TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS: YOU AND I ARE BEAUTIFUL, RIGHT?
Stream: Toots and the Maytals “Funky Kingston”
Toots and the Maytals are one of reggae’s fundamental bands and their songs have been loved if not covered by musicians from all over the planet. L.A. RECORD wakes a gracious Toots up from a nap he politely hopes to resume soon. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
How did you learn to do the splits?
Frederick “Toots” Hibbert (vocals): When I was just performing and to win the audience I used to split a lot. I’d look up and just—down, and I was singing and just watching them and listening to them. Split just come by abilities. If you’re a good dancer, your body’s just able to do that. And do other things. You know? I just got to do it. I can do other moves. Now I play a lot of instruments so I don’t do the split anymore. I do my thing, I split by playing instruments. [Laughs]
Did you ever split your pants?
Sometimes! Sometimes, sometimes. For a long time when the different style pants was in, close-fitting pants, and you make some moves and it gives—so all I could do is keep making the moves! And people amazing would laugh—they like it! They like, ‘Whoo!’ And laughing at me. Exactly they do. You feel the way but you got to do things to carry it off. Mmhmm.
How do you find inner peace? What makes peace for a person?
Believe in yourself, believe in what you do and believe in God. Believe in the Almighty. I think that can keep away all the fears.
Can there be success without suffering?
Mmhmm. I think a lot of people, if you born with it you don’t have to suffering. If you born with it. But if you come from the ghetto like me then you have to suffering by can’t get privilege to do a lot of things, so you just have to work hard at it and respect yourself, believe in yourself, and believe in God, and believe that you will get what you want. You may not be rich but you can get what you want and try to help others who don’t have what you have. Try to help others to have who don’t have, really. That will help you to have a lot. What the main thing—you don’t carry a grudge for those who have more than you. You don’t hate people, you don’t carry a grudge, you just respect them. Hoping that one day you will be able to have what you should have.
What are you most grateful about your heritage?
My life! And music. My family. And friends.
What’s something that will never change about Jamaica? Is there something at the heart of it that cannot change?
Something good, really. That’s something! You don’t have to be bad things, you have to be something good. Something good like the good sunshine and the warm breeze that passes. And you can see black and white people living in unity. And there are some people who don’t live in unity like everywhere else. There are good places and bad places. That will never change. You have to focus on what you do and believe in caring and sharing. That will never change.
What do you like better—sunrise or sunset?
I like everything that furnish the earth. The Almighty he keep focus on everything that’s on the land. Everything that’s on the land is fulfillment and furnish the land. The land is furnished by God. He created everything in the world. The sea, the sun, the stone, the son and the daughter. Everything he furnish. All you got to do is to be thankful to God.
In your travels, have you come across a place you’d say is the most beautiful?
Yes, I think everywhere is beautiful where people are. Where good people are is beautiful. Where bad people are is still beautiful. Bad people only try to make it bad—not unbeautiful. But it is created by the God Almighty so people have to know—keep beautiful with it in this world and to make things fair for each everyone. If you’re going to be unfair, you’re living in unbeautiful. Nobody respects you. The world is beautiful if a child living in a beautiful way. And you and me, no? You and I are beautiful, right? Yeah, so if someone get you mad, you have to try and seek beautiful and you have to leave right away. You don’t want to get hot. If someone is very wrong with you, don’t speak back that way. You say, ‘Ok, alright,’ and walk him out. Ha! Don’t speak like him, because he want you to speak like him to have a fight, something. You just look up your man, try to walk him out, try to ignore him, and say, ‘Ok, thank you.’
Have you been in a many fights?
I used to want to be a boxer. I used to train when I was a boy. Train and I was a good fighter. But I never really get to finish training boxing. I decided I want to sing. People told me I could sing. Sometimes people want to quarrel with me—because they don’t know, they don’t recognize me. And they may be drunk or something. I just take them and walk them away. I don’t want to. I don’t like to argue. Because if you argue with people, it maybe cause too much misunderstanding and break out a fight and after that [weepy] ‘I’m sorry… I’m sorry…’ I try to avoid these things.
What’s most important? To be respected, to be liked or to be an influence?
Well, a lot of things. To perform for the people and to be respected—that’s cool.
Despite obstacles, what’s given you a great life lesson?
Music always upgrade my life. Music and love—love and music upgrade my life. It’s musical content—it’s connecting with my audience and my performance and my composition, my everything. It’s good. It’s a good thing, to admit.
Does the performance come from within you, or is it about the connection with people?
My talent is for me, and for my audience. It’s coming from God. It’s coming from the Almighty which is God. He put it in me and give me life so I could perform and to make people happy. And to survive.
Have you always had the same relationship with God?
My parents always took me to the church when I was little. So you know it grow up in me. And all of these good singers of the world always grow up in the church. So the church our foundation.
Is the stage your church?
It’s the church of God, yes. People listen to you, they see you do good all the time, they want to listen to you. I always have a full audience, full house when I play. People always want to listen to me.
Is music a universal language?
It’s a universal language that you don’t have to—it allows you speak. You can really turn music to music. Once the rhythm is good, it saying what you say—it say in English, it say in Spanish, it say in French. You know? It say in Jamaican! So music is every languages to me. The music have them going. And my appearance, my performance. A lot of people understand me because they sing my song. When I tour in Europe or the United States, people come out that knows me —they don’t know what but they know my words and sing along with me.
What’s something you have not done that you would like to accomplish in your lifetime?
I would like to make a whole lot of money that could help people who really need help. Not just in America. Not just in Africa. All over the world. People to get good drinking water, good living, their own building. Not walking if you want to drive a car. I would like to give you open hospital. Open place that people could go and take care of when they can’t make it. I have a foundation—it’s helping people at the hospital, it’s helping the children at the hospital, so children can go to school. It helping with cancer society people. My foundation also helps Salvation Army, give them clothes. It also helps government school. A lot of things I do. But I want to do more. These are things I would like to accomplish to help people some more. [Sings] That’s my dream!
TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS WITH MICHAEL ROSE AND GREGORY ISAACS ON SUN., AUG. 9, AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL, 2301 N. HIGHLAND AVE., HOLLYWOOD. 7 PM / $10-$98 / ALL AGES. LAPHIL.COM. VISIT TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS AT TOOTSANDTHEMAYTALS.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/TATM.