Current dancehall culture is very different and derogatory
Frankie Paul describes himself as a perfect pitch artiste - "that means when you can sing without going flat or off key", he explains. Indeed he is more than that - the dancehall master aka Jamaica's Stevie Wonder reputedly made Dennis Brown panicky and weak in the knees to perform after him at Sunsplash in 1989. Knowing Dennis Brown, how many people can do that?
Paul Blake (Frankie Paul), was born blind October 19, 1965, but had his sight partially restored on a hospital ship when he was about eight. Now he sees only a little with one eye, but he does not see his visual impairment as a hindrance - "It has helped me to improve a lot of other things in my life - my performing, my music, my optimism and my dealings with people."
A prolific artiste with a tremendous vocal range that exudes power and dignity and is as crisp and clear as a brand new recording, he first 'realised' that he could sing when he was about three- "I used to sing and my mother and her friends would to say, "Listen to him, he sounds good; I was of course flattered." If that was flattery then what would you call high praise from arguably the most prolific singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of the 20th century?
One morning in 1976, there was a surprise to be had by the students of the Salvation Army School for the Blind, 57 Mannings Hill Road in Kingston. "They [the teachers] had told us the day before that we would be having a special guest to visit us, we of course didn't know who it was. The next morning when the school bell rang, someone ran up to us and said, "I just saw Stevie Wonder, he's here!" I was like, "You're lying, you're lying." I couldn't believe it."
Though he was only 11 at the time, Paul Blake, was already in awe of Stevie Wonder. "I used to listen to his music. I like Ray Charles too, he's great, but Stevie had that style, he was my favourite - for all times." That visit would prove to be the most inspirational moment of his young life. "We had great fun. He brought us a braile copier and we sang for him and he sang for us." And upon the urging of his classmates and teachers, he sang for Stevie, who was impressed by his obvious talent. "He said I should keep it up and that I'm gonna be a strong singer and that the world is gonna be in demand of me." Well who knew that Stevie Wonder was clairvoyant?
Paul Blake's next big moment would come the year after he left school. "At the time I was living at Oxford Street [Downtown, Kingston] and I used to sing on the sidewalk and people would give me money. Sometimes I would go home with all four of my pockets full of money - coins and $2 bills," he laughed. "One day a guy named Stucko from Tivoli came up to me and he said to me, "You're wasting time man, I know some brothers I can introduce you to." So I told him, "I'll meet you at 9:00 am tomorrow." The next morning I was down in Tivoli and he took me to High Times Music and introduced me to Earl 'Chinna' Smith and Teddy Reynolds."
Those introductions in 1980 would lead to Frankie Paul's first studio recordings, African Princess, Babylon Man and Give The Youths A Chance when he was only 15 and the name change from Singer Paul to Frankie Paul. "Earl 'Chinna' Smith suggested that I change my name because I was always talking about Frankie Beverly and Mays and Frank Sinatra. And we tried it and it worked."
Within two years he was working with the Hookim brothers and their Channel One Studio crew. By 1983 he was dubbed the 'upcoming star' and was featured on two volumes of the Channel One Showdown Series, an orchestrated 'clash' between himself and Sugar Minott as well as himself and Little John on either side of the record.
While at Channel One he also met up with producer Henry 'Junjo' Lawes who was instrumental in the careers of Barrington Levy, Josey Wales, Little John, Yellowman and Coco Tea.
"I was scared to meet Junjo, because I heard he was a bad man. I was in the studio one day and I was saying, "I don't think I want to meet Mr Junjo Lawes, I hear he's a bad guy". But when I met him, he was one of the coolest persons I ever saw."
Though Frankie Paul left the Channel One camp before Junjo, to pursue his career and do shows in the US, when he returned they hooked up again - this time to produce Frankie Paul's first big hit Worries In the Dance (1984) on the Getting Married riddim which was a faster version of the same song he had done before leaving Channel One and also Pass The Cushumpeng (1984).
This was only the beginning for Frankie Paul as his music career would not only explode but his talent would be further honed, allowing him to be dubbed 'the dancehall master' and eventually putting him in the class of the crown prince of Reggae, Dennis Brown, one of his early musical influences. Subsequently, a series of albums and work with a cadre of producers, studios and musicians including King Jammy's, Harry J's, Studio One, Black Scorpio and George Phang and the singles Tidal Wave, Winsome, Cassanova, Fire Deh A Mus Mus Tail, Alesha and masterful interpretations of other artistes' work would follow.
By this time also, he would have developed his unique and unmistakably Frankie Paul scat chant/phrase. "The first time I did it was in late 1982 when I was performing at the Brooklyn Armoury in New York. I figured I had to get the people in the audience to sing along with me and so I had to find something, a style for them. And I did it and everyone went right along with it." Thus the infamous and infectious call and response 'woh ho hoah' signature was born.
Nowadays, with 48 albums under his belt, a relatively new record company (Extended Music) and a full touring schedule, Frankie Paul, a multi-instrumentalist himself (he plays drums, keyboards and a host of wind instruments), is just chilling. He considers Sarah, a cover of the original done by Starship and produced by King Jammy in 1987, to be his most successful tune to date, but admits that he doesn't have a favourite song of his - yet. He now resides in London, England, New York, USA and in Dippakunda, Gambia, West Africa which he describes as being "wonderful" and "a lot like Jamaica". He knows of six Jamaicans living there including himself and he now speaks Wolof, the primary language used in Gambia.
On the rebound from a ten-year marriage which produced two of his 12 children [7 of which are adopted] and disbanded three years ago, Frankie Paul admits that, "I still have a crush on her, but I'm looking forward to getting married again in Gambia." In fact he has seven cheppes (Wolof for women) waiting on him in Gambia and views polygamy simply as living.
Frankie Paul plans to settle permanently in Gambia, which he describes as a more peaceful environment than that of Jamaica. He described current dancehall culture as "very different [from the music of the 1980s] and derogatory. It's provoking to young people and does not promote decency, what it promotes is badness and ignorance- anyone who wants their children to grow properly, won't expose them to that, I don't want my children exposed to that."
In response to rumours of his alleged homosexuality and drug addiction, Frankie Paul says that he his not gay. "That's not me at all". He however admits that, "I did try crack in the days when I was up there, for about a year. It was a group of us - I spent a lot of money on [my habit], but if I had known what it would be like, I wouldn't have done it at all. At the time I did it to fit in, but I've been clean since 1988."
Though he doesn't get to visit Jamaica as much as he would like to, when he is here he spends his time 'flossing', which he explains is "driving around the hills of Jamaica and hanging out with my friends and people in the communities. We spend the time eating and chatting and drinking of course. Red Stripe is my favourite drink, but I also like Appleton, cognac, Hypnotiq and Belvedere, I love vodka."