Studio Vibes: Tony Rebel keeps the 'human' vibe

December 15, 2017
Veteran reggae artiste Tony Rebel (right) overseeing production in his studio.
Lamali Barrett works the drum machine.
Tony Rebel in his studio on Ken Hill Drive.

While considering the technological development in music production, Patrick Barrett, known by many as the ever-grinning 'Sweet Jamaica' singer Tony Rebel, maintains the importance of retaining the human element in instrumentation.

During a visit to the veteran musician's private studio, he shared his appreciation of the drum machines, in tandem with nostalgia of recording in the analogue age.

"I think everything has its place. If you are smart enough to connect them both, then you can have a hilarious sound, using that of the past, combining it with what is here today," he told THE WEEKEND STAR.

The studio is set up with a Maschine Studio drum machine, a powerful PC, a recording booth, and a keyboard. It's small, but has machines that can do all the work.

"What is happening now is that from the analogue days, things have changed dramatically. Where you needed a lot of instruments to bring a particular sound, you don't have to have that anymore," he said. "With technology, you have plug-ins and you can get the same sound ... that's a blessing. Nowadays, a man can voice on his cell phone and it becomes a hit."

But Rebel said technology can't totally replace instruments.

"The vibe of the acoustics drum is totally different from what you programme on the machine; but it's how you work both. When a person is around a drum set, you can feel it more. It's pulsating, it's energy, it's live! Even if a mistake is being made, it's the humanness coming through," he said.

As such, the Rebel Salute head is building out a larger studio space a wall away, where there will be drums and other musical amenities for people to rehearse.

According to him, as small as the space is, they have recorded live horns, guitars and keyboards there.

Along with being a vocalist and songwriter, Rebel also sits in the producer's seat.

"As a producer I have good ears. Young Rebel (Lamali Barrett) is more acquainted with the technological advancement, but I am an idea person. He will play something, and I'll say that needs some guitar because I want to think that I understand from an experienced perspective," he said.

A majority of the songs featured on Queen Ifrica's latest album, Climb, which debuted at number one on the Billboard Reggae Charts, were recorded at the studio.

Tony Rebel professionally recorded his first track, Casino, at Tuff Gong Studios in 1984. Back then, vocalists recorded their songs in one take; the same went for dubplates.

"Even if you forget your lyrics and yuh miss, you have to create something on the spot because if you stop, that will be the end of the dubplate, because while you're recording, the dubplate is making. That training is what caused us to be here after 30-odd years," he said.

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