Born in Port of Spain and raised by his grandparents, Anthony Joseph arrived in London in 1989 with a single suitcase. He has since become one of the most fascinating black authors of his generation, writing and performing poetry alongside recording with his band The Spasm Band, a mesmerising mix of deep funk, jazz, rock, and Afrobeat, a sort of Hendrix meets Zephaniah, Marley and Sly Stone. He has published four volumes of poetry and a novel, and is currently working towards a doctorate. He recently completed a biography of Lord Kitchener, an icon of 20th century Trinidadian calypso, soon to be the basis for a BBC documentary. As if all this weren’t enough, he is releasing his fifth album, the result of a true meeting of artistic minds, with the New York based bassist and singer Meshell Ndegeocello, appropriately titled Time.
We had a telephone conversation with Anthony and found to out what Music, poetry and life mean to him.
Q: How would you describe your music?
A: That’s the hardest question you’re doing me the harder question first. It’s, well, with this album, I don’t know, I can only say it’s soulful poetry. I can’t really describe it, it is what it is, I can’t really put it in one category, there’s a lot of stuff in there, there’s elements of jazz, and there’s elements of calypso, can’t really put one name on it, I just think it’s a poetry album, a new one.
Q: What should people expect from your new album Time?
A: Time is essentially a poetry album, but it’s also like a rave album and a dance album, it’s got all of those things that you can dance to. The world is at the centre of the whole album, it’s an album of stories, there are a lot of stories of women, stories that deal specifically with women. There are few things that are really social commentary, it’s bit more extroverted, it’s a bit more looking outside, looking a people in the community, rather than looking at my own experiences, it’s a bit more open, more accessible.
Q: Where do you take your inspiration from?
A: Like everybody from life, from the school of life, as a poet I’m really interested in language itself and how language can be used for entertainment as well, how certain words put together have an effect and how you can push the boundaries of meaning, I’m a poet so I’m interested in that aestethically. I think I’m also interested obviously in not so much giving people a message, I’m not that kind of poet, I’m a little more subtle, I write a lot of stuff that is mainly I guess for the beauty of the words themselves.
Q: If you had to choose between doing music and doing poetry what would you choose?
A: For me there’s no separation, because what I do, you know, I’m a poet that makes music and I think that poetry and music are very similar you know. I think poetry is the art that comes closer to music, cause essentially what you do is spoken music, it’s a very important part of poetry so I can’t separate the two of them. All the albums that I’ve done they’re poetry, I might have tried to sing a few of them, but they’re essentially poetry. There’s no real separation.
Q: What music do you listen to?
A: I think to a lot of stuff, I listen to everything, I listen to a lot of jazz, big fan of jazz, the 50s and the 60s, from classic to the free jazz and stuff, Coltrane, classics, but also a lot of calypso music, I listen to a lot of it. Great old calypso songs. Those are the two main kinds I listen to, calypso and jazz, but also soul.
Q: Any favourite poet?
A: I really love the caribbean poets, Derek Walcott, he’s a big influence. I also love Allen Gingsberg, he’s one of my big influences as well.
Q: Any live shows on the horizon?
A: Yeah absolutely, we are starting a tour on March 8th, mainly in Europe, no UK shows have been confirmed yet, but we might be playing in London in April.