Ishmael Turner, known as Ishmael I, is an independent reggae artist, writer and producer, currently spreading his Jamaican roots vibes to the American public and beyond. A humanitarian at heart, Ishmael I transcends borders with socially-conscious music in an effort to make the world a better place. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ishmael I about his aspirations, innovations and creations to come. This is what he had to say.
Top Shelf Music: Thanks for meeting with us today, Ishmael. What made you pursue a career in music?
- Ishmael: Since I was a boy, I knew I wanted to be a singer. I would sing for many reasons to myself. When I was sad as a child, I would never cry. I would sing loud on the top of my voice, so that my mother could hear me and know that I was sad and really crying inside. I would sing when I was happy, as well, but not as loud. I grew up in a musical environment and heard many stories of people who came out of my community who had a positive impact on society, like the legendary group Black Uhuru. Black Uhuru was actually formed two houses away from one of my childhood homes in Waterhouse.
- I often saw artists like Junior Reid and Beenie Man in the community, but I remember one specific moment vividly as a youth. I and a few friends snuck out of our house late one night to pick up empty bottles at a dance, or dancehall, to sell the next day so we could have some pocket money. While we were picking up the bottles [at the dancehall], Junior Reid showed up and took the mic. He sings, “Modern vampires of the city, hot in blood, blood, blood, blood” and the entire place went into a frenzy. I mean gunshots firing saluting Mr. Reid and the zinc fence was getting beaten down. Chills ran through my spine and I stood there watching, saying to myself, “I want to be like that one day.”
Wow! What a story. I could see where that would be quite the moment in your life. I noticed you’ve released ‘Sweet Jamaica’ and ‘Brand New Man’ as Ishmael Turner and now you’re going by Ishmael I. Is there a specific reason for that?
- I changed my artist name from Ishmael Turner to Ishmael I to start over fresh, to turn a new page and move forward with my goals and aspirations as a singer, musician and man.
That’s good, sometimes we all just need a fresh start. When you wrote “Sweet Jamaica”, as a listener, you can feel the emotion tied to this… almost love ballad about your home. Would you care to tell us where your inspiration for this tune came from?
- “Sweet Jamaica” is a song that means a lot to me. You know, I don’t usually say this out loud because I usually fear for what the outcome could be. Many people who meet me usually think I just came up from Jamaica, because of my personality and the way I move, but the fact is, I’ve been in the States for 15 years before going back to Jamaica for the first time since I left as a teenager. This is a serious question for me because there’s no easy way to describe the matter and circumstances I’ve been through trying to get my music out and pursuing my dreams. “Sweet Jamaica” is the first song I wrote and recorded in Jamaica from the time I left my beloved Island as a teenager. Seeing my friends and some of my family for the first time in years brought tears of joy to my eyes. I felt good; I felt like I made it back in one piece and, most of all, I felt like I was back home. Those energies inspired me to bring out “Sweet Jamaica”.
Such a journey you have had! It has taken you some time to release your full-length feature album. Why the delays?
- [Sigh] These are some serious questions you’re asking, I tell you! Alright, let’s get into it. I recorded a full studio album in 2009 that never saw the light of day because of a disagreement between the label and myself at the time. I merged with an independent label to help fund my project and groom my career. The label wasn’t satisfied with the negotiated terms and withdrew funding from the project. However, I signed a contract that restricted me from putting out the music I recorded with the label. I felt like I wasted lots of my time, which eventually affected other areas of my life and so for a while, I was depressed and disappointed about how things turned out.
- When I recorded that album, I had a full music production team on board, including a manager, publicist, various producers and a studio that I had access to record whenever I wanted to. I even had my own personal stylist. After the label pulled funding, most of the team wanted to stay on board, but I couldn’t pay for their services, so I had to start over from scratch and fund my own work… which is not an easy thing to do when you’re making quality music. It may sound ironic, but as I reflect on this time, I feel grateful for this experience because it helped me to understand the business of music production, the importance of owning my own work as an artist and the need for me to manage my career along with whoever may be playing the managerial role.
What is the story behind your song, “Brand New Man”?
- “Brand New Man” is a song that I wrote after going through a series of trials and tribulations; I had lost not only my musical team, but other things and most importantly, people that were very dear to me. After a while, I began to feel like my old self again, but more refreshed and stronger than I was before. So, I wrote about it as a way to celebrate. The song is dedicated to the “Sugar and Spice” in my life.
What are some of your favorite experiences that you have had as an international touring musician?
- Some of my favorite experiences on the road, I would say, is meeting the people of different ethnicities and cultures and building with band members.
Do you have any advice for musicians from other countries looking to tour out of their home country? Or, musicians in general?
- Definitely. I would say believe in yourself and be true to yourself. Embrace your culture and share it with the world. Don’t give up no matter how rough it gets, because hard work and dedication will pay off in the long run. And, practice, practice, practice — you can never practice too much!
Absolutely. What are your personal motivations as a performer? What keeps you coming back to the stage, despite personal and professional setbacks?
- The love for music and the love for people. It’s not just for me. I know I have something to offer to the world. It’s love that will conquer all the hate you see in the world. Love is the root of creation and love will take over our hearts eventually, no matter what we go through as humans. Love keeps me going man!
What is the name of the album your working on now and when should we expect it?
- I am working on an EP called Songs of Ishmael now and it will be available in the later half of this year. My first single from the EP is “Reggae in Style” and that will be available on August 18th, 2019.