by POCC Minister of Information JR
M.O.I. JR: What are the ups and downs of being a ragga-rapper from Sri Lanka?
Ras Ceylon: Well, being me, Ras Ceylon – “ras” signifying Rastafari faith and “ceylon” being the colonized name of Sri Lanka – has ups and downs within music and life. There is struggle but I still give thanks for it all. A lot of times folks may not know how to react to my music, because it is a little different in sound and content, but I think over all the message gets across because it’s universal.
I was born and raised in Southern Cali and been in the Bay 10 years, right outta high school, growing up with hip hop and coming into Rasta as a teen, so all that is soaked up and delivered in every lesson (song). It feels good to still be doing it, because I got a lot of older homies that put me on back in the day that either aren’t doing music now or have switched up the whole program, so I feel like I’m supposed to be keepin’ it movement, just like this still for Youth International’s sake.
I’m grateful for the all the downs and ups ‘cause all that is wisdom. I have seen a lot in hip hop and have been able to bless the stage with and built with a lot of cats I used to listen to when I was young, so it has been dope evolving with the culture.
Being from Sri Lanka is ill because my island has been a war zone for 30 – or 500 – years. To make a long story short, during British occupation, the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who are the minority, were made the elite class; then once “independence” was granted, the Sinhalese majority, from which I am descended, took control with a lot of reactionary ethnic nationalism – classic divide and conquer – ever since! Every time I have visited Sri Lanka – only about five or six times – I witnessed the post-colonial shitstem first hand, from emergency curfews in the streets and political assassinations to insane poverty, so I am always conscience of the conflict and struggle.
The world news will tell you it’s ending right now, but really it is a sick humanitarian crisis worsening daily. The last time I went was 2005 after the tsunami – we came with donations, aid etc. – but the war was still more visible than the so called natural disaster. My mother, sister and I visited the town of Jaffna, which is in the North, and saw the brunt of the war – it was only just opened then closed during a short cease fire while we were there – and the people were all showing genuine love off top, just for visiting, despite us being Sinhalese. So I saw that it is really political corruption and neo-colonial mentalities and misunderstanding that keeps this brutal war going, and that’s what I’m speakin’ on in songs like “Decolonize,” which is on my last CD and “My Island,” which I wrote out there.
M.O.I. JR: You recently rocked the Shattuck Down Low in Berkeley with your crew, Momi Digital, East Bay Politix and Richport the Savior, and opened up for the legendary Roots Reggae king Capleton. How did you hook that up? How did it feel?
Ras Ceylon: Yeah, that was nice, especially having my fam with me. Richport and I are a So-Cal-based group called Hungry Bros, and also Momi Digital was up there burning fire (not literally pigs!) wit me, so it was blessed. Capleton is one artist that I can say for sure has been a big musical influence with his consistency and the intensity of his stage show, so I was honored to open for him. A lot of times folks will link me on concerts with artists that have a similar message, and it feels good showing artists from outta town – and remindin the local crowd – that we get down too, and build more bridges from there.
M.O.I. JR: East Bay Politix has been involved in the campaign to Free the SF 8, as well as other campaigns. Why is this important to you as an individual as well as the group East Bay Politix?
Ras Ceylon: Well, since gaining a better perspective on life through the inspiration of Haile Selassie and having a somewhat politically active family – not immediate but relatives – growing up I know that action is necessary to create any kind of change. I also recognize the thousands have sacrificed for us to be able to even speak freely and have seen that these individuals are often neglected, so I feel it’s necessary to do that work and put it right in the rap!
I have been pretty much on that mission since my first release, which was a tape back in 1999 called “The First Lesson”; at my shows back then I passed out info on Mumia Abu-Jamal and had a crew that made music with relevant content. Also I have got political education from the POCC, and I am in tune to the Code of Culture, in which I accept responsibility to not only rap about the issues but get actively involved in the campaigns as well.
I was disgusted when I heard about the bogus San Francisco 8 case because these are grandfathers that are no threat, except to the system because of their revolutionary minds. It is a great injustice and another form of police terrorism, especially when you come to find out the same cops that tortured these brothers showed up 30 years later to harass them.
We made the “Free the SF 8″ song right after attending one of their court dates, and I am thankful to have linked wit my comrade Sin-Z, founder of East Bay Politix, because we both recognize that unity is strength when striving to overcome these insurmountable odds. East Bay Politix is a vehicle for this liberation movement through the music and comic books. Also, recognizing the role of hip hop in today’s society, I think it’s powerful when we thrust revolution in the mix to counteract the 85 percent crap that corporate radio – Clear Channel/mass media – keeps pushin’ down the people’s throats.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us the name of your new solo album, and can you tell us about the concepts behind it? Who is it featuring?
Ras Ceylon: Yes, my new baby is called “Scientific/Non-Fiction”! Fa-real though, I’m real juiced that this album is out especially because it has been years in the making! The whole concept is just about revealing the science behind reality on different topics from life on the West Coast to war to Rastafari, love and revolution. Musically, it has a little bit of every flavor from reggae to jazz, but is fundamentally hip hop. I worked with one producer, June22, to give it a real album feel, like it used to be. It was crazy how the features came together because none were premeditated but just naturally happened and were all right on time.
The second single and video is “Betta B Ready,” which features stic.man of dead prez and Sinista-Z. The video is getting a real good response and you can peep it online all over. Also I did collabos wit two hip hop legends that are now hip hop political prisoners: Tragedy Khadafi aka Intelligent Hoodlum and AEM s/c Askari X on the songs “The Damage” and “Many Levelz.” So Free TRAG! and Free X! Of course Hungry Bros are represented and there a couple other folks that contributed, but most of it is InI.
I also have Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. of the POCC doing the foreword, so “Scientific/Non-Fiction” is a serious piece of work. This is my first album with any kind of label support and Throwback Records has helped me to keep my grind pushing and elevating. Even as the music industry and economy shifts, we keep it movement!
M.O.I. JR: Do you have any comments on all of the police killings and scandals that are going down in Oakland as we speak?
Ras Ceylon: Most definitely. I think it’s extremely telling that as soon as the people in the Town get some sense of progress with the (s)election of President Obama we get harsh wake up calls out here reminding that it’s far from all good. I personally experienced getting profiled and pulled over more in the months leading up to and after the election in Oakland, more than I have had the decade I been here.
What happened to Oscar Grant on New Year’s was not just an act of brutality and homicide by police, but also a symptom of white supremacy as a system trying to remind people of color of our “place” and the value of our lives in the eyes of the beast. I say “Justice for Oscar Grant” and really what is going on with Mehserle’s trial? I don’t think there is any logical reason that he got bail, and now his trial is postponed, while most people are getting railroaded in their courts daily.
Lovelle Mixon’s death and the four cops were another example that things are messed up out here and are not going to get better by criminalizing a community. The disconnection between the police and especially the young residents here is being heightened by all of this, from the shootings to what mainstream media called “riots” in response.
It really is eerily similar to conditions that inspired Dr. Huey P. Newton to start the Black Panther Party for Self Defense because the police to this day still act as an occupying army within the neighborhood, streets and turfs. So I definitely am in solidarity with any community-based organizing that is effective in bringing about solutions to these issues. Oakland needs to heal and have peace, but that can only happen with justice and people feeling like free citizens in their own city, which we still haven’t got to yet. That’s why I choose to keep it movement and stick to the fundamental principles that I feel can bring liberation. If you wanna know more about that philosophy, you can to listen to my lyrics.
M.O.I. JR: Where will you be next?
Rass Ceylon: Well, the next official show booked right now is May 22; Momi Digital and I will be at Malone’s in my birthplace area in the city of Santa Ana – which had a BPP chapter too! – but I probably will be touching some mics before and after that here in the Bay. Also national and international tour plans are in the works, so stay in tune.
I am up on all those standard websites under “Ras Ceylon” so the people get reach out and holla at me on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. etc. Go get “Scientific/Non-Fiction” at all Amoeba’s and Rasputin’s stores here in the Bay and on iTunes. Also look out for the East Bay Politix “Free the SF 8″ comic/CD coming soon and more reality music, JAH Blessed! Also be sure to check out www.rasceylon.com and my label’s website, www.throwbackrecs.com. Big up to the SF Bay View, POCC Block Report and Minister of Info for your work and this innerview. Stay up and keep it movement. Free ‘em all! And give thanks!