Protoje: Creative Catalyst


Star Theater, Portland, OR

It’s a bit late to call Protoje an up-and-coming reggae artist, he’s already one of the hottest tickets on the Jamaican music circuit. Music is in his blood. In 1972, his mother, Lorna Bennett, collaborated with legendary producer Harry J to record the smash reggae hit Breakfast in Bed.

I sat with Protoje backstage at the Star Theater in Portland as he wound down from his show. During our interview, he crumbled a thumb-sized bud onto the arm of the sofa in a practiced way. On stage, Protoje embodies a tempestuous creativity. Backstage, he was patient and thoughtful, qualities he brought both to our conversation and to his roll-up. I asked him first about the qualities he aspires to as a reggae artist.


On roots reggae…

“Check it. The music I do is not traditional roots, like Midnite or whatever. But it has its base in roots. You can hear the hip hop in my stuff, you can hear the rock ‘n’ roll and the dancehall, but reggae roots is such a strong, potent thing; even one drip is enough to classify me as a roots artist. Roots will always have a part to play, but reggae is not the definition of Jamaican music. Jamaican music is so vast. We should be allowed and encouraged to take it as far as possible.”

On mastering music…

“If you want to play music for fun, that’s cool, and you can treat it as a hobby. I like to jog as a hobby, but I’m not consistent. That’s why I can’t run in the Olympics. If you want to do music as your career, as your life calling, it’s your craft and you have to master it. If you want to travel the world playing music, it’s a one in a million type of thing. If you want to be that one in a million, you have to do the math. If you want to excel at it, you have to put in the work like everything else in life.”

On professionalism in the music business…

“When I first started, people were skeptical, saying I wouldn’t show up to shows, that I would be late or I wouldn’t be professional. And when I did, people were surprised. It’s a bad name Jamaicans get. Some of it is probably deserved, but my generation of musicians has learned from the generation before us about both the good stuff and the bad stuff, just as the next generation will learn from us. We looked at each other and said we have to be more professional, we have to be on time. I want parents to look at their children and say, ‘It’s an admirable job to be a musician. These people are as professional as a banker or a doctor or a lawyer.’ I’m going to be on time and I’m going to treat people right. We need to bring professionalism and that’s what I do.”

On working smart…

“My friend said to me, ‘Hard work without smart work will never be artwork.’ Smart work means having a vision. Since ten years ago, I’ve known what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. When I wanted to go to the UK. How I wanted to approach the U.S. You can be working hard, but if you’re not making the right moves, it won’t work out for you.”

On ganja…

“When you’re searching for something, marijuana is a thing that ‘lasers’ your focus. It’s something that opens up your focus inside and you find out more about yourself. It was a catalyst in getting my mind around the ‘meta’ level, beyond surface things. If you’re not searching for anything, if you’re just smoking to get high, you probably won’t find that focus.”

On smoking before writing music…

“Maybe it’s habit now. Maybe it’s more to set my mind frame and my mood. I smoke because it gets me spaced-out enough to go into myself, that’s where the conversation starts happening. And then the music comes out.”

On marijuana and the law…

“People shouldn’t be getting arrested and paying fines and all that. We all know well enough that’s an antiquated notion. But people shouldn’t be losing their jobs [either]. The small farmers are getting snuffed out, just as in other forms of agriculture. The corporations, that’s the thing I’m more concerned about. The people who’ve been persecuted for years should be able to make a living off it now that’s it’s been legalized.”


[masterslider alias=”ms-protoje”]

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