Tina Sureda Castello, aka ONESTY, was born in Antwerp, Belgium, and had an early interest in music and singing. She joined the Antwerp Cathedral at six and started to write her own lyrics and songs only a few years later. In 2007, ONESTY focused her career on reggae music, and eventually began touring with the Grammy Award winning band Black Uhuru.
In addition to touring and singing, ONESTY runs a charity called We Are the Heroes Foundation. Based in Kingston Jamaica, the organization aims to empower young people and create opportunities for them to express their dreams and desires.
On a recent Black Uhuru tour of the Big Island, I interviewed ONESTY before her show at the Honokaa People’s Theatre.
Aloha, Onesty. Have you been to the Big Island before?
Yes, and I love this island particularly a lot. I live in Jamaica and this island reminds me of Jamaica. You have certain foods around here, the green scenery, the people, they’re very relaxed. We went to the four main islands, and I remember from the last time we came, that for me, this island is a special one.
How long have you been touring with Black Uhuru?
Since 2016, and this year we’re doing another four weeks. I connected with them through my manager Marcia Simpson, Duckie Simpson’s wife. She’s been managing them for a very long time. She took me under her wings, and she’s started touring with them again. She said, “Give her a spot!”
What initially inspired you to get into music?
Well, music got me into music. I was inspired when I was very young, and by eight, I wrote my first set of little songs. I wanted to structure them, not just listen and wanted to do this all by myself. I have a few aunties who are really big singers and musicians in the family that inspired me to get into music. Before I got into reggae, I was into hip-hop in my 20’s. I said, “Yeah, this is it!” Some people think that if you live in Jamaica, reggae comes to you early, but for me it took a while to let it grow on me. I had a band in Belgium and started to go to Jamaica in 2008. It was then that I started to understand music on a professional level. I knew I had a lot of work to do because there are a lot of big singers in Jamaica to compete with. In Belgium, it’s not really a good scene for a reggae musician. Reggae is not the mainstream genre there. It’s very underground, and people like to keep it that way. It’s not on the radio either.
Let’s talk about your recent album, My World.
It was released last September, and it was an album I’d been working on for a very long time. The music business has been hard on me, and that’s the way I learned it. As a female in music, it’s really not easy. And coming from Belgium, I’m really understanding how tough it can be.
Is there a certain concept or theme with the album?
I wrote about things that really bothered me about this world. When I was in Jamaica for the first time, it was a reggae month. I was also February when they explore black history, slavery, and stuff like that. I was sitting around with all these Jamaicans in a room and they were watching a video about it. And it was in Belgium and I come from Belgium. They were kind of giving me a bad vibe about being from Belgium, and I said, that may be, but not in my world as it were. If I would have been there they would have killed me because I would have been a rebel. In “my world” there would be no domination, no poverty. In my world we can live free. I then started to think about how “my world” would look. Which is how the album My World first came about. There are also songs about women and one I wrote for my daughter and for all children in the world.
Today is International Women’s Day. Do you have any thoughts about that?
I’m not saying I’m feminist, or anything like that, but I encourage women and girls to be stronger. We’ve got the power. As women, we run a lot of things – the household, the family. As soon as I gave birth to my daughter, I realized that we are the source. We always get pushed in a corner where we have to handle the most difficult things, like taking care of a child, and holding things down. It may not look as enormous and glamorous as some other things that some people do, but it’s essential.
How does the rest of the year look for you? Have you got any upcoming projects or tours you’re working on?
Not until April. I’ll be back in Jamaica then. I run a charity from Jamaica that’s called We Are The Heroes Foundation. With the charity, I want to encourage children to understand that they are heroes… the future heroes, and that they need to wake up today to realize that. They don’t need to wait until they’re big and be manipulated and molded. They need to realize that when you’re small that you are the future. I use art as a method and do free art workshops. We’re setting up a recording studio where we’re going to do music projects with them and they can work with people I know in the music industry.
Where can people find out about your charity and music?
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally 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