The tiny coastal town of Honoka’a and its historic People’s Theatre frequently transform into an entertainment center when concert promoter Les Hershhorn (aka Lazer Bear) brings in a major mainland act. This past weekend’s Black Uhuru concerts were no exception.
Typically, Honoka’ seems to briefly shuts down at 2 p.m. when the two main restaurants close after lunch service for a few hours until 5 p.m. when they re-open for dinner. Tourists can be seen wandering the streets, up and down the town’s uneven sidewalks, shop-to-shop, looking for a trinket to take back home. All that changes when 500 concertgoers descend on Honoka’a and are looking for parking and a pre-show munchies.
Reggae is popular here on the island and Grammy Award winners Black Uhuru packed the People’s Theatre to capacity. They were supported by the Big Island’s Blended Rootz and singer Tina Sureda Castello, aka ONESTY. Friday’s show was so successful that they returned on Saturday for a surprise gig.
Prior to Friday’s show, I had the opportunity to interview Derrick “Duckie” Simpson who also uses the nickname “Gong Gong Gullie.” He’s the founder and leader for Black Uhuru, one of the most recognized and prolific reggae bands for over 50 years. This was their third tour of Hawaii in two years, and their 2018 release, As The World Turns, is their first new album in 15 years.
To say the interview took place in a casual setting would be an understatement. There’s a private area alongside the Theatre. Duckie is seated at a table, under an umbrella, and we’re hidden by a circle of tropical foliage. Duckie’s manager introduces me. Duckie briefly looks up to acknowledge me, grins, but his main focus is directed at rolling a rather large joint. His lighter clicks – puff, puff – and the interview begins.
Yes! Welcome! Gong Gong Gullie.
You’ve been busy travelling.
We just played four shows at the Blue Note on Oahu. Two per night.
Tell me about the new Grammy-nominated album, As the World Turns. I understand you had to re-record it due to the 2012 California fires that corrupted the files.
I did the album six years ago. It got messed up and other stuff. I re-did it last year. We did that at Double Lion Studio in Northern California. My agent Mike Gener was one of the Executive Producers.
What does the title As The Word Turns refer to?
I titled it that because the world is changing, but I didn’t use the word “change.” Yeah, all kind of stuff is going on, you know, all kind of stuff.
How about some of the tracks from the album. “War Crimes,” for example.
It’s about war crimes, and America has committed a lot of war crime. Especially that president who was there before, you know? And some guys who got killed [that]should not have been killed. That inspiration came from those incidents… [Robert Gabriel] Mugabe [former Prime Minister of Zimbabwe]. I don’t know if you ever heard of Mingus, too? That’s the guy who said he overthrowed Selassie in 1975. Then we have [Hugo] Chávez. I was warning Chávez before he got killed. I remember that song. It was originally done five or six years ago. So, at that time Chavez was still alive, and I was trying to warn him. Saddam Hussein got Gadhafi to cough. You know, Gadhafi? All those guys. I think it was war crimes.
I also did a remake of “Police and Thief.” I did The Clash version, but they didn’t do the original version. Junior Murvin did it for Lee Perry. Clash did the rock version. Then we got this song by the name of “Betrayal.” That’s a song about a girl who wears dreadlocks by day, but in the night, she becomes a blonde. There are several guests on the album like Prezident Brown, Bugle, and Agent Sassco.
“Jamaica Herbman.” That’s a remake of Ritchie Havens’ “Indian Ropeman.” Bob [Marley] did “Africa Ropeman.” I might be singin’ about five tracks from the album tonight. We just started the tour, so, by next week I might be singin’ about 7 or 8.
What about the videos for “Chalice” and “Spectrum”?
That’s all about ganja… all these ganja fields, they’re mines. It’s just a song about marijuana. We’re always singin’ about marijuana, mon. [coughs]I’m a marijuana man. I did “Spectrum” for a record label called Mesa/Blue Moon. “Spectrum” was on the Strongalbum. All the videos were done in Jamaica. “Jah Guide” was filmed on Cane River. [Starts singing “Trench Town” — Up a cane river to wash my dread.] “Chalice” was filmed in my ganja field. If you noticed, we’re smoking the biggest ganja pipe in the world! That’s on my base.
What do you think of Hawaiian style reggae?
I heard a Hawaiian band that was kickin’ it, mon, but I don’t remember their name. Hawaii is my place, mon. I’ve seen a lot of breadfruit here, and I’m like, Wow! It’s like I’m in Jamaica chillin’.
Where do you think the future of reggae music is headed?
Reggae is like any other type of music… rock, pop, R&B… it’ll be here forever, mon. They’ve been fusing it with other styles for a while, like rap. I don’t have a problem with it. These bands singin’ reggae… the music is for everyone. Some people have a problem with it [changes his voice]Deese people from Hawaii are singin’ reggae… They’re not reggae singer. It’s music, mon, you sing whatever you wanna sing! Some of these guys are good, like in California, you got Revolution, Groundation, Slightly Stoopid…
Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?
I’m just here to give people a good show, and promote my new album
Thanks so much for your time.
Every time. Gong Gong Gullie.
Be sure to visit Black Uhur’s official site: https://blackuhuruofficial.com
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby