Junglist Network: had a chat with Jungle veteran Navigator MC
How did you get into the music industry?
I first got into performing live in 1979 through reggae sound systems. I rose through the ranks of the north London sound system circuit on sounds called Phaze One, First Choice and Fatman Hifi, ultimately becoming a member of the top sound in my area Unity Hi-Power in 1985 where I joined forces with Deman Rockers & Flinty Badman now known as Ragga Twins. I left sound systems in 1988 and after a 2 year hiatus I started to go to rave parties as a hype MC for Ragga Twins when they did PAs of their tracks from their legendary album Reggae Owes Me Money. They were one of the biggest acts signed to one of the biggest labels at the time called Shut Up & Dance. So I just observed everything that was going on around me and came to a realization that I could utilise my vocal skills in this new field without compromising my style and reggae roots. Two years later Jungle music was on the way to becoming one of the most phenomenal genres of music to emerge out of London and I was privileged enough to be right in the thick of it. Being involved at the inception of Jungle Music really opened my eyes to the music ‘INDUSTRY’, it was then that I learned a lot more about the many facets that are all part of the colossal music industry machine.
Who inspired you at the time?
Jamaican sound system cassette tapes were my main inspirations from the mid 70s right through the 80s. King Stur Gav, Killamanjaro, Metro Media, Gemini, Volcano, Black Scorpio, Black Star, Stereo One, King Jammys, Youthman Promotion etc etc. MCs where called DJs in Jamaica at that time and what we call DJs now were known as selectors. My DJ influences were Lone Ranger, Ranking Joe, U-Roy, Brigadier Jerry, Josie Wales, Charlie Chaplin, Peter Metro, Burro Bantan, Professor Nuts, General Trees, Super Cat, Early B, Welton Irie, Leiutenant Stitchie, Papa San, Shabba Ranks, Chaka Demus, Major Worries, Beenyman, yo.. the list is endless. Singers: Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, Sugar Minnott, Johnny Osbourne, Gregory Issac, Barrington Levi, Frankie Paul, Sanchez, Tenor Saw and many more. Listening to those tapes taught me pronunciation and how to project my voice into the mic properly until I started writing my own lyrics in 1985. Another massive influence is David Rodigan, he was ‘THE’ host/voice of reggae on mainstream UK Radio from the mid 70s through the 80s and he was one of the main people who really educated the masses about Jamaican reggae music. I listened to him religiously, pause button taping every show, so as to cut out the talking and just have the music to listen back to, so really unknowingly Roddi played a big part in the development of who Navigator is today. I also got a lot of inspiration from Jungle promoters, artists, DJ’s and producers too, Ragga Twins, Rebel MC, SL2, Prodigy, Grooverider, Fabio, DJ Ron, Guy called Gerald, Lenny De Ice, Uncle 22, Cool Hand Flex, Randall, Mampi Swift, Kool FM, Roast, VIP Champagne Bash, Jungle Fever, MC Moose, Tenor Fly, Top Cat, General Levy, Demolition Man and many more. Last but not least I also found John Lennon to be a big musical inspiration, not only musically but also for what he stood for as a man, just like Bob Marley. My two all time favourite songs are; Imagine and Redemption Song. #SaluteForTheInspiration
How did you start working with the Freestylers?
It was almost a coincidence to tell the truth, but everything happens for a reason. It was in the summer of 1998 when I got a call from an independent label I was working with. They wanted to link me to a label called Freskanova who Freestylers were signed to at the time. Freskanova were looking for an MC to hype up the live shows. Anyway I eventually got booked to do a ‘test’ live Freestylers show at Fantasia in G MEX centre Manchester. I walked into the dressing room and saw Tenor Fly, J-Rock (Blapps Posse), and Aston who used to engineer for Rebel MC/Congo Natty and DJ Rap. I was shocked to see them all again so suddenly like that, the vibe was high when we hit the stage.. we killed it!! The week after that the label manager called me into the office and we sorted out a deal. Couple months later I voiced Ruffneck and Warning and the rest is history.
How important is soundsystem culture to Jungle?
Its very important because of the heavy Reggae influence in Jungle and is also relative to the social cultures that Reggae and Jungle grew out of. Kingston Jamaica and London UK are responsible for the emergence these two highly innovative genres of music and the amazing thing is that both genres still continue to draw new inspiration and empowerment from each other today. Obviously there are many sub genres of Jungle that have come along over the past 20 years, so everybody has their own experiences and influences, but the foundation people who were the innovators of this blessed movement are all coming from a soundsystem culture background. Regardless of whether they came from a reggae or hiphop soundsystem its all the same empowerment from music we used to rise up out of our individual and collective struggles. Soundsystem is a rebel culture that promotes elevation, entertainment and happiness through musical expression and that is essentially what Jungle is.
Why did Jungle die off for so long?
JUNGLE DIDN’T DIE!!! .. lol.. when the mainstream turned its back on Jungle we just carried on making the music we love. There are many established producers and artists around and many new producers and artists that have been passionately putting the work in behind the scenes. It never died for us because its something that is near and dear to our hearts. Many people including myself have diversified into other genres because most of us are quite versatile in our individual capacities as producers and artists. But patiently, steadily grinding with persistence and perseverance always turns the tables in the end and now Jungle is back at the forefront again. But if the truth is to be known you just have to look at any genre of music, they all go through periods where they’re not so popular or the ‘in thing’, then after a period of time it becomes the ‘in thing’ again. Much like high street fashion, one season is crew neck t-shirts and the next season is v-neck pullovers, but just because one style is in season it don’t mean the last style that was out before the new one came in ain’t still popular, coz some people just like what they like.. period.
You supported James Brown once, what was that experience like?
It was amazing. I was there with Ragga Twins on a Scandinavian tour. James Brown must have been in his mid 60s then and he was totally on point. The show was in a ice skating rink in Oslo Norway. We did sound check and he was conducting like a 16 piece band, occasionally he would point at a musician and carry on conducting. At one stage he stopped the band and went over to one of the guitarists and took the instrument and played it how he wanted it to be played. Then he counted the band back in again and it sounded like he dropped the needle on a record, it was more than tight.. So amazing!!! After the sound check our manger told us he was talking to James manager who said that every time he pointed at a musician he was docking 5 Dollars off their wages for mistakes they had made haha! I also spoke to one of his backing singers, she only had one leg, she had been his backing singer for 30 years and she had bought her house and raised her children on the money she had been paid touring with him, she had a lot of respect and admiration for him. He killed the show though, dropping splits and dancing the whole time, it was a very high energy performance and when the show was over he jumped straight into a limousine at the side of the stage and he was gone. True superstar business! For me he is the first MC that set the template, yes I said it MC!!.. Listen to his music, he is not really known for singing soulful ballads is he? He had a uncanny understanding of the balance needed between vocally interjecting, leaving space for the music, dancing and hyping the crowd. He was a Master at it and even though it may not be so obvious to say for instance a new school DnB MC, in my opinion he was one of the Fathers amongst others that unwittingly laid the foundations for it all. RIP James Brown #Salute
What made Mo Fire such a massive hit do you think?
I think the main thing was the amount of high profile people involved in the project. Me and Spyda voiced the original version produced by Krasqn & Royce in Rawhill studios in a small village called Rauenberg – (which actually means Rawhill) near Mannheim Germany. We got Soultrain, Tenor Fly & Shabba D on it after. I then met Vegas (BC) at a live performance of Mo Fire in MS Connexion Mannheim and he linked me to Fresh, I gave Fresh who was at the time further establishing his label Bad Company the accapellas to remix it. Bad Company were the hottest new producer outfit and label then, so for me it all went hand in glove. I went to Fresh’s house and he played me a beat I liked, then he simply cut, pasted and tweaked the vocal over it but only used mine, Spyda and Soultrains vocals. He then gave it to Andy C who was about to go on tour in the States with MCGQ. When they got back from the tour GQ called me and told that Mo’ Fire was the tune of the tour and it had smashed every dance. His exact words were, “You got a hit on your hands Navi.” After that Fresh & Andy C did another remix to add to the package and then we shot the video in a mansion in Maidenhead and at Movement Bar Rumba. The tune was a big hit, but it was also a huge accomplishment for me because I had waited 10 years to get a hit track that was actually killing the dancefloor in those Jungle/DnB parties in the early 2000s. #RawhillCru
(incidently the ‘Shotter Hitter’ bars in ‘Tarantula’ is actually the original Tenor Fly vocal that he voiced for me on Mo’ Fire. Fresh gave the accapellas to Pendulum and the rest is history).
You moved to Germany about 4 years ago and you’ve just passed a sound engineering diploma, will this change your works focus and how has it effected your sound??
Very good question. The sound engineering diploma gave me a very in depth knowledge of sound as source energy. It actually gave me a higher overstanding of why some people get along and some don’t. Just like magnets, frequencies attract and repel and also cancel out. Having understood that in principle; everything else became clearer and I started to produce stuff at home by myself. But I am essentially a vocalist and have no desire to sit in front of a computer for hours tweaking synth sounds with filters or drums with EQs. I just wanted to have the knowledge of what was being done so I could be more specific when explaining to my co-producers or engineers about the type of sound that I am seeking. Living in Berlin is not as cluttered as London so I feel like I have more space, which in turn makes me more open to everything. For me it has been a good experience living here and it has definitely helped me to become a much more grounded and focused artist with enhanced skills.
What are you working on at the moment?
WOW… that’s a lot to talk about, but here is a brief overview.
I have plans to release a lot of Jungle this year. The first release will be Kingston 11 which was originally produced by Lion Dub (NYC) and featured Miami based ragga vocalist Bass Nacho, I got involved and added some vocals and since then me and Lion Dub have been formulating this release. Now we have a banging remix by upcoming producer Code Red from Toronto which has had interest from Brian G (V.Recs) & DJ Hype (Playaz). Lion Dub and I have been steadily working on product for the last decade and have a lot of tracks so we are intending to drop it all, we are in the process of working out how to drop it in relation to the current musical climate. Kingston 11 will start the ball rolling though and we are proud of the unification this track has caused, that’s why we decided to shoot the video footage in London, New York, Miami & Toronto because we want to show the global links. There will also be other releases with Marcus Visionary and some remixes and original material by Aries plus I just did a tune with the man, no other than the legend that is Ranking Joe through a Lion Dub link up. There is a lot more too… but I dont want to give out too much info about that yet because things have a way of changing at any given time!
Being the cross genre artist that I am, I’ve got lots of other stuff ready to go that I have had for a while but have not released because I had been busy studying. I actually really want to go back to college again to do Personal Fitness Trainer license now, but this year I have been focused on releasing music again. I have had two singles released this year both on Italian labels with Italian production, the first one is a house number that came out in March called ‘Shake It’ featuring myself, Adam Clay and Ciljeta Xhilaga produced by Spankers which went to No.2 on iTunes Japan. I am working on a follow up for that right now in the form of a next single called ‘Let Loose’ featuring me and my brother Alaska MC, we are currently getting remixes together and have already shot a video for that forthcoming release. I also have a roots reggae lovers rock style single called ‘You Rock’ on which I feature for an Italian reggae singer called Ma Rumba who is based in Ancona. ‘You Rock’ is out now on Soulove Records – owned by DJ Afghan who is another good friend of mine from Ferrara Italy. I have a few more solo reggae singles to drop this year so look out for those too.
I am pleased to add that I am back in the studio working on tracks and planning to do live band performances with the Freestylers after a 16 year break which possibly has big potential. I also have a couple of tracks coming out at some stage this year with my friends Profit from Berlin who are a bass/breaks production outfit. There has also been talks about getting back in the studio with Feel Good Productions who are an Italian live band/production team with whom I extensively toured Italy back in 2005/6. I got a next huge Jungle mixtape and related single with video project coming in the future with King Kong aka Zoobie from Social Security/Benefit Beats. We are hyped about this one because the way we are planning to drop it is very innovative and hasn’t been done before. There are also tracks that I have ready for release on my label ODT Muzik with Alaska MC, SMK, Bobby Bizz, Soultrain Locomotive, Spookasonic, Drapes da Pro and E Prezi and his 53rd Platoon imprint, plus I am still working with ErbNduB on new stuff. Me and Alaska also have a Trap/Hiphop project in the making combining Alaska’s Florida rap flows with my UK ragga style, with very uplifting positive affirmation style lyrics. Trust me when I say we are very excited about this project too. Since 2014 kicked in I’ve just been looking at things from a new perspective and at the same time I’ve been reconstructing the ODT Muzik website and brand etc, but we are definitely gearing up to drop some bombs in the very near future. So to say I am working on a few things is really understatement.
What’s your most memorable live performance so far?
There have been many but Glastonbury 99 was the one!!
Close 2nd was KOOL FM 3rd Birthday Bash at Astoria.
words can’t describe the feeling…. check the links?
Only thing I will say is that for me as an artist on the microphone projecting my voice from a stage through a massive PA system to the masses, and then I get that really colossal response from a 10-20,000 or upwards of that size crowd, it gives me goose bumps and my hairs stand on end. No other high can make me feel like that, it’s an amazing, empowering feeling. I was born into the game from a live performance perspective and it will always be my favourite way of musically expressing my love for what I do. Thanks to all the fans, audiences, and all my fellow musical family, friends and colleagues. Praises to the Creator for the blessings.