Reggae artist Pato Banton is on a holy mission to tour the country
By Kevin Longrie
Pato Banton is a reggae heavyweight. Originally from the U.K., this seasoned veteran has more than 30 years of writing and recording positive, socially conscious reggae music under his belt. While he hasn’t released an album since 2008’s Destination Paradise, he has been actively touring with his band and writing music for an upcoming release.
Pato has been both heavily influenced by roots legends such as Bob Marley and heavily influential on newer acts like Rebelution. His message, he says, is the power of positive thinking: how transforming your life can be as simple as looking at it in a different way. This message has resonated with other reggae acts—positivity is a staple of the genre—and especially with fans.
We spoke with Pato about writing music, tour dynamics, his faith and his message:
You’re getting into the first few weeks of your West Coast tour. Are you bringing anyone interesting along, collaboratively speaking?
I put a band together from Southern California called the Now Generation Band. They’re basically my band that I take with me everywhere now. We don’t travel with another opening act. We just find local bands and local musicians in the cities we play.
Are you developing any new material?
Yeah, I’m writing an album right now—still in the writing phase mostly. On tour, most of what we play comes from previous albums, including the one just released. My last album was called Destination Paradise, which is still pretty new for my fans. So we’re still promoting songs off of that and the songs from the past that people like as well. But occasionally, we’ll touch on new ideas.
As a songwriter, what is more important: your music or your message? Or is it ludicrous to think of one without the other?
They go hand in hand. The message, to me, is more important. To reach people, you have to engage their minds. But the music plays a great role in getting in touch with that.
Do you write on the road?
I can be anywhere and write. Once I’m motivated to write something, it’s very hard to distract me. But if I had my preference, I would probably write a song at about four in the morning. Then everybody’s gone to bed and it’s very peaceful.
What role does your faith play in your music?
Reggae music—Bob Marley, music from Jamaica—has always had a very spiritual message. It carries a message of spiritual liberty and freeing your mind. And basically, when I started playing Reggae music, that message never left me. You can look at my history in all of the last 30 years—my career—and see that I’ve been dedicated to having a message in my music. As I’ve evolved spiritually, my message has evolved as well. But I try to keep a balance. There was a time when I made political songs, social songs, spiritual songs. I think now I’m less politically minded, but I still carry a social and spiritual message.
One of the tenets of reggae music is positivity. How large an influence does the idea of staying positive have in your everyday life?
Well, my fans call me “Mr. Positivity.” You know, my first album was called Never Give In; my third album was called Stay Positive. That is one of the main things for me. Even my spiritual message is one of hope. It’s not about trying to convert anybody to any particular religion, because I don’t belong to one. It’s about striving to progress; to see things not as problems but as positive solutions.
You’ve lived in Los Angeles for about five years. Do you still go back and tour in the U.K.?
No. Actually, I’m very much on a mission. I want to travel across all 50 states in America. I think last tour saw about 45 states, so we’ll see where it goes from here.
For those with short memory loss, Pato Banton got on the green radar back in the late 1980s when he released his debut album, Never Give In. That album featured the track “Don’t’ Sniff the Coke.” With lyrics (which were sampled by, among others, the Beastie Boys) like “I do not sniff the coke/I only smoke sensimilla,” the song soon became a ganja anthem. We can’t argue with that.