This interview was held on January 13, 1994, at Garnet’s Kingston home. The visit was as warm and memorable as the 27-year-old singer himself. Tragically, by year’s end, Garnet perished in a fire alongside his mother at his childhood home. I cherish my time spent with this humble, delightful, kind human being who possessed childlike joy and a smile that touched everyone he met. Rest in power, dear soul…your music, message and memory live on. ~M. Peggy Quattro
Garnet Silk – A Son of Ethiopia
By M. Peggy Quattro V12#2 1994
Words in double brackets [[ ]] signify updated 2020 material ~MPQ
The highly anticipated return of Garnet Silk to the performing stage was purposefully planned to coincide with the birthday celebration of his good friend, DJ Tony Rebel. On January 15, 1994, Rebel Salute was staged in the cool and lovely city of Mandeville, situated in their home parish of Manchester, Jamaica.
In July 1993, following his doctor’s orders, the popular singer/songwriter took a needed hiatus from his rigorous performing and recording schedule. The reason given: exhaustion. [more later in this interview]
Garnet Silk exploded on the Jamaican music scene in 1991 and soon became the most in-demand performer on the island. A steady stream of shows and performances, tours and recordings throughout ‘92 and most of ‘93 took its toll on the performer. To begin the new year, and a new era in his dazzling career, Garnet Silk appears rested and ready to resume his appointed rule as musical message giver.
Every song released by Silk in the last two years has attracted rave reviews and considerable airplay in Jamaica and abroad. His unique vocal styling and charismatic presentations have him marked by music industry personnel and fans alike as the “next Bob Marley.”
I recently had the pleasure of visiting and interviewing the serious yet mild-mannered Silk during rehearsals and preparation for his triumphant comeback performance at Rebel Salute. This interview is part of the comeback.
His spacious, multi-leveled house is comfortably situated in Jack’s Hill, Kingston. I was led to the back of the house, to the rehearsal room, where members of Jahpostles, Silk’s backing band, were packing up their gear. The mood was upbeat and pleasant. The panoramic view of the city, mountains, and sea was every bit aswarm and inviting as Garnet Silk’s friendly and sincere welcome. Garnet, casually dressed in a Jamaica T-shirt with the ites colors of red, green and gold, green jeans and black sandals, appeared healthy, fit and ready “fi work.”
Surrounded by his wife and four beautiful children, close family and friends, and anchored with a deep love and respect for Emperor Haile Selassie I and Rastafari, a strong sense of stability and direction has seemingly settled on the reclusive star.
For everyone who has listened to and become enthralled by the silky voice and spiritual message of this phenomenal artiste, what follows here is an intimate insight into this loyal and devoted son of Ethiopia.
Garnet Dayman [[Damion]] Smith was born April 2, 1966, in Bromelia, a small town in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica. That same year his large family moved to Hatfield, on the border of Greenville [[Greenvale]]. “I know about some 30 brothers and sisters,” he claims. “My father was a very fruitful man.” He was openly amused when I asked if there was one or two T’s in Garnet. “One. Everybody spell it with two. If one T can do it, what’s the use of using two?” His musical inclination goes back to his mother who he claims sings well. Other early inspirations include Bob Marley and Burning Spear. “From I was a little youth, me loved the people who were [into the music] from a moral aspect.”
“I asked if there was one or two T’s in Garnet. “One. Everybody spell it with two. If one T can do it, what’s the use of using two?”
Until 14 years of age, he attended Hatfield All-Age School, where he admits he had no particular favorite subject. “I never liked school. The time I did go, though, I did well, still.” Sport was a different matter, and until today he enjoys “playing football [soccer] at home.”
When asked if he was popular at school, he hesitates a moment. “Yea, mon,” he responds, “because from me was a little youth me can sing and DJ, so I guess that caused the vibe.” He enjoyed writing as a boy, especially thought-provoking lyrics. “It was the same thing, mon. To acknowledge Jah and to serve Him in spirit and in truth.” I asked if he knew as a child that he wanted to be a performer. “Me dream it, mon, me dream it. Jah know.”
Encouraged by friends and family, at age 12 he experienced his first public performance. “My friends went to a dance, and true, they know me as a little DJ [[Little Bimbo]] and they believe in me. They went and asked the soundman to get the mic but the soundman hesitated ‘cause him check and say him no want his sound is some joke thing. But my youth is some revolutionary kind of the youth and they insist ‘cause they believe in the boy, and them decide the boy have to touch it and prove himself tonight. So they kind of mad him up and me get the mic. So when I get started, the soundman then actually get disappointed that he didn’t touch it from first. And me start DJing on his sound.” The name of that sound was Soul Remembrance.
Garnet Silk’s first recording was done in 1984, and his first release, “Problem Everywhere” came in 1985. The song was produced by Delroy “Callo” Collins, also from Manchester. A flood of tunes were recorded, some released here and there, but it wasn’t until 1992 that Garnet Silk had his first big hit. “Hello Mama Africa” was produced by Richard “Bello” Bell of Star Trail studios and it catapulted the young singer to the forefront of the Jamaican music scene. “Songs before that did well, but comparing them now, out of all the songs, I think “Hello Africa” is the biggest and the first,” said Garnet.
Over the past two years, Garnet Silk has written numerous songs and recorded for Courtney Cole (“we have a brotherly vibe”), Bobby Digital (“my bonafide”), King Jammy, Jack Scorpio, Steely & Clevie, Donovan Germain, and Sly & Robbie, to name a few. His string of hits include “It’s Growin,” “Oh Me Oh My,” “Place in Your Heart,” “Green Line,” “Everything I Got,” “Splashin’,” “Bless Me,” “Jah Jah is the Ruler,” and most recently, “Christ in His Kingly Character.”
Though born into the tribe of Rueben, Garnet proclaims no organized affiliation. “I man see myself as a son of Ethiopia. I man is an Ethiopian. Ethiopia, where all things started.” In 1986, Garnet met his mentor, Dub Poet Yasus Afari, while touring the streets of Mandeville with Tony Rebel. They knew of each other through their association with Rebel. It was then that Garnet began to site Rastafari. “I remember the first time Garnet came to my house,” recalls Yasus. “Him come and say ‘God sent me to you,’ the Father say that he must link with Yasus and things would work out for him.” Garnet affirms that Yasus did baptize him into the truth and might of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I. “Him look like him just come from the shower,” Yasus claims, “him hair nah comb. Garnet nah comb his hair since that time. Since then, me have a role in his whole evolution.”
“I man see myself as a son of Ethiopia. I man is an Ethiopian. Ethiopia, where all things started.”
I was curious as to Garnet’s views on the current Dancehall situation. Simply put, he announced, “I believe in originality at its best. And speaking of lyrical content now, I believe in purity and consciousness.” Dismissing the subject of Dancehall, he alluded back to Reggae. “As I say on one of the songs, ‘Music is the rod [and] we have Moses leading God’s children to the promised land in the path of righteousness’ and, therefore, where Jah wants Reggae to go, it will go, because it is God’s music. No matter how it seem today.”
I pushed on by stating that it seems that man does have something to do with the direction, using major record companies as an example. “Them nah take over,” he declared. “Them a try put up obstacles, but Jah will and shall prevail. Nothing can stop it. Jah is just patience and faith. Therefore, if it is music to lead them, then Jah will make the right music play. Like I said, no matter how it seems.”
To move on to other topics, I finally asked what he would like to see changed, or what could we do to help with the transition. “I would say, fret not yourself because of evil doers. Give it a little while and they shall be no more because man a’go kill themselves in this time and the work shall be the evidence. Jah teach us the consequences and every man get his pay according to his work. So if you live by Jah, you live; and if you live by anything else, you will die by it. So we don’t even have to worry about that. Jah’s will shall and must be done. Everybody is doing their works. Every man is fulfilling prophecy; and the footstep of a good man is ordered by Jah, so fret not yourself. Just do your part and do your best – and Jah will do the rest.”
In 1992, Garnet Silk became the most prevalent name in Jamaican music. I asked if the size and scope of his popularity surprised or frightened him. “No, mon. All these things, we did know what was to come. Jah did make I&I know, aware, so that it wouldn’t surprise or frighten I. Most things that people are frightened or excited over, we just take calm and nah worry up ourselves ‘cause we’re moving by Jah. So we nah take praise, we just give all praises and thanks to the Almighty God, Jah Rastafari, Haile Selassie, the first.”
Recognizing the intensity of his popularity, I pushed on asking if all the “ray” and attention he received so quickly had destabilized him, shook his foundation, so to speak. “In no way at all; no, mon. ‘Cause we know it’s now we. Only if you think it’s you, then you may be frightened. It’s the people that frighten themselves ‘cause them wonder, ‘Is it me?’ They don’t know the fullness of themselves. But I&I know it’s Jah – so it shouldn’t be surprising, ‘cause with Jah, all things are possible.”
Much of the hype surrounding the young star refers to his being “the next big thing,” the “next Bob Marley.” I asked if he saw himself in those terms. “First of all, me never see myself as the next Bob Marley. Me see Bob as the king of Reggae and a brother; we are sons of the same Father. Bob done his work and Jah appoint me to do mine, just as He appointed Bob to do his. I man never really see myself as no big thing either. Just a little thing in Jah’s sight. I’m a servant of Jah and a son; I do what Jah orders me to do.”
Perhaps you might ask yourself, was it Jah who removed the superstar from the spotlight in July of 1993? I invited Garnet to tell us in his own words why he withdrew and to clear up rumors that circulated after his departure. I mentioned some: low blood pressure, drug abuse, nervous breakdown. “Well, I was very tired. Suffered from a little exhaustion. I was overworking and never realized that I was overdoing it. Mentally and physically. But it wasn’t anything like you hear, about Garnet get off and all of them things, ‘cause people have all kinds of things to say. There was no truth to that. It’s just that I was very tired and my doctor ordered me to rest.” After a moment, he continued, “at one time, my blood pressure was slow – but nothing to do with drugs. We all falter sometimes, but drugs is not one of my faults, seen? I’m mad, but mad to the point of sanity. People pass their own assumptions. But the opinion of a man does not change the truth – I was tired.”
“We all falter sometimes, but drugs is not one of my faults, seen? I’m mad, but mad to the point of sanity.”
The hard-working Silk had traveled extensively to America, England, Bermuda, and to Japan in 1992. He was constantly in various studios, and over the Christmas holidays, Silk performed on shows “like nothing, consecutively, one show behind another.” Besides the strain of working, there was the added stress of flying. “I’m terrified bad of flying. But me get over that since. Me went through that phase there. You see, we have to fly, so we fly with Jah. Jah protect and guide me. Since me a youth me ‘fraid of heights and things. We’re all human, Rasta, and we all have our weaknesses.”
To the many fans who were concerned about his health, let it be known that Garnet is definitely not a drug addict. “Me not even drink bottle juice. Me no smoke, period.” He added: “Fret not ‘cause Jah never fails. They must not listen to false rumors and the same Jah that I ask them to seek will reveal the truth to them in due time. Erase all negative thoughts out of their minds ‘cause all of us make mistakes, but not all of us share the same mistakes.”
He admitted that it was a mistake not to make an official announcement as to the reason for his withdrawal; the result of poor management. “Maybe it wasn’t negligence, maybe it was just kinda ignorance.”
I brought up that I was in New York at that Ritz show, his final performance before the doctor-ordered rest. I was backstage when Garnet came off [stage] and he was flocked by people who appeared to be more of an obstacle then a help. He looked as if he was trying to find his way out. “Yeh, that’s true,” he remembers. “I was frightened because I had never understood at first that I suffered exhaustion, so that kind of feeling me get make it, me a’ wonder, what kind of feeling is this?” He laughs. “So me get excited, and true, this was not a place I was familiar with.”
He went on to explain that he felt as if he was going “to drop.” ”So I turned to my bredren and say ‘hold me,’ but it look like it frighten him too. Me never drop, but it was a feeling that I’m not used to, and anything could’a happened. Then we go outside and I asked them to bring up the vehicle. We went to an emergency place but we never really had any reason for them to deal with me. So they just took my blood pressure.”
I inquired how he felt before the show. “Before the show? The only thing was me was tired, still. Because when they woke me up and said it was time for the show, me wish me coulda stayed in bed.” He paused a moment and continued: “The thing with me is, maybe I’m very emotional and sincere in whatever I am doing, and once the music start play, I get the vibe and me never mind nothing about being tired.”
Getting that issue out of the way, I moved on to the relationship with his U.S. record company, Big Beat/Atlantic Records. On a mission to dispel rumors, I asked if it were true that the label sent him back to the studio after his first submission, claiming that his material “was too cultural.” “Nah, sir,” he replied. ”It wasn’t anything about too cultural. It was just some of the tracks could have been a little tighter and we just went on to deal with it. They didn’t have any problem with the words ‘cause them know the artiste who they signed before, and me say to them me nah that change for nothing.”
I later asked Dylan Powe, a young Jamaican who is Garnet’s A&R rep for Big Beat in New York, why he pursued Silk to be signed to the label. “The reason,” Powe claims, “is because he sounded like nothing else happening at the time.” I then asked what he attributes to the public charisma that Garnet possesses. “Because he is a great singer and songwriter,” Powe explained, “and because of the sincerity in his delivery. People are put in his position – no matter what – when they hear him sing.” I asked Garnet the same question: “It’s the God they love, maybe they don’t understand. It’s God that makes me move the spirit. I am an instrument that God is playing. Why Joseph was Joseph? Why Moses was Moses? We are all equal in the sight of God.”
Bredren Yasus Afari explains that he doesn’t see any difference between Garnet’s career and his purpose. “Purpose is established by the will of the Father,” Afari describes, “and the will must be done on Earth as it is in Zion.”
“I am an instrument that God is playing. Why Joseph was Joseph? Why Moses was Moses? We are all equal in the sight of God.”
Powe expects that Big Beat/Atlantic will be releasing Garnet’s first single in mid-April. He informed me that the album will contain all but two new songs. Again, a number of Jamaica’s top producers were brought into the project at Garnet’s request. “They allow me to flow with my vibe. We listen to each other. Each one help one. We are doing our best because all of us wants the best. Me love what me is dealing with right now.”
Just as Garnet dreamed of performing as a youth, it has now come to pass. He’s a successful and accomplished singer and songwriter. He acknowledges that he has been anointed and appointed by the Father, and he’s up to the task. His fans are some of the youngest ever in Reggae, ranging from 7 to 17. To these young people, he directs his final remarks. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all necessary things shall and will be added to you. Love mummy and daddy and your brothers and sisters as you love yourself, and love Jah with all your hearts. Be obedient and kind and willing and you will live forever. Jah will comfort and teach you what to do, and you’ll know.