Taking Roots Reggae Into The Stratosphere

This is the unedited version that ran in The Beat in the December 2003 issue.

Photo by Scotti B (c) 2006

Nasio Fontaine is one of the most talented reggae artists on the planet. This unheralded rastaman hails from the island of Dominica and just happens to write and perform some of the most crucial sounds to ever be created.

In 1992, he traveled to Jamaica to record his outstanding debut, "Reggae Power," which was finally released two years later. Another five years passed before his sophomore effort, "Revolution," was unleashed to the public, and it was proof positive that Nasio was an up-and-coming star.

Four years later, as we head into 2004, Nasio is finally ready for the push. He has a new website (, a new management team (Higher Love Music), he's re-released and re-mastered his first two discs with new covers and two bonus tracks (found only on "Reggae Power"), and his latest release, "Living In The Positive," is a serious contender for album of the year honors.

I first heard of Nasio early in 1998, when I received - completely out of the blue - a media kit containing his first CD, "Reggae Power." The bio seemed somewhat hard-to-believe, as it started off with the following words: "Once in every generation an artist comes along with the capacity to change the course of popular music." It then continued to state that "[this artist] is a humble Rastafari who goes by the name Nasio."

It also listed the many accolades bestowed upon him, including nominations for "New Reggae Artist Of The Year," "Best Reggae Album" and "Best New Artist."

Extremely skeptical, yet intrigued, I played the CD, and I must admit that I was completely blown away (and still am). This crucial disc contained what was to be the hallmark of Nasio's sound: concise, conscious lyrics, unbelievably catchy rhythms, gorgeous female harmonies and distinctive heartfelt vocals. Soon after, I obtained his first tape, "Babylon Is A Fallin" and his CD single, "Wolf Catcher," then "Revolution" and now his latest offering, "Living In The Positive."

After listening repeatedly to each release, it's apparent that Nasio is one of the brightest modern roots reggae stars of the new millenium. He is seriously that talented. Wanting to learn more about him, and also wanting to tell more people about this incredibly gifted, yet virtually "unknown" artist, I was fortunate enough to reason with this righteous rastaman. We began with Nasio explaining where he was born and discussing his family.

"Yes," stated Nasio, "I would love to let the people know. Well, I was born in Bagatelle/Carte-Bois, a little village on the Southeastern coast of Dominica. The island was named by the Caribs Whittikibuli, that is the original name for the island, until Chris-thief a Crumble-us [Christopher Columbus] came and named it Dominica. I 'n I was raised by a Carib mother and an African-descent father who are my mentors, they have grown me into who I 'n I am today. They are my best friends. Their strength and love has been with me throughout my life and I love them.

"I was brought up in a little old country house, a little one room country shack. I look at myself as old as yesterday and as young as tomorrow. I am the last of seven children - three sons and four daughters. We went to school from the age of five, but we never had the opportunity to go to so called secondary or high school. So when we were 14 we had to leave school because there was just no other way. We'd then be farming with our parents so that we could feed the family, y'understand?"

Nasio continued by telling of his musical influences and when he originally got into music.

"Well, anyone from the Village would tell you that I started making noise very young," said Nasio. "I would pound on everything. Those milk tins, ya know, milk pans, and my sisters would hide them but I'd always get them back. I would even get beat at school by teachers because I was always pounding on my desks. Ya see, that vibe was always inside of me, and I've always wanted to express it. I've always felt like music was the only vehicle that would be available to me. And growing up I never really listened to Reggae. I grew up listening to Calypso and to Soul. Like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and others. We had a little Phillips radio about one foot long and six inches high and that used to be the pride of the family. All that time I never knew about Reggae. See, we were brought up in a country with no electricity and no bathrooms and no running water and we had to use kerosene lamps and do homework by candlelight. I didn't really know what was out there. I had a very humble upbringing and that was the greatest part of my life, because it set me into that zone where I was properly brought up. Not on material things, but on the true essence of life."

In 1981, Nasio made a decision which would alter his life forever. He decided to migrate to St. Maarten.

"Yes," continued Nasio, "St. Maarten is like an hour and one half flight away from Dominica. My brothers and sisters had been inviting me to come all the time. I didn't really want to 'cause I was the last kid, ya know? Home was my haven, but Mommy said 'yeah, you should go and see what's happening.' So I left, and in 1981 Rastafari became a part of me. See, every man have work to do and every man must find a way to fulfill his work, to benefit mankind. So I was learning Reggae then, but I never really like to listen to other people's music. I've always wanted them to listen to mine. So one night I was allowed to sing one tune and everybody said that I gotta keep on singing! Ya know, I remember singing back in Dominica, back in school talent shows and church choirs. And I remember winning my first competition. I won a ruler, a pack of books, a pack of pencils and a pack of crayons. That was nice, 'cause Mother and Daddy didn't have to struggle to get the money to buy those things. Then from that time [1981], I started to work odd jobs. In supermarkets, on piers, cleaning yachts and I was always saving my money. Then it happened that in 1986 I decided to go to the recording studio to do my first record ever. You have to remember that I didn't know anything about it, 'cause the place where I came from, it's impossible. If you tell anybody you were gonna do a record, it's like you're mad - this just cannot happen. But I got it done. On my own with no promoter, with no producer, with nobody. Just saved my money and got it done."

That ultimately became his first single, "Born To Be Free," which was the song that got everything started.

"Yes, that song everyone in the ghetto loved, and from there it got played in the Caribbean," explained Nasio. "The song itself was written as a protest against apartheid. Then in 1990 I went back to the studio with what little money I made from "Born To Be Free" to record "Babylon Is A Fallin." And "Babylon Is A Fallin" made another positive impact and started receiving more international airplay. Then in 1992 I decided to record a full album ["Reggae Power"] but this time I went to Mixing Lab Studios in Jamaica. I hired some great musicians like Carl Ayton, Dwight Pickney, Gibby Morrison, Robby Lyn, Keith Sterling and Hopeton Hibbert, with backing vocals done by Melanie and Leba Hibbert and Sharon Tucker and they all treated me as a brother.

"The thing about "Reggae Power" though, was to tell ya the truth, I went back with the tape to St. Maarten, but I had no money to press the music. So I kept the tape for two years in my house before it was released in '94, just figuring out how I'm gonna get the money together to press it. One time, it cross my mind that I shouldn't release the songs anymore. I felt the time of the music had passed. Then one day I was playing the tape for a good friend of mine and he was going like "who's that?" and I told him it was me. He then said, "look man, look some money, press the music!" So I went to the US - to Discmakers - and pressed 2000 CDs. And bro, like God is my witness, from there the rest is just history, man. It was really something."

From that crucial debut up through his latest masterpiece, Nasio has stayed true to his roots.

"Well I 'n I stands roots, I 'n I born among roots and my music is what I feel," stated Nasio. "When I need to express myself I do it through Reggae. Reggae is what we use to inform I 'n I worldwide. I 'n I inspiration come from the powers of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile I Selassie I, Jah Rastafari, and that manifest itself through all things and people and when it filter through I 'n I, it pours out in the form of reggae music.

"Music communicates to all people but it can especially connect to be the voice of the oppressed and downtrodden and to them it becomes the voice for the voiceless. See, my music is a music that will uplift people all through the world. People need conscious music inna rootical musical style. It is easier for them to understand the message through that particular style of riddem. For me, the purpose of the music is that it can comfort the people. It can uplift them and guide them through all of life's struggles, trials and tribulations. It can take my people and teach them and show them and make them overstand where they're going, where they're coming from and where them heading."

Nasio's lyrics truly do teach and even though he didn't have formal schooling after the age of 14, he still has continued to write some of the most intelligent, concise and evocative songs around.

"Once, in Holland I was doing an interview," said Nasio, "and the guy says that it seems like I went to a great university, but I told him that's not so. Me have wisdom given to me from birth by the Almighty knowing the work placed on my shoulders, the burden I have to carry, that it would take common sense, wisdom, and overstanding so that I could carry it through. See, we never went to school inna Babylon standard, but thru Jah we get some Headucation, which is wisdom."

On the touring front, Nasio has performed infrequently in the States, yet always to glowing reviews.

"We've played shows at SOB's in NY which were well received and we opened for Third World at Tramps and Luciano at the Apollo," said Nasio. "We've also gone on a few small tours - the Wild Hare in Chicago, Northern Illinois University at DeKalb, and another university in DePere, Wisconsin. Also in Lafayette, Louisiana and the New Orleans Jazz Festival. We headlined the Bob Marley Day in Washington, DC and the Vermont Reggae Festival. That's all in the past, though. Lots of stuff is on the table right now. We're getting the group together and we plan on spreading the message to support the new CD next summer. The Caribbean has also been calling, and Europe and Brazil and South America. Lately it's been Africa. They want us to come and put some peace there. Me? How can a little man like me put some peace there? But whatever I need to do to spread the message, I'll do it.

"Another thing I'd like to say is that I'm not into this for fame and fortune. Fame can be a disease which for most there is no cure. I humbly believe I am following the path that was chosen for me at birth and when this birth ends I want all to remember my words as I move onwards into another "positive."

Another artist whose words will always be remembered - the legendary Bob Marley - has often been cited as a major influence on Nasio. In fact, many people who hear Nasio's music for the first time think they're actually hearing Marley.

"Well you see, growing up me never know about Bob," stated Nasio. "The same year I came to St. Maarten is the same year that Bob died. Then I heard Bob say things - things that I would have said in my life. Like "Africa Unite," "Rastaman Vibration" and Get Up and fight for your rights. I go, wow, these are things that I'd like to say, so it just made me love Bob, but ya know, Bob Marley is Bob Marley and Nasio Fontaine is Nasio Fontaine. That's all I can really say about that. Bob Marley is a great voice to humanity and the whole Earth love Bob, yes I. Rasta is the king of reggae music. Him is an inspiration to me like he is to billions."

In 1995, the outstanding video, "Wanna Go Home" (the closing tune on 'Reggae Power') was released and it was said to be the first time that filming was allowed at a grounation.

"Yes," said Nasio, "we went back to Jamaica and filmed the video from 7 o'clock inna the nite til 7 o'clock inna the morning. We went to the Tabanacle - which is Rastafari's holy ground. It's like the Ark of the Covenant, ya know? Holy place. I told the elders that I wasn't there to make money out of nyabinghi, 'cause I 'n I is a rastaman but I come there to take nyabinghi and bring it to the rest of the Earth so that people could see that Rastafari is a force in the Earth. And that night, lightning flashed and thunder rolled, man, and it rained for about 45 minutes. I tell you, the spirit was burning! It was a great opportunity for us getting the wisdom of the elders and we would love to thank the Scots Pass Nyabinghi Order for allowing us to film the "Wanna Go Home" video. Ras Tafari Liveth."

Nasio then proceeded to talk about a few things which happened - including the passing of his beloved parents - since the release of "Revolution" in 1999.

"Well, bro, things have been tough," said a somber Nasio. "During 'Revolution,' my Father - Mr. Bernard Fontaine - passed. And just last year my Momma - Mrs. Rose Fontaine - also passed. Having your mother and your father departed from the earth is really a hurtful time of your life. You know spiritually that they are there with you, but physically we always feel the pains of physical death. So it was some powerful, mournful times, ya know? It's been a tough time with much trials and tribulations. But things are moving in a positive direction.

"Instead of sitting down crying, we stay focused. We stay on point, we keep on writing, we keep on producing, we keep on creating until things turn out all right. Because the power of His Imperial Majesty run things. It's not man who runs things, seen?

"I have literally just begun work with a whole new management team, into the positive, man. We've re-released the whole library. We've added a new song ["Rise Up"] to the new record. We've also added two new songs to "Reggae Power" ["Vain Thoughts" and "Babylon You Doom"] and we've re-mastered it as well. We've also re-mastered "Revolution" and we have new covers for all of the records.

"In spite of our tribulations, we are still living in the positive, because it's the positive which is gonna trample down all the negative and bring forth the light. On the new record, we put forth new energy with different musicians [including Steel Pulse's original horn section] and also new creativity.

"Things are really looking up right now. I'm living in New York with my wife Helen - who is a special gift the almighty gave to me - and every year I go home [to Dominica] to dig the soil and plant, and go through Mother Nature - climb the mountains, swim the rivers - so I can get my spirit stronger to do the music of the people. See, it is greater for I 'n I to live upon the housetop than to live in a house of confusion and like I've said, I ain't got no time to lose over spilled milk and stumbling blocks.

"It was seven years of famine and this is my seven years of plenty. The stormy weather has cleared, the sky is looking bright, the sun is shining. Jah is great. I'm rejuvenated and have enough blood in my eyes and I'm ready to step anywhere, anytime to do anything musically."

As the new year approaches, Nasio is primed to take Reggae music into the stratosphere. His new release - as well as the other re-issues - should catapult him, once again, to the forefront of the modern roots scene. It may have been awhile since we've heard from him, but believe me, the wait was worth it. If you're looking for the possible "next big thing," look no further than this spiritual rastaman. Look no further than Nasio Fontaine.

"Yes," concluded Nasio, "I want to give thanks and praises to the most high, Emperor Haile I Selassie I, Jah Rastafari, for giving I 'n I strength to be able to stand and to be able to do the works that HIM set upon I 'n I shoulders. And to all the radio people of the earth and to all the people who contribute in one way or another. And even the people who fight against us daily, we want to thank all of them also. And to the people of the earth, yes, revolution time. Not of war, not of bloodshed, but of spirituality, because the flesh come and the flesh will depart but the spirit lives on and on. And until the people get justice, there will be no peace. So right now, me fighting for equal rights and justice, and after equal rights and justice is settled, then the foundation will be peace, y'understand? See, my music has found its work. It's found its purpose and it's gonna find its place in the four corners of the earth. Even if it's the last thing I do, and it's the last breath I must take on this earth, I'm gonna see that fulfilled. Give thanks and praises and keep living in the positive. One Love. God bless you."

Photo by Diane 'Livonn' Adam (c) 1999

To check out my review of "Reggae Power"... REGGAE POWER.

To check out my review of "Revolution"... REVOLUTION.

To check out my review of "Living In The Positive"... LIVING IN THE POSITIVE.

To check out my review of "Universal Cry"... UNIVERSAL CRY

To listen to my interview with Nasio...LISTEN TO INTERVIEW

To check out some pictures from my trip to Dominica... PICS