Take 5 : Jason Wilson

Jason Wilson continues back catalogue reissue series with 2000's JUNO-nominated JONAH

Coming off an already busy year that saw the release of the album/stage production Sumach Roots, along with the publication of his seminal history of Canadian reggae King Alpha’s Song In A Strange Land, Jason Wilson will be reissuing selections from his musical back catalogue for the remainder of 2020 via Wheel Records/Proper Music Distribution.

Next up on Sept. 25 is 2000’s JONAH, recorded with his band Tabarruk and nominated for a JUNO Award for Best Reggae Recording. Featuring collaborations with longtime UB40 keyboardist Mickey Virtue, the 12-track collection is based loosely on the biblical story of Jonah and the whale, and its moral lesson to examine the consequences of our life choices and take appropriate action where necessary.

That message comes through clearly on one of JONAH’s key songs, “Forgiveness,” the focus track again for the album’s reissue, with its bright, melodic pop sensibilities sounding as fresh today as they did 20 years ago.

The reissue of JONAH follows previous installments in the series: 2009’s JUNO-nominated The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur and 2004’s dREaD & BLUE: A Canadiana Suite. The final installment will come in October with1998’s Dark Corners. In total, these four records brilliantly demonstrate Wilson’s unique ability to blend history with an eclectic range of musical styles, grounded in his overriding passion for reggae culture.

You originally made Jonah in 2000. What makes it still stand up 20 years later?

In terms of the whole of our back catalogue, Jonah is really a “one-off”. It’s the only time where, for the most part at least, the bass and drums were written and assembled first and then everything else followed. I usually write on a piano or in some rare cases a guitar, so the process was totally different for me. In this way, Jonah still sounds like something new to me and to our fans who had never heard that album until now.

You worked on that album with Mickey Virtue of UB40. How did that connection happen?

Mickey is my cousin and UB40 have been very big supporters of me throughout most of my career. Ali Campbell, for instance, sang alongside his dad and me on Wilson & Swarbrick’s Kailyard Tales album. Seeing UB play for the first time was a life-changing moment for me. It was 29 June 1983 and I had just turned 13. After I had seen and met the band that night, I knew I no longer wanted to be a hockey player; I wanted to be a reggae musician like my cousin Mickey! Having him play on Jonah – 17 years after the fact – was really a dream come true.

Jonah is part of your current back catalogue reissue series. What motivated you to undertake that?

Proper Music Distribution was keen on getting the remainder of my back catalogue up on Spotify, Apple iTunes, etc… I was really swamped with finishing my latest book and album at the same time, so I really didn’t have the time to get to it. COVID-19 rather changed that for us all didn’t it? That said; I still wanted to make it special, so that’s why we’re releasing the older albums one at a time, replete with their own “digital release party”, which amounts to a short film for each release, including footage and interviews from the time period.

As a leading historian on Canadian reggae, what made the music flourish there?

The short answer I suppose is: the people. Jamaican migrants in Toronto were quite open about sharing their music with others. Of course there were trials, but there was also a great deal of “bridge-building” done between the Jamaican community and the “host” non-Jamaicans in the city, much as it happened in London and Birmingham. Reggae was also cool, cutting edge, and there were enough young folks in Canada who naturally took to the oppositional aesthetic that reggae delivered during the late 1970s and early 1980s. It soon became an expected part of Toronto’s musical vernacular.

What can we expect from the next instalment in the reissue series?

We finish with our first full-length album Dark Corners (1998), co-produced by my guitarist and long-time co-conspirator Perry Joseph. I scarcely recognize ourselves when I look back at the footage and photographs from then, but I do remember everything about crafting the music and the journey we took to win the best possible result we could with the tools we had at that time. It was a special time.

You can find more information about Jason Wilson at...

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