The singer takes a break from music to document Ubuntu in Kitui
A legendary artist who had a string of global hit songs in the 1990s was in Kenya last week on his very first visit to the country. The BDLife met British singer and rapper Pato Banton at his Jomo Kenyatta International Airport hotel as he prepared to take a road trip to Kitui.
“I’m not on a musical journey right now; I’m very private,” said the singer, who is best known for his cover of the classic Baby Come Back which topped the UK charts in 1994.
Accompanied by his wife, Antoinette “Rootsdawtah” Hall and a film crew, the 60-year-old artist was in the country to shoot an upcoming documentary titled Ubuntu celebrating the connections between communities across Africa.
Antoinette, who is among the creative directors of the film shot in 12 African countries, is also the keyboard player in Pato’s band. She has played for Jamaican greats like Gregory Isaacs, Beres Hammond and Glen Washington with whom she performed in Kenya in 2005.
Pato Banton, who was born Patrick Murray in London and moved to Birmingham aged 8, grew up in a home driven by music thanks to his stepfather, who was a DJ and ran a sound system.
A room in their small house was turned into a dance hall and young Pato guarded the entrance during late night sessions, which is how he acquired the nickname “Pato” from an owl who, according to Jamaican folklore, stays awake all night. shouting “patoo patoo”.
Being part of the first generation of Caribbean immigrants to England presented many challenges.
“The environment was very racist; the police were racist and the justice system was very biased and when we saw racism all over the world we sympathized and understood how deeply rooted it was.
“Even though I never experienced a hot country as a child, I knew something was wrong with the English weather and I would cry when I had to go to school in the snow saying ‘God, why am I in this country.’ ”
He started DJing at the age of 11, under the stage name Ranking Pato and when he auditioned for a contract with Fashion Records in London, the label asked him to rap on vinyl records of different genres, from blues to jazz.
“I just improvised whatever the style of music was and when they were done the label bosses said ‘No more Ranking Pato; now you’re Pato Banton” (Banton is slang for an accomplished lyricist).
The infectious 1992 sing-along anthem Go Pato was among the first hits to propel him into the mainstream. But the highlight of his success came with a version of Baby Come Back, originally a 1967 hit by Eddy Grant and the Equals, which became a UK number one single for four weeks in 1994.
“When the record company asked me who I wanted to work with, I asked if UB40 would sing the cover because they are very good with covers, and then I would add my own lyrics.”
He had already recorded two tracks with UB40 on the Baggariddim album in 1985, including Hip Hop Lyrical Robot which was the B side of the American No. 1 single I Got You Babe.
Pato Banton was back in the UK Top 20 later in 1995 with Bubbling Hot with Ranking Roger. That same year, one of the world’s best-selling pop artists, Sting sent his single The Cowboy Song to the same producer who made Baby Come Back who then asked Pato if he wanted to add lyrics for a remix.
“Sting didn’t know about it, so I put some rap on it and the producer sent it back to Sting who loved it.”
Sting, who had just finished filming the video for the song, asked the production company to reschedule the scenes and edit Pato in the video for the single which reached the UK Top 40.
“Sting had promised to reciprocate whenever I needed to do a song with him and I happened to be performing his song Spirits in A Material World, so I asked him if we could do that again.”
Sting took Pato and his band to Spain to record the video, then used the band to back him up at a gig with Madonna and Elton John. The song was also featured on the soundtrack of Hollywood comedy Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls.
Reflecting on his legacy, Pato Banton, who now lives in Los Angeles, advises the current generation of artists to keep their music clean and positive.
“We have a responsibility as artists to educate, to uplift and in 10 years when you look at your catalog you want to be proud and say ‘look, all I had to say, we can play today’ today with pride”.