With word of new releases on their way following on the heels of their San Luis Valley Dubb Single, RFG recently connected with Alexander “Kofi” Washington, the Principal Songwriter and founding member of the Funk-infused Roots Reggae Band known as JAH KINGS. Here’s what we discovered:]
RFG: Do you prefer “Alex”, or “Kofi”, or how do you like to be called?
Kofi: I prefer Kofi. It’s the name with which my Ghanaian Ewe Grandmothers and Aunts honored me, and it’s harmonious with the next incarnation of Iman and what I’m doing. Speaking of family, before I go any further, I want to give a big shout out to my cosmic Mother and Father; my Angelic family; my Ancestors all; all our fans and supporters; my mom Lucille Rollins (Chief Yeye Areyo); my father William James Washington; our Jamaican family for bringing Reggae Music to the world –Rastafari; and of course Reggae Festival Guide –Much Love all the while!
RFG: Okay! What question(s) do you get asked the most by your fans?
Kofi: [laughs] There’s a few, but a lot of people ask how I stay so fit, particularly after inquiring about my earth years.
RFG: And your answers?
Kofi: Well, our Abyssinian and Khemetic ancestors were Goddesses and Gods, so I do my best to tap into that. Also, coming up in Gary Indiana I had to be fleet of foot through all those initiations there. I’ve just been running since I was a youth. It became my way out of the anger and adversity that surrounded me, and it led to my track scholarship to WMU where I was introduced to Reggae music for the first time.
I went all the way to the international level with the track career, and even after leaving that stage I never stopped challenging myself. Exercise is like water or oxygen to me. I need it. So even now, at 57, I’m still working out strong three times a week. It keeps me healthy, focused, and at the top of my game to do what’s asked of me.
RFG: Who are some of your musical influences.
Kofi: Right out the gate, I would have to say my second dad, James Rollins –after my first dad, William, passed when I was three. James was like an angel of music, and he introduced me to some of the best music in the world. He’s the one that told me that “Music is one place where prejudice can’t stand.” He also told me that I was pretty good in track, but that my gift to the world was my music. So, he really invested in me and raised me up on the best: I’m talking Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone, Earth, Wind and Fire; John Coltrane; Charlie Parker; Miles Davis; Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Hendrix… then Santana, Arlo Guthrie –for that troubadour quality, you know; the music that lifts the people up and makes the world better, but also holds the world accountable.
RFG: Amidst all that Jazz and Americana, how did you come to be so passionate about Reggae?
Kofi: I was a professional musician at an early age with a group called Born to Love. Coming up in Gary, we rolled through the same talent shows and venues as the Jackson Five. But I was encouraged by my mom to step away from musical pursuits to pursue a college degree through track scholarship, then return to music later. I knew the music would always be there for me, so it made sense, and that’s exactly what I did.
In college, my best friends at the time -Orlando Rolstone from Cuba, and Jaime Gordon from Panama- had blessed me with sharing music like Steel Pulse and Third World, and that was definitely the beginning of my appreciation for the spirit and heart of Reggae. But it took me a while before I got to Bob, Peter, and Bunny Wailer…the Wailers.
I got my degree, but after working my way up in the ranks as a world class athlete, I came to a point where I learned that there were certain things I would have to do that would compromise myself and my principals in order to obtain that gold medal. There were all kinds of outside pressures to do those things, too. I had just picked up the Wailers tape “Catch a Fire” and I remember being on the plane after a big race that was on national television, facing this hard decision. High above the earth I heard the Wailers and “Concrete Jungle” for the first time, and that’s when it hit me—everything clarified right before my eyes, and I knew right then and there: not only that it was time for me to get back to my music, but also that Reggae holds all of the elements that resonate at my core. It saved my life, it pointed me back to my culture. It pointed me back to a music that was for the betterment and liberation of the African race, and the Native race and all our human family. A music which liberates the mind. That was a crucial time and change in my life, and I’ve been on it ever since.
RFG: You took a sabbatical from your career after the African Diaspora tour… What prompted this; What happened in this time; And what has prompted your return to the music scene?
Kofi: So every seven years I take a break to recoup and reflect. This was around the third time I took that break. I had some blind spots that needed healing, so I decided to take my brother Darell Rollins’ advice and performed acoustically, and was also divinely directed to Inipi Sweat Lodges in Michigan. My wife at the time and I decided to move down to Missouri, where I continued to take part in the Inipi Lodges, which led me to Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation to support a sundancer by the name of Richard Foot.
Before that I had gotten back to Ghana West Africa. To be there and to visit the slave forts, to write my family’s names on the “Door of No Return” at Cape Coast Castle, to participate in the Joseph Project, and be a part of the ceremonies there—those two key things really reconnected me to my African and Native cultures, and the purpose of our music- whether sacred psalms, or whether the Oliwan Waste -the good music as expressed by the Lakota family.
And then Finally: coming to Crestone, when I got the band back together and touring. I was blessed with Isaline, my Ethiopian Cherokee Queen and her beautiful daughters. That really settled me down inside concerning a good foundation of family, and increased that purpose; having her support. All those things really led to me getting deeper into the music and progressing spiritually.
RFG: How has your experience Sundancing affected your life and music?
Kofi: Well, there’s a few songs that speak to the Sundance experience. “Wounded Knee” and particularly a song called “Gary on the Prairie” which will be on the upcoming EP. It talks about getting back to our culture. I’ve found for myself, as others have, being reconnected to our culture gets you back connected to the earth, to Makiya Wakan, the Mother Earth –she’s alive, she’s very conscious– and to Father Sky, and our cosmic family, and in the culture of right conduct, the Chunkaluta or the Red Road; which is a mirror of the teachings of Maat in Khemet, what they call The Forty Two Negative Confessions, where the ten commandments came from: right living, right purpose, right thoughts, right feelings, right conduct, for the success of the nation, as our ancestor Marcus Garvey taught. As a Priest of the Order of Melchizedek, I found that once I got back to that, this is really what our beautiful Rasta family tapped into concerning Melchizedek, concerning Selassie I who was a High Priest of the order of Melchizedek, and concerning those principals of One Love for All Life, as well as us living as righteous people of higher conduct, higher integrity, higher honor, and I give thanks for all those things. I now have the blessings of the people calling for the music as they are now in the world. Had it come to me sooner, I would have fallen, because I was not living fully in that higher aspect. So the music is really essential as far as Sundancing, as far as getting back to our ceremonies… We are a discombobulated people by design, through the oppression, and our culture makes us whole, makes us wholistic again, and it brings that healing. So Sundance really just reconnected me to those ancestral roots, that antiquity that’s in our culture and our genetics. And same with going back to Ghana and reconnecting back to my people and ceremonies over there. It’s like it all put me back together for the better as I have both African Ashante’, Blackfoot Lakota, and Choctaw Ancestry.
RFG: What other things have influenced the songs on the upcoming releases?
Kofi: Just observing the world… it’s in exasperation right now; it’s like Rome again, on its way out, because it’s morally corrupt and spiritually dead. And seeing the importance of that Oliwan Waste, that good music, of the sacred songs — the music that brings healing, the music that helps us navigate through challenges, the music that connects us with what we’re seeing and feeling. For our Mother Earth is very upset with us two-leg-eds now, and she’s letting all know this. So this music is in alignment with that cosmic cross, the cosmic alignment ,with the timing of the age of Aquarius, the time of mother earth going into the fifth, ascending. And now, with our music being aligned with that timing, we’re putting a call out to the people of the elect-the best of humanity- to come together, stand for Mother Earth, and co-create a better reality.
RFG: What is the importance of music and musicians in today’s world?
Kofi: Well, coming up in the sixties and seventies when you could listen to the radio stations then, and the time when the media was for the people… you could hear a great country song, a great rock song, a great blues song, a great R&B song, such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, and there was also Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Arlo Guthrie, you know: the music spoke truth to power, and it helped people navigate what was going on. So that’s not the case now. The music has no nutritional value, the music is from a sunken place; it’s not about quality anymore, it’s about popularity, and you can buy popularity. Like the Hopi Family’s phrase “Koyanisquatsi”, the world is out of balance. So it is our duty as musicians, and with other great people that are out there holding that line, to bring music of nutritional value, of higher consciousness, music that people of critical thinking desire, ‘cause we’re headed in the wrong direction.
RFG: What would you change about the music industry?
Kofi: Music is one of the most powerful tools we have with which to influence and inspire our society. But the music industry at large is predominantly capitalist, so it’s all about making money for them. They’ll make money off the worst of us, they’ll make money off the best of us, and right now it’s generally the worst of us. So, I would say if there’s anything I could change (which is our desire) it would be to assist in the waking up of our sleeping people—both inside and outside the industry; sharing in the importance of the fact that we’re all in this boat together, and our mother -who has given us so much- is very mad at us. We need to come together during this critical time and get out of that “I” selfishness, and get back to the “Us” consciousness, where all our relations –not just the two-leg-eds, the white, black, yellow, and red skins– but ALL of our relations, all of the inhabitants of this beautiful planet are recognized as sentient, and have a place… AHO MITAKUYE OYASIN!! If there’s mass extinctions of our animal family, that’s a big sign for us to see; and if we don’t make changes, we’ll be following up behind them. We need the human family, and those in the industry, to come up out of the matrix and realize that we’re sentient, we’re one, and support great music, music of culture, music of substance, of purpose… then we can turn this thing around.
RFG: What are your experiences and thoughts on cultural appropriation in the music industry?
Kofi: Well yeah, we would call it “cultural mis-appropriation”. It’s happened. It’s happening. From Kentucky Fried Chicken to many things. It’s those who prosper off the hard works, inventions, genius, and the art of others. No disrespect to Elvis, but… Elvis got that from Muddy Waters, he got that from Little Richard, from Chuck Berry and other Blues and R&B greats. I just watched an interview about a blessed being by the name of Junior Mervin, who has since passed over due to diabetes -completely broke- and there’s others of lighter skin who took his music and they prosper, but the people from which it comes… suffer. It certainly is the case in Reggae music, certainly is the case in R&B, and it’s really disconcerting; it’s really sad. The people from which this music come! For example, I am honored to have Sundanced at Wounded Knee with Tashunka Witko (Gerrald Ice, Crazy Horse family) and Wesley Black Elk (Hehacka Sapa’s family), to seek their teachings, to seek their blessing and get their permission, so if I go to represent them I pay respect to them, and if I prosper, I take care of them. That’s what needs to be done for the people, whether Reggae or Blues or Jazz or whatever. You know, pay honor to the people from which it comes, and don’t just take the music and prosper while these beautiful people suffer.
RFG: What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Kofi: If they choose to follow in my footsteps it would behoove them to get back to their culture. If you feel Reggae Music -and we have to say “Spiritual Reggae Music” now because the music has evolved, some for the better, some for the worse- get to the culture, get to the what’s and why’s. I thank my Jamaican family who heckled me in Kalamazoo Michigan for five years. Jessie Mackintosh, Peter Tosh’s cousin, appeared to me as an Angel, and I had to do what Ras say “Bend down low, let me tell you what I know…” and they gave me the business ‘cause I was fringe; I didn’t know about Uncle Bong Johnny, Kudjo, and Sister Nani, Marcus Garvey and Selassie I, and the what’s and why’s, you know: why the bass is played that way; why the one drop is played that way, why the scratch rhythm on the guitar is played that way; what’s the purpose of the bubble in the music; what’s the Pan-African quality of the music? So it’s just very important. If you’re a young one and you wanna go this path, you get to the culture and the original purpose of Roots Reggae Music as Our Rasta Elders have shown and instructed us. Walk with the highest honor and integrity and you’ll be protected. Money, sex, those things… they can’t get me with those things, because I’m walkin’ that walk. Had the blessings come before I got back into the culture, I would have been taken out a long time ago because I was in that sunken place. So First: get into the culture.
Secondly, Marry the music. Music is my first wife, and I play it, and I love it, and I practice it all the time. I’m not doing it just for the money. I’m doing it so I can honor the gifts I’ve been given and work to maintain that rock-solid relationship. What results from that practice is that when big shows come, I can knock them out of the park.
Finally, this music is not for selfishness. This music is for the people. Everything we do is for the people, for the elevation and liberation of our fallen black race, as well as our native race, and for the co-creation of a better world for all our human relatives. So if you choose to go this route, make sure you’re sincere, and getting back to the culture, and using the music for the betterment of all, and not just for the self.
RFG: What can you tell us about the upcoming releases? What excites you most?
Kofi: Every song that’s come out prior to the new releases have been gems –however, with the collaboration of Sovereign Sol Society, and Jah Kings Productions, I would say that this is the best sounding music that I’ve ever recorded. It’s of a high spiritual quality because we’re creating here up in these mountains, surrounded by nature, and the music is Raw! It’s Earth-Force Music. You can hear those Tankas, the Stone Nation in the music. You can feel the Star Nation. You can feel our winged and four-legged relatives, you can feel the Earth, you can feel the Rivers. It has all the elements in the music: word sound and power, fire air water and earth! So I’m very excited about it. This is musical medicine. Our world is sick. And these sacred songs, psalms of the spheres that come from high, it’s medicine for all of us, and it’s critical that we get it out to the world right now.
RFG: What’s your creative process like?
Kofi: As I expressed to the band members in the camp- some of the best musicians I’ve had to-date- any song I ever sat down to right… sucked. Just being honest. My process is to not think at all. It’s to get out on the Earth, to get centered in deep peace, deep meditation. And then I perceive the music… it’s like the music reaches down to me, as I’m reaching up for it. And I really feel we wrote this together, actually -on the other side- I’m just bringing it back on this side for the benefit of our people. So my process, basically, is to get extremely calm, and be awake, so that the Almighty can speak to me through a child, through an elder, through my family, through my queen, through my mother, through a homeless person on the street… the Almighty is always present, so I always make sure I’m awake, and I’m listening, and it’s served me well. As long as I keep my face on the ground, stay humble, and be of service, this well will never run dry. —
RFG: How do we find out more about the JAH KINGS project?
Kofi: The best
place for info like gigs and releases is our official website, www.jahkings.com –we’re also on all the
major social media sites, but we get to engage with fans most frequently on our
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jahkingsreggae
so that’s a good way to follow us and receive some weekly inspiration. Another way is to subscribe to our youtube
to be the first to have access to the new content that we’re gonna be posting
in the near future, including live stuff and exclusive interviews and
such. Fans can also join our email list
to receive exclusive offers and stay up to date on all things JAH KINGS! To
signup, just go to the bottom of our newz page: https://shop.jahkings.com/newz
Blessings and Gratitude Itinually!