You don’t want to preach too much to them?
Duckie Simpson: No, I don’t preach. I didn’t say sh*t on stage. You notice that? Black Uhuru is the only [band] who doesn’t talk on stage.
Q: Just sings?
Duckie Simpson: (Nodding) We ain’t no preacher. And I ain’t trying to convert nobody. All of these motherf*ckers who are wicked? They need to go. So I’m not a guy who is here to preach sociality. Or try[ing] to teach people’s children. Or trying to save souls. That’s not my role. A lot of these souls need to burn. I’m just singing logical stuff. You can either deal with it or you don’t deal with it. But I’m not into preaching.
About the Author: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveCooperEsq