Walshy Fire is no stranger to cultural exchange; having criss-crossed genres and continental lines for years and splitting his own time between Jamaica, Miami and Los Angeles. After touring across Africa as ⅓ of Major Lazer, the producer and MC saw beyond what he referred to as his “Jamaican bubble” for the first time, bringing the new and the familiar into frame simultaneously. “Whether it be food, music, or language, or customs, there were just so many times I had to stop for a second and be like nah, I know this.”
It was from these experiences that the producer and MC’s upcoming studio album, Abeng, started to take shape. The album’s title refers to the horn that was transported from modern-day Ghana and used by some of Jamaica’s earliest inhabitants to communicate over long distances. It’s a multi-genre and multi-lingual deep dive into the unbreakable connections between the African continent and the Caribbean — a historical and still evolving musical synergy that’s already manifested in the birth of everything from reggae to salsa to zouk, to the full-circle bridging of soca and afropop.
For all of the energetic exchange between Afro-diasporic genres, they once existed in cultural silos — relatively closed off from each other until more recent years. Featuring a slew of collaborations between dancehall, reggae, afropop, and soca heavyweights like Mr. Eazi, Runtown, Alkaline, Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin, Walshy’s production dexterity is on full display.
Today, the producer not only premieres the album’s first single “No Negative Vibes” right here on The FADER, but talks about the upcoming album, what home means, and finally feeling human.
How did this project come together?
It’s kind of this dream that I didn't know I had because I was just in a Jamaican bubble. I ended up doing a couple of shows with Major Lazer over the years in Africa and I just started to become friends with some of the artists. Some of them will hit me up in DMs because they wanted to do dancehall songs so badly and I was really heavy into that. So after years and years of meeting the artists, connecting and becoming friends, we decided to start working on music. So just about two years in the making this project. It's been a long journey.
This album made me think a lot about collective musical memory. I’m pretty sure I didn't hear music from the continent until I was in my 20s, but when I did it it felt familiar in this really intrinsic way. Is that something that you thought about?
It's really amazing, the science behind this whole collective, genetic memory thing. It plays in our DNA, I tell you no lie.There was just so much and so many times I had to stop for a second and be like Nah, I know this. When I was in Kenya, the driver that we had fell asleep and they couldn't find him. So, when they found him the first thing they said was Yo man, why you kimbo? So I was like, Yo, does Kimbo mean be lazy? And she was like Yeah, it means you're a lazy man. I'm thinking, Do you guys know that Jamaicans use that word? And then I started playing “Kimbo King” by Reggie Stepper. We use this word kimbo in Jamaica. If more of this was somehow expressed, everybody would feel so much closer to people that are not very close to them physically. Hopefully I'll connect the dots in this project.
So has your idea of home and what home feels and sounds like changed for you since you had this experience?
Absolutely. Because now, I feel like I feel like an adopted child wherever I go, and it's not just Africa. It’s Brazil, all throughout the Caribbean, Central America. I feel like I give off the energy that says I know you're my brother. I know you're my sister. They give it right back to me, and so I immediately become a part of whatever family I encounter anywhere in the world. So, home has this weird definition now, because I actually feel like the world is my home. I actually feel human.
All these places that you grew up in are super diverse. You grew up a little bit in Toronto but mostly in Miami. Both places that have all these cultures existing side by side. How did people stay in these bubbles? And what do you think shifted that?
Here's my hypothesis on that. I feel like being Jamaican, it comes with a lot and it comes with a level of arrogance or a level of toppa topness. We've been the coolest place on the planet for very long time and the bad part about that is it does not allow a lot of Jamaicans you know the willingness to open the door to let other cool places in. If you look at the map and you look at that little rock and you're like Wow, this thing has been a powerhouse. When you go to Toronto, everybody talks like a Jamaican. When you go to London, everyone talks like a Jamaican. When you go to parts of Africa, believe it or not, everyone is talking like a Jamaican. I mean everywhere and it's all because of how strong our culture is. That has played in my own ignorance and inability to willingly open the door to other cultures for the first 15 years of my life. And then you know, when I go off to college that's when I begin to open up a door and be like Yo, there's a lot of cool people where just as cool stuff going on and I need you to dive into what they're doing just as much as they're diving into what I do.
What was the energy like working with all the artists on this project?
I think being friends with each one of these artists first was just the most important thing. All of the artists on this project are my friend first. All of it was very natural. Alkaline, Nailah Blackman, Ice Prince, Runtown. I’m so glad that I was able to build a friendship and then make music because it's just natural.
Talk to me about the album title and how it fits into the concept.
Abeng, I believe it's a Ghanaian word, and the definition is a horn used to communicate over long distances. Also, I had a friend named Abeng and I used to make fun of his name but then one day I was like , Yo what does it mean? And when he told me I was like That's so cool man, to be a Jamaican whose parents thought of a name like that. Then I was like, if I ever do a project about something in Africa I want to call it that. That same friend Abeng, he died in a car accident, so that's when I was like Ok, now I’m definitely calling it 'Abeng' and dedicating it to him.
I feel like I'd be remiss not to mention all of your amazing production work not just on this album, but with other emerging artists. You basically produced like the song of the decade with Koffee’s "Toast.” How did that come together?
I have a real passion for trying to help emerging artists, the first being Chronixx. That's the first person that I started this whole thing with. I needed to find the next emerging artist, use the Major Lazer platform and see how I can help them, so I did his first mixtape called Start A Fire. After that, I did Sons of Dub, I did Jesse Royal, I did Kabaka Pyramid, and I was about to make a mixtape with Koffee, which would have been crazy. But then I think, Maybe we should do an album like this just make it a thing that everyone can enjoy. So I sent a bunch of beats, she did a bunch of songs and "Toast" was one of them. Obviously she's amazing, so it's been a blessing.
Are there any songs that you like particularly excited about on this project?
“Call Me” with Mr. Eazi and Kranium. I really can't wait for people to get that into their playlists and into the DJ club rotation. Masicka and Ice Prince have a song on here called “Xcellent.” “African Lady” with Vanessa Mdee, Ice Prince and Jay Newton. And of course, “No negative Vibes,” that’s the first single with Runtown and Alkaline. All of these songs have their own importance to me, so I'm excited.
Abeng drops June 7.
Watch the premiere of “No Negative Vibes” above.