Paul Bimler and Gabriel Calcott have a long history of creating music together, most recently as reggae duo Reality Chant. Their single Future Navigator, featuring Wellington’s Israel Starr, was included on NZ On Air Music‘s NewTracks compilation this December. NZM caught up with Gabriel (aka Messenjah) to find out more about this project.
Kia ora. I was born Gabriel Calcott and raised in Otautahi. I also go by the name Messenjah. I’m primarily a producer and beat-maker, but also play a little bass, djembe, kete drum and other percussion instruments.
The main project I was a part of prior to Reality Chant is a crew called Dubwize. We were a sound system and live act and released three albums between 2001 and 2008. Dubwize performed all over NZ and Australia regularly. I’ve also been an independent DJ and radio host on RDU 98.5FM for 20 years.
Dubwize is the background story to Reality Chant essentially. Dubwize was a crew that consisted of myself and Paul Bimler (he was also known as Confucius back then) on production and MCs Little Jah, David Papa Levi, Raggadon and Iyafari making up the core group.
We travelled extensively doing gigs with myself DJing and the MCs performing their songs live. In 2002 we released the album Dubwize meets Confucius ‘To The Control Tower’ and in 2003 we released Reality Chant’. Both albums were quite popular and still remain underground Kiwi classics to this day. It never ceases to amaze me the reach and effect those albums had.
Moving onto 2008 we released the third album, Dubwize presents Snypa Levi ‘The Sojourner’. At this time two of the main Dubwize MCs had left NZ – Raggadon, who is from the Caribbean had gone back to London, and Iyafari, who is from Zimbabwe had travelled back to Africa.
Dubwize kind of disbanded not too long after this for various reasons. But Paul and I continued to make music and needed an umbrella to work under so I set up Reality Chant Productions as a label in 2008 to release our music. The name Reality Chant I felt held the right energy for the label moving forward and it was already a known name in underground NZ reggae music.
In the beginning, we were experimenting much more with our sound and different recording, mixing and production techniques. The music just seemed to flow through us, we didn’t plan anything before a recording session it just happened very organically. Paul and I were younger then with fewer responsibilities so we had more time for that kind of musical freedom.
These days we both have kids and other commitments so our time together in the studio has to be more planned and structured! We have developed a certain sound and production ethic over the years which means we can work very effectively and quickly when it comes to writing and recording, but the old creative energy still flows strongly for us when we get together to make music. It’s still some of my favourites times and I can’t thank Paul enough for his commitment and energy. That’s the music side and obviously there is another level of songwriting and creativity when we work with a vocalist and the song emerges.
Israel Starr named the song. First it was called Babel Tower, relating to one of the lyrics, but during the creative process he renamed it to Future Navigator which I resonated with instantly and felt it represented the deeper meaning behind the song.
Three things I think; Israel’s powerful yet subtle vocal delivery, the music video and the overall production of the song. As producers, we love ’70s Jamaican roots reggae, that would be where we draw our biggest inspiration, so we try to capture that era in certain productions. And I have heard a lot of feedback that the song reminds people of the Abyssinians, which makes me happy, haha! I think we also captured a bit of a Wailers’ feel with the rhythm and that is largely due to the amazing group of musicians who play on the song.
There are levels of meaning in the song and video. The deeper story behind Future Navigator is one of awakening, of coming together in oneness, it’s a call for all people and all navigators to see the deeper meanings in the trails of life and follow one’s true purpose. It is a call to honour the ancestors and ancient knowledge of the past while also honouring the present and future. It’s a call to put aside what’s not important and to, “come and rally round” in togetherness ,knowing that everything is going to work out in the end – balance will be restored.
The “come and rally round” section is my favourite part, it really holds the power of the song and captures the revolutionary ’70s Jamaican spirit for me. I do love the intro and outro with the beautiful trombone lines as well.
The song itself begun with a late night jam between Israel and his dad (The Mighty Asterix) and the guitarist from Upper Hutt Posse – luckily Israel recorded the jam onto his phone. He then made a demo instrumental based on the chords in that jam session and sent that to me to record and produce properly.
I felt this song needed a large group of musicians to play on it to really give it a live band feel, so I enlisted legendary Christchurch musicians Greig Bainbridge and Scott Taitoko to play the bass and trombone. Paul played gat and keys, I played kete drum and Israel got a couple of his crew to lay down extra gat, keys and percussion.
So we were bouncing session files all over the place and it was recorded in multiple studios all over NZ. I then took the track to Kog Studio for some extra production and mixing, big up Chris Chetland for helping with that, he really knows what he is doing. I then finished the mixing and mastering at my studio in Te Mata Hapuku.
Integration – not segregation.
To be honest, we generally don’t make music hoping it will be a hit single, we try to make music with a conscious message. For me reggae music is for the people first. Future Navigator was no different, we had a message we wanted to the song to carry and when it came together we felt it had something a little extra that people might resonate with.
We are always working on new Reality Chant material so we have multiple releases lining up for 2019 including another single with Israel Starr. I am also working with a collective of artists called the Runtingz crew including Israel Starr, Lomez Brown, Lion Rezz, Raggadat Cris & Poetik, we have been on tour for the last six weeks and there is an album in the works which will come out next year. Keep an ear to the ground for that!
This was the first time I have applied for funding since the early 2000s. The stars aligned. But if it doesn’t work out that way don’t give up.
I found applying to be a smooth and easy process.
We made the music video with Richie Mills from Peace Of Dreams. It was amazing working with him, he really brought our vision for the song to life.
Arohanui. Jah bless.