Walshy Fire is here to bridge the gap between Africa and the Caribbean — between dancehall and reggae. As one-third of Major Lazer, the MC, DJ, and producer continues to make strides in the music realm as a whole, unleashing records for audiences and cultures all around the world.
Born in Jamaica but based in Miami, the “Voodoo” artist has been touring Africa for the past five years, which makes sense given his recent goal of bringing the Afrobeat sound to old and new fans alike. Now, real name Leighton Paul Walsh gears up to unleash his debut album ABENG, which he describes as “something that hasn’t been done.”
Giving the disclaimer that a few of his records have that African and Caribbean influence, he reminds us that a whole project has yet to be made. Standout features include everyone from Mr. Eazi and Kranium to Wizkid and Alkaline.
Arriving on June 7th via Mad Decent, EDM.com caught up with Walshy Fire to discuss the significance in the album’s title, what records mean the most to him, and rumors of Major Lazer splitting.
EDM.com: ABENG is named after a horn instrument brought to Jamaica from Ghana, used by runaway slaves to communicate over long distances. Talk about the significance.
Walshy Fire: It originally came because a friend of mine, it’s his name. I used to make fun of his name, then I asked “what does your name mean?” When he told me the meaning, I’m like “that’s actually deep, super dope.” I’d always tease “whenever I drop an album, I’m gonna call it Abeng.” Because the name’s too dope. Then he passed. After he passed, I’m like “I’m calling it that.” [claps] The origin of it was finding out through this guy Abeng Stewart.
Was there a certain moment that inspired you to connect these two cultures?
When I traveled to Africa. I’m already trenched into the Caribbean, I totally get it. But going to Africa and seeing the similarities, we don’t even realize how similar we are. For instance, Asians. When you look at a Chinese person, you can say “oh that’s my mom, that’s my grandma.” That’s not too far gone. But with the African diaspora, it’s 400 years gone. We don’t look at a Nigerian and go “that’s my grandma.”
But if I can get them to take the clothes off — don’t look at the little walls that come up, see through those walls — you’ll totally see your grandma. She’s just like your grandma but she’s speaking Aruba or Pidgin, which is similar to Jamaican Patois. The whole idea is to get people to break down the walls that were not us (and some that were built by us), and just relate. Then we can work more on all the global things we need to work on, but music will be that initial bridge.
What inspired you to transition from reggae to Afrobeat?
I’d say I’ve brought along and collaborated the two. I’ve made them shake hands with a bigger statement: an album. Like I said before, people have made them bump firsts. I’m fully like “you and you together, hold on.” Definitely combined, collaborating, and hopefully enriching the sounds of both individually.
Talk about all the different sounds: reggae, salsa, zouk, bridging of soca and afropop.
This album, the beats are mostly Afrobeats. I have a lot more of the reggae, dancehall, and soca guys on the Afrobeat beats. That’s the main thing. There’s a couple dancehall tracks,“Xcellent” and “Round Of Applause.” There’s one real reggae song with Efya and Christopher Martin called “Until the Dawn.” Everything else is mostly vocals on African beats.
What else do you want fans to get from this project?
Just that we’re all the same. We’re all humans. We’re all out here trying to do the same thing. When you look at someone else and you feel you can’t talk to them for whatever dumb reason we’ve been coded to think, it just shouldn’t be. We’re talking earlier about eating animals and how somehow, we decided to eat some and not eat others. If you eat the others, you’re weird, nasty, disgusting — when eating anyone of them should have the same equal weight of weird, nasty, disgusting, delicious, whatever it is.
But we don’t. We have a line and say “you over there and you over there.” Really to break down all those lines, get rid of all that. Our project as Major Lazer, that’s what our goal’s been. I have a quote I always say: “making the world smaller by making the party bigger.” If we can get this party to be bigger and bigger, more people from all over the world will begin to be in the same space together. Communication breaks down walls all the time. Hopefully we can understand that human race is the race. We should all be able to live together.
You just unleashed the visual for “No Negative Vibes.” Best memory from shooting that visual?
Just in the studio. Alkaline is a very reserved person in most parts of life. He really got animated in the studio. Like “oh shit alright, he likes this. He’s here.” Sometimes an artist can’t really gauge, but he was totally into it. In the video, he’s like “ah, ah, ah, ah.” [fast movement] He was making jokes. Been in the studio with him a few times and he’s very guarded. I’ve never seen that side of him.
I know artists tend to have their favorites in their project. What songs mean to most to you?
What a horrible question right? “Call Me” with Mr. Eazi & Kranium because of how hard it was to actually get that song done. We went through mad changes of the beat, all kinds of things. Say somebody was a difficult child, but they ended up being a great person in society — that’s that song. You go back and forth with everyone like “that’s almost it!” Not in a bad way, just very artistic. Very “I want this to be dope.”
What made you put it at #1?
Everybody decided that was the one. The two guys on the song are really relevant right now, super poppin’. Kranium is a great guy. He’s been running the dancehall for a couple years now, one of the biggest artists. He’s from New York. Just being Jamaican in America, we understand each other very well. Very relatable. Awesome guy, awesome chemistry with him. Definitely going to work more with him. Worked with him first on Major Lazer, so that was dope.
Is there a second favorite you might have?
It’s really a tough question. All of them. I love all of them, I really do. Some songs we had to come off for maybe legal reasons, not getting the lawyers together, etc. Making a compilation album is very difficult. So much respect for DJ Khaled, they make compilations with 20 artists. I know that took a lot of work. Big up to him and his grind, very inspirational. I love them all, they all did something special.
Talk about your party in Los Angeles called Rum & Bass.
It’s a great vibe. Basically bring the Caribbean with a hip-hop twist. Bring the Caribbean sounds — reggae, soca, kompa, salsa, reggaeton — but it’s delivered in a hip hop way. It’s delivered in a “we’re all second generation” way. You’ll find people from all over world whose parents and grandparents are from somewhere else. The music’s presented with the familiarity, but in an American way. Jasmine Solano played total hip-hop: 90’s and early 2000’s styles with quick mixes, drops, scratching. That’s how dancehall is played as well: very fast-paced. [snaps] Nothing’s playing for more than 30 seconds. What city are you from originally?
Sunnyvale/San Jose in the Bay Area.
I don’t know much about the Bay but everyone who knows about the East Coast, it’s drop song (X3). The crowd will go “oh (x3)” — that’s what Rum & Bass is. It’s non- stop. “Oh shit (x3)!” It’s really fun.
What’s the energy on the West Coast compared to elsewhere?
It’s not the same. The West Coast’s definitely more chill and laid-back, while the East Coast is very “rawr.” Miami’s not like the rest of the South. Miami is a non-English, no American city. Even when you see a straight blonde-haired, blue-eyed person, they’re from Argentina. They’re not from America. Bringing that energy out into the world and having people accept that third world madness is awesome.
The West Coast is dope in its own way. Some people at that party last night were like “yo I’ve never seen anyone deejay so fast.” Every song would drop and they’d be like “oh shit, I just got used to the last song and the next one’s coming.” It’s like I’m going “pow (x3)!” On the East Coast, it’s so normal. People will be like “we just want to hear the chorus and get to the next song.”
How does your fan base compare in Miami, Los Angeles, Jamaica?
Pretty much all the same. Here, you get a lot more Asians, Mexicans, maybe Central Americans. Miami, it’s Jamaicans, Cubans, Chinese, Dominicans. From different places, but they’re all the same energy.
Favorite song to drop in a set?
Koffee “Toast.” That’s the happiest because I get it. People love positive music even when they don’t know they love positive music. When all the music is “kill, kill, kill, n-word, bitches and hoes, I do drugs and want to commit suicide” — you’re used to it, you don’t think too deep, you’re riding it. But when something super positive hits your ear, you’re like “oh no, I actually love life. I love being alive. I love having cool friends. I love focusing and being successful. I’m motivated. I’m an ambitious person. I’m better than these other songs with a lower frequency.” That’s what I love about “Toast,” you feel the frequency of the room go up immediately. Everybody’s like “toast to life, toast to success, my friends are successful. I ain’t a hater, I ain’t mad at them.”
If you talk success, you talk positivity to a lot of people who know how it is to have their grandparents come over and sacrifice. Automatically, it’s going to connect. We can’t even play no dumb shit after that.. You can’t play no mumble, no jumbo, you can’t play nothing after a song like “Toast.” The room’s energy’s too hot.
How are you feeling with the split of Major Lazer?
Are we splitting? When did we split? When are we going to split? When did that happen? We just performed in Vegas on Saturday.
So you guys aren’t splitting?
Not at all. I wonder where that came from. You know what, it was probably Wes saying something and they took it wrong. He said something. It’s a paragraph of words and someone took 3 or 4 of those words. A sentence evolves into a thing. He might have said something like “he’s working on mad projects, and this next Major Lazer album could be the last one.” Which I then think he regretted saying because it’s not the last one. He was just saying who knows what’s next, etc. But splitting? No.
Strong as ever?
Yeah for sure. I’m probably going to the studio after this. Really strong actually. We just dropped a song with Skip Marley called “Can’t Take it From Me” two weeks ago. Video dropped as well. Next Major Lazer album coming soon, look out for it!
What’s next for Major Lazer?
Hopefully before the summer’s done. We got a great thing going. I don’t think any of us want to break this up because we’re in a unique space. We’re one of the only groups who don’t do a negative song, don’t do anything negative. Are genre-bending, totally genreless music. One of the only groups all about unifying the world, really making everybody be on this human race shit. The power of what we’re doing is too strong for any of us to walk away from it. We see results, so we chillin’.