Interview By Danny Danko
Photo by Dan Skye
Raised on the island of Jamaica by a Rastafarian father, Sizzla Kalonji transformed his devout faith into a steady stream of reggae hits spotlighting the oppression of the poor and downtrodden worldwide. His style combines contemporary dancehall rhythms with the patient pace and delivery of old-school roots for a unique blend that speaks to generations of listeners. In a rare act of media interaction, he recently sat down with HIGH TIMES to speak about consciousness, social issues and ganja around the globe.
So let’s talk about this new album, The Overstanding.
It’s a beautiful album—I hope it breaks into the mainstream area. It’s put out by Dame Dash and my label, Kalonji Records, and distributed by Koch Entertainment. The record includes 12 tracks, plus a bonus track featuring Curtains.
I also noticed a song called “Smoke Marijuana.” You often have songs praising ganja on your albums.
Naturally. Herb is the healing of the nations. It’s a natural plant being grown by the Most High. We can’t have control over that plant. We use this herb for prayer and ceremonial purposes: banquets, celebrations, groundations and crownations.
Several of the tracks on the album use hip-hop beats instead of “traditional” reggae rhythms. Are you consciously seeking more American listeners?
As a Rastaman, you see, hip-hop music also belongs to us. It belongs to Africa; their parents are from Africa. It’s because of trans-Atlantic slavery that we are all dispersed and scattered over the Western Hemisphere. Just because they do hip-hop and we do reggae, that doesn’t mean we must be separated. We need to follow the words of the prophets—Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr.—same way up the line: Bob Marley, Jacob Miller …. We want the world to know that we’re uniting the people through music. The youths now, they make hip-hop in Jamaica, and R&B artists in the States are singing over Jamaican dancehall rhythms. We won’t let something as simple as our geography to stop us from uniting the culture and the youths.
In your travels, you’ve probably sampled herb from around the world. What countries distinguished themselves with their marijuana?
Well, you’ve got the Herijuana, Purple Skunk, Ice, ’nah mean? Seeing people out of Jamaica producing this natural herb, it’s just nice brethren. Amsterdam, Australia—anywhere we go, we have good herb.
Have you been to Ethiopia? I heard the herb there is pretty crucial.
Yes, I’ve been there, and the ganja there is something special. As I said, it’s a natural herb used for ceremonial order and for spiritual purposes. We use it to give praises to the Most High.
What will it take for Jamaica or America or any other country to legalize ganja?
It doesn’t take anything—it’s based upon the marketing of this thing. I mean, I smoke, but I wouldn’t recommend that you smoke to your detriment. I can’t tell you what to do, but you mustn’t smoke to your detriment. I don’t smoke cigarettes, for instance.
Weed grows in our fields and is a part of our lives; you just have to manage your usage. Marijuana is legalized by the Most High. Who is man to make any laws against God’s creations? The same power who created man created the herb—“Grass for the cattle, herbs for the use of man.” So we’ve got to use the herb. We, the Rastaman, just plant our ganja. We don’t need someone to tell us it’s legal.
I’ve grown up with this herb around me, and I understand its purposes. This herb is used for medicinal, industrial, pharmaceutical purposes. Marijuana we smoke and get high, mon! High times!
Have you felt harassment, whether in Jamaica or in your travels, regarding your use of ganja?
Yeah! Police lock me up for ganja! Police ever see ya with a spliff, they lock you up. It is illegal, and the police get paid to do his job. He has to see to it that there is no illegal substances about. You can’t make the police see the ganja! Just smoke it and keep it in your brain. I’ve been persecuted for marijuana more than once.
It seems that nowadays in Jamaica, there’s more crack and cocaine available. How do you feel about this?
Good question. On such a beautiful island, with so many natural resources, you’ve got crack and cocaine dominating the place. Poor people have got to make a living, and if they see the coke, they don’t think anymore about good or bad. They’ve got to feed their family. And behind closed doors, it’s the government that’s shipping all these things. It’s a big corruption, and it is the people that must get together and vote out those that choose to trick them and hurt them with wicked substances. Herb is herb, and if you’re making something out of a lab—well, then that is “drugs.”
In Jamaica, we need to be growing marijuana in tons. Not just for smoking purposes only, but for economic upliftment—as a natural resource, to bring money into the country. We sell sugarcane, cotton and coffee. Marijuana is also there—why are you hiding it? Establish the plant and show the true potential of the plant.
Have you ever grown it yourself?
Truthfully, yes, I’ve grown herbs.
Do you have any recommendations for fertilizers or techniques for our readers?
Well, I’ve lived on the farm from time to time, and all of the fertilizers, they use come from nature. Rastaman, they use very little fertilizers. The soil has its own nourishments naturally from the mountains. We add no chemicals—goat shit, perhaps. Anything you add to the soil, you’re gonna get it back; it goes nowhere. It’s not like the chemicals burn off.
So you prefer organics?
Yes, organics! We get trees taller than me using nothing but nature.
Do you have any advice for tourists coming to Jamaica from America or Europe for their vacation?
First of all, they should look into the history of the country. When you’re coming somewhere, you must make sure you understand the culture of the people. You’re coming to see the beautiful people, the sunshine, the lovely rivers, the waterfalls, the gardens and vegetation and all those things. My advice is for the tourists to be loving towards the Jamaican people. Help to preserve the culture. We wish to eradicate crime and eradicate poverty. Rastafari and love throughout the world!
Any closing message for HIGH TIMES readers?
Yes, HIGH TIMES. Smoke the herbs! Be positive, be conscious, respect yourself and respect others also. Contribute to the world. And to the youths: You may or may not smoke marijuana, but you must understand one thing. Know that it’s only marijuana—it’s not crack or coke, no heroin, none of dem things. Stick to marijuana, stay in school, read a lot, read positive things, read the Bible and respect your culture. Be influential and be creative.