Reggae legend Tippa Irie is on a boat. Or rather, a ship. A ship that’s about to set off for a five-day cruise from Miami to Jamaica. And luckily for him, he gets to repeat this journey twice. “It’s gonna be 10 days of paradise,” Irie tells me, adding, in his thick British accent, that he’s never been on a cruise before. “I’m looking forward to it.”
In the week following the cruise, Irie will head to San Francisco to play a show at the Elbo Room on Dec. 13, marking his first visit to the Bay Area in five years. Getting a U.S. visa can be hard, Tipa explains, which is why it has taken him so long to return to NorCal. “For a lot of promoters, it’s not really in their interest to pay for visas or for artists to come abroad,” he says. “So, it’s not feasible, basically.” Instead, Irie plays shows elsewhere and, in fact, claims he’s been to every continent—except, maybe, Alaska. In this year alone, he’s played shows in Scotland, Spain, Germany, China, Thailand, Vietnam, France, UK, Czech Republic, Croatia, Singapore, and Dubai.
[jump] Irie, who is known for making traditional reggae music, made a name for himself in the early ‘80s as an MC in South London. His singles, “It’s Good To Have The Feeling You’re The Best” and “Complain Neighbour,” were played on BBC 1 National Radio, gaining him national exposure, and his 1986 song “Hello, Darling” became a UK Top 40 hit. In recent years, he has toured with the East London “modern British Reggae” band, The Skints, started a studio and record label (Lockdown Productions), and released dozens of albums. He’s also collaborated on singles with a number of artists, like The Bug and Chali 2na, which, he says, has been both a blessing and a bane. “Sometimes, you can get lost in other people's stuff and then you gotta kind of stop and say, ‘You know what, I need to focus on my stuff now,” he says, adding that it’s been five years since he dropped an album. The good news is he’s been working on a new project, New Leaf, and it is set to drop in March.
But the music industry has changed greatly since he first started making music, much to his chagrin. Especially in terms of making and recording music. “Back in the day, we used live musicians,” he says. “It was a group of musicians going into the studio and building a tune together. Well, nowadays, it’s a lot of times just one person doing everything.”
Despite these changes, Irie has managed to perfect the art of live performing over the years. In fact, he even has a recipe for what a good party entails. “It’s our job to make people forget about the bills and the boring stuff and the depressing stuff,” he says. “To have a good party, your job is to do that.” A good party, he says, also requires a good sound system, a good selector, and a charismatic host/MC. And one other, crucial thing: “Most of all you, you need good drinks.”
Tippa Irie plays The Elbo Room at 9 p.m. on Dec 13, alongside Mickey Boops and DJ Sep. Tickets are $13; more info here.