Winston McAnuff the Electric Dread talks ‘Inna De Yard’
THE NOMENCLATURE ‘roots reggae artiste’ takes on a whole new classification when referencing singer Winston McAnuff. An elder statesman who has a fixation with an instrument which retains its genesis in the Church – the accordion – McAnuff, also known as the ‘Electric Dread’, is as profoundly other-worldly as it gets. He is the syncopation of the original medicine man, but he doesn’t have a pocket filled with herbs and spices, McAnuff drives away snakes with his soul-stirring, mystical Nyabinghi beats.
“It is magical. Music is a different science. It’s about the frequency, and certain frequencies can neutralise certain things, that’s why music can heal the world,” he says patiently, as if trying to break down Newton’s law of gravitational attraction to a child. He relates a story of a woman who was sick for over a year, but who still attended his concert with tubes in her nostrils. “The following day, she called to say that she was better. And we have a whole heap more stories like that,” the mystic, who wears the title of France’s most popular Jamaican singer, told The Gleaner.
McAnuff, arguably one of the most-toured reggae artistes, is promoting his Big Brother album, as well as the documentary, Inna De Yard, the Soul of Jamaica, and recently completed a 10-day stint in France from February 15-25. However, he is currently in the island finishing a few projects as he waits out the coronavirus. “I have lost over two million (dollars) in the past two months with shows being cancelled. And we are not sure what’s happening for a number of the other festivals,” he said, but it wasn’t a complaint, it was a simple statement of fact.
The multitalented McAnuff was instrumental in spearheading the documentary, filmed in Jamaica and France, and directed by British film-maker Peter Webber, whose credits include Hannibal Rising and the Oscar-nominated film, Girl with a Pearl Earring. “We had the Inna De Yard album project which we were doing for a French company, Chapter Two Records, and they also have a film component. So they suggested that Peter Webber, who was in Costa Rica at the time, make a stop in Jamaica to have a look and see what could happen,” McAnuff recalled.
To contextualise the documentary, it was following the success of their 2017 album, The Soul of Jamaica, and a first sold-out tour in France, that the Jamaican team, comprising Ken Boothe, Cedric Myton, Winston McAnuff and Kiddus I, decided to record a new album, bringing together the most iconic tracks in their repertoire. The Inna de Yard album also includes The Viceroys, a trio of musicians in their 70s, as well as artistes from the younger generation, Var, Kush (McAnuff’s son), Derajah, all said to be keen to carry on the musical tradition of their roots. Special guests, including Horace Andy, Judy Mowatt, Jah9, and musician and singer Wormbass, also joined these sessions, recorded on the hilltops of Kingston. It was while recording this album that Webber directed the film.
McAnuff recalls that Webber was immediately intrigued by the project, and part of this had to do with Cedric Myton. “Webber looks up to Cedric Myton in the same way some people look up to Elvis Presley. When he was being taken around by a taxi and he was told that they were going to Cedric’s house, he couldn’t believe it. He asked for clarity ‘Cedric Myton of the Congos?’ He was dumbstruck,” McAnuff reported.
Officially released in the summer of 2019, Inna de Yard showcases acoustic performances by the artistes, who also vocalise what makes Jamaican music and culture so great. It has enjoyed successful premieres in far-flung places of the world at major film festivals in South Korea, Germany, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, with McAnuff representing at a few.
“We went to South Korea for the premiere. It was being shown at a film festival there, and what was so memorable is that it was raining cats and dogs, but that had zero effect on the attendance. The people came out with their umbrellas and raincoats. It was fantastic,” McAnuff told The Gleaner.
McAnuff got his first taste of the stage in the mid-70s when he acted in the pantomime Brashana O, and, for the man who was also once a member of the Cari-Folk Singers, it was a wonderful experience. “We played at the Ward Theatre for months, and I remember that Rita (Marley) came around during that time to get some stage experience. It was right before she went on tour with Bob. Surrounding us were actors like Charles Hyatt, Trevor Nairne, Fae Ellington, Gabby Habbon. I acted three nights per week, because there were two of us playing my role and we opened six nights per week,” he said.
He later went to Miami and did some things with Inner Circle. While there, he got a role in the popular American crime drama television series Miami Vice, appearing in episode 27, alongside the stars, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas.
Five years ago, McAnuff became the first Jamaican to be nominated at the French Music Academy Awards (the French equivalent of the Grammys ) for the Best World Music Album of the Year, alongside French accordion player and producer François-Xavier Bossard, aka ‘Fixi’. He has also scored other successes in the country, with two of his songs, Garden Of Love and Economical Crisis, featured on one of France’s biggest independent films, La Fille Du Patron (Daughter Of The Boss).