He has been called the Reverend of Reggae, but I’m going to call him one of the nicest, most inspiring men around. The legend known as Pato Banton took time out from his incredibly busy schedule to chat with us about what’s ahead and the future of reggae.
Originally from Birmingham, England, Banton got his start in the early ‘80s with The Beat, went on to work with UB40, released his own solo material, which led to collaborations with Sting, Steel Pulse, Private Domaine and many more. In 1994, his cover of “Baby Come Back,” which included UB40’s Robin and Ali Campbell, hit number one on the British charts, and he’s even had a Grammy nom.
Banton now resides in Southern California and when we spoke, the reggae singer and toaster was headed to San Francisco for a show in a string of West Coast dates.
Traci: Pato I heard you on TNN RADIO this week and you were talking about your grandkids. How many do you have?
Pato: Twenty-two now.
Traci: Twenty-two? Oh, my goodness!
Pato: I got a little army!
Traci: Are they all in Europe or some in America?
Pato: They’re all in England.
Traci: I know you tour and perform with your wife, Antoinette. Is she a singer too?
Pato: She’s a singer and a keyboard player. Brilliant keyboard player.
Traci: That’s wonderful! Looking at your tour schedule, you have something pretty much every single day! California, Hawaii, Africa, Europe, Chicago. Do you ever stop?
Pato: I try not to! I really love traveling. I love meeting people. I love bringing a positive message to people in different cities, and that’s only part of what we do. We also do counseling. I counsel my fans. I do marriages, baptisms, christenings for the children. We do a lot of outreach, work at schools as we’re traveling, too. So it’s a big project we’re dealing with. But I enjoy it. I love it.
Pato Banton Live | Photo by Sean McCracken Photography
Traci: It’s so wonderful that you do all those things, and then you have a lot of free shows too.
Pato: Well, I wanted to do seven cities of free shows during this tour. It was actually difficult getting venues to do free shows because they just have this habit of wanting to make money and charge and ticket sales and all this stuff. But I found the right people in the right venues. And even last night in Bakersfield, we did a free show, and when I got to the venue to do the sound check, we brought our own sound system and everything, and the promoter said to me, “Why these free shows?” And after I explained it to him, he was like, “Okay.” But some people are confused. They’re like, “How are you living? How are you earning?” For me, it’s like the more you give, you eventually get it back. You just have to just keep giving and keep moving.
Traci: How many people travel with you?
Pato: There are six of us on the road. I’ve got four musicians with me and one assistant.
Traci: I grew up in Southern California, going to a lot of reggae shows and seeing your friends UB40. You always leave a reggae show in a good mood. There’s no way to have a bad time.
Pato: That’s right.
Traci: So for you to give out that positivity and to do it for free, it is just an amazing thing to do.
Pato: It feels good.
Traci: Plus, you also give away your music. Didn’t you just put five of your albums on Bandcamp for free?
Pato: Actually, I think it’s about seven albums now.
Traci: Oh, wow.
Pato: Yeah, we just put up some more, and some of them are with bands like UB40, Sting, Steel Pulse. A lot of great artists around some of those songs, too.
Traci: As you just named, you’ve worked with such incredible artists. I had heard your song with Sting before, but when I was preparing for this, it was the first time I actually saw the video for “This Cowboy Song.”
Pato: (laughing) I haven’t seen that for ages. Yeah, the story behind that is that when Sting approached me to do that song, he actually approached a producer that I had worked with who had got me a number one hit song. Then the producer said, “Hey, Pato, guess what? I’m working on a Sting remix. Would you like to do something as a reggae remix?” I’m like, “Send it to me, man.” So he sent it to me from Los Angeles to the UK. I heard it, put my vocals on it, and by the time he finished the remix, the video had already been shot because I guess Sting wasn’t expecting another artist to be on the song. They sent the song to Sting anyway, and Sting was like, “Wow, we have to re-edit the video to put Pato into the video.” So they had to go and recreate the scenes to edit me into this amazing music video. It cost them a lot of money, but it was really well done.
Pato continues: After that, and I hadn’t met Sting yet, even though we had a video out together and it was a hit. When we actually did an interview together, Sting said to me, “You know, if you want to if you want to do a song, I’d love to return the favor to you,” because I wasn’t really charging Sting for the remix. So I said, “Yeah, I’m a big fan, Sting, and I’ve always performed ‘Spirits in the Material World,’ and I’d love to actually do it with you instead of just covering it.” He’s like, “All right, let’s do it.” So for that song, we actually went into the studio together, recorded the song together, shot the video together, and traveled together, became really good friends. He’s a very awesome person.
Traci: That’s great! You’ve had a long relationship with UB40 as well.
Pato: Yeah, we grew up in the same neighborhood. I watched those guys come up from nothing to be mega stars. Even when they were on the charts in the UK and I was unknown, they used to come and listen to me perform. Eventually they invited me to kind of musically collaborate on a project that they were working on and I ended up doing two songs on the album. Then later on, I went back to them and then we did a song called “Baby Come Back,” which was number one on the British charts.
Traci: That first project was 1985’s “Baggariddim,” so when they redid it two years ago, you came back again to redo yours?
Traci: I spoke with UB40’s Robin Campbell and Matt Doyle last year – they’re both really sweet, really wonderful – and Doyle is obviously a younger man. Are you seeing a lot of the younger generation coming up in reggae now that have the passion and talent?
Pato: Yeah. Sometimes I sit down and wonder, “Is this the last generation of reggae singers?” And then immediately there’s another wave of young talent that just comes from nowhere and they sound as though they’ve been doing it for 20 years and it’s really amazing. Once young people get that reggae vibe, they just do it well. And it’s not only in Jamaica and England, but I’m seeing young, aspiring reggae artists in America, Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia; they’re all over the planet. We just got back from Brazil and there’s some amazing new reggae artists in Brazil. So, yes, there’s no stopping reggae. Definitely not.
Traci: When it comes to your music, do you write the lyrics and the music or do you just concentrate on the lyrics?
Pato: Usually mostly the lyrics. Since me and my wife got together, she does a lot of the music compositions, but there are times as well where I get heavily involved in the music and then also write the lyrics. But I’m predominantly the writer.
Traci: What kind of songwriter are you? What is your process?
Pato: My process is multifaceted. I don’t have one technique. It can be a life situation, it can be something I heard on the news, it can be a fan asking me to write about something specifically. It really comes from different angles. It can be that I write before I hear any music or I hear some music and it inspires me to write. So it’s really multifaceted. It can be about love, about a work global situation or just trying to send a message to inspire other people to be positive and never give in.
Traci: Do you have something in the works for a new album right now, or is there anything in particular you’re working on?
Pato: There’s always something in the works! The main thing that we’re working on right now is “Ubuntu” music.
Traci: “Ubuntu” is your documentary?
Pato: Yeah. We went to Africa last year and visited 12 African countries and interviewed maybe 15-16 different leaders who are out there doing humanitarian work for their communities. Whether it’s a school, a hospital, or orphanage, whatever it is, they’re doing great things for the community. So we went out and filmed them, and now we’re editing all of the footage together and creating a music background for the documentary soundtrack. So that’s a very exciting project that we’re working on. After that, I’m working on my new album, and it’s been years since I’ve done a fully new album by myself.
Traci: Is there one particular story in the documentary that stands out and that you can share?
Pato: All of them are close to my heart, but I think if there was one particular one, it would be this brother named Deo [Deogratias Niyizonkizawho] left Africa and went to America and decided to go back home to build a hospital. And he is in a place called Burundi, which was a part of the genocide with Rwanda. Instead of going to the city where all the electric and the roads and everything is, and builders and construction sites, he decided to go to a remote hill in Africa and some untouched raw land. He actually lived in the jungle for a year or something, thinking, planning, and clearing the land. And when we went to see him, the hospital was almost completed, so he has invited us back for the big launch that’s going to take place this June. The President of Burundi is going to be there, too. It looks as though they’re promising to build a road from the city all the way to this amazing new hospital. The hospital is huge; it’s built so well, and yeah, I’m very proud of him and very excited to see how this develops.
Traci: And just from one man.
Traci: Amazing. You are also one man, but also doing so many amazing things.
Pato: We’re all family. We’re all God’s children, brothers and sisters.
Traci: We are all in this together.
Pato: That’s right.
As part of Banton’s very busy schedule, he will play a free show at The Beehive in Los Angeles on April 22nd and then head to the OC on April 23rd for a show at Mozambique in Laguna Beach. Go catch some of his positivity in person!