Scion Sashay Success seemed to burst on the New York reggae scene full-blown in the early eighties. His early recordings were produced by Percy Chin and Hyman Wright and issued on their Jah Life label. His first release, »Can' Leave Jah Alone/Dancehall Queen« came out on 12" in '83, followed by »Put It On/Take It Off «. The album Scion Sashay Success led to Black Echoes naming him best new artist in '84. Other Chin/Wright productions spread over time include twelve-inch releases »Gun Shot Dance« on Jah Life and »It A Go Done/Dance Hall Time« on Kaya and seven-inch singles on Jah Life Time, Grade One, Life Music and Jah Almighty.
His second album, 1991's In the Balance was co-produced with Phillip Smart and included the song »Free Mandella«. A twelve-inch with Sister Carol (»Mandella's Release« issued on RAS in 1990) and a later Jah Life seven-inch »Mandella Is Free« celebrated the fulfillment of that command. The album was issued on the Eclipse label as were twelve-inch releases »Nuff A We A Rude Boy« and »Cry Fi Me Girl«. An album recorded in Jamaica for producer Bunny Gemini, Voices In the Sand, was issued on the Jet Star label in England. One of the best albums of 1998, it manifested the promise of his early work and revealed a new dimension to his work.
In Jamaica seven-inch singles have been released on the labels Burger Success, San Salvage and First I. Amazingly considering at least one documented case in which he refused to be interviewed or photographed--no photos appeared on his first two albums--some of these releases contained odd bits of information about the artist on the label. Artist's Height: 5'6". Artist's favourite colour: blue. They also include some Scion Success productions as well as vocals. Recently Scion released his first self-produced CD, Decisions on his own Mandisa label. Our early conversations were brief but in that very first call I had to ask about his untypical--even in the reggae universe--name. »Well, Scion is the son of a very great father«, he patiently explained. »Sashay--that's my daughter's name. And Success--I thought that would be a good idea but it hasn't come to me as yet«.
But interviewing Scion didn't prove to be all that easy. He has a disconcerting habit of taking your comments and handing them back to you without comment. This happened a number of times and I had the feeling I had asked a question and been given an answer when really I had offered a comment and Scion had returned it so self-effacingly I moved on without realising he was interviewing me. It was as if he was wearing the telephone equivalent of sunglasses, which mirrored miniature versions of my own face instead of revealing his eyes. Like trying to get a grip on Zen Jell-O which smooshed around a bit but retained it's shape while offering no resistance. Or I might pose a lengthy set-up question Scion would answer with a »Yeah«. (Israel Vibration are also masters of this technique.) Along the way the interview became a kind of friendly collaboration--it's not for nothing his own profile refers to him as deliberate and purposeful, making this at times more of a conversation than an interview, which might or might not stand to reveal something about the complicated simplicity of Scion Success.
Scion is now based in the town of Lithonia in Georgia where he runs his own label, Mandisa. His apparent birth name, George Narcisse, appears on credits, usually as G. Narcisse. This interview proceeded in fits and starts over a period of time. I might ask a question and get as response »Can you hold for a second? (long pause) Yes, Chuck. I can't stay long on the phone with you but I'll tell you this concerning the question you asked«. Scion would then come back with a carefully considered answer. Or postpone his response for another time. Along the way some questions went unanswered and some unposed. We proceeded curiously and cautiously together.
You were born in Jamaica?
Yes I was
When did you leave there?
I left Jamaica #77 the first time to come to America.
And you were a young man.
Yeah I was just out of high school in Jamaica at that time.
So where did 'music enter your life?
It's interesting to answer that question from the perspective of having read so many interviews by other people. It seems as if everybody is always saying that music entered his or her life through a very small singing in church. (laughs)
Well, mostly Nubian singers then.
But that's exactly where it entered my life from! And as you went through the religious Christianity you actually start singing in the church, concerts, family, it's an everyday thing blending in with life and then if you take the interest you pursue it. So not to be like a cliché but it's my background! Music singing is my background. Or should I say a part of my background.
Did you know other singers growing up? Did you have any contact with the Jamaican dancehall or recording arena before you left for New York?
Musicians, singers, artists have been a part of my background. I pretty much know them all personally growing up. Those that were available for me to know were popular at that time and I listened to their music, you hear it on the radio, everywhere. Sound systems would be playing from I was small growing up in my yard, in other yards. You hear the songs; you played around sound systems and I pretty much was a part of the music scene but not actively in it. (It was) a part of my culture and my life.
What music, like what artists, what songs?
All the old Studio One, the Duke Reids, the birth of reggae I was involved in it coming up. Just being a part of my culture. The turning point in all of that probably was with Dennis Brown. He really initiated a more personal interest for me by his voice. And I do think he has been the single most inspirational artist in reggae for singers. I think there have been more singers who have copied Dennis Brown. Luciano, Frankie Paul, George Nooks--they all haven't been able to sound like him exactly but as they round of f their imitation so to speak they descend into their own tone and their own stylised way. So I do think Dennis Brown is truly Jamaica's single most fundamental artist that has inspired singers, not really DJs, than any other artist even to today.
Including Bob Marley?
Including Bob Marley. He (Dennis) was the one who really made the turning point (for me) not even directly also but semi-directly, more directly to my cousin, Horace Martin.
Horace Martin Another great singer!
He's my cousin. He used to sing all these Dennis Brown's around me at that time which really devoted me to that desire to really want to get involved in music. He would always be singing Dennis Brown songs.
You've always kind of gone back and forth from sound boy songs to songs that are really personal or songs that looked at things out in the world a little differently from everybody else.
I do that. I always thought I did that from my first LP Scion Success. What happened was because of the avenue through which I was introduced to the market, I had a greater field on that side with the sound boy songs,I haven't left it but it seem to be what have cemented me in the business somewhat.
Well you kind of came up just at that time, dancehall was really happening when you started to record.
Yes, that's true.
Scion's second album', In the Balance showed a surprising maturity with carefully constructed songs, something we weren't getting a lot of in those early days of dancehall. One song, »The Jury«, seemed like an impressionist painting of injustice. It's as if Scion had put Kafka's The Trial--or the three and a half-hour Orson Wells film version--into a three minute song.
When you hear a song this intense you wonder if the writer lived through the experience. Did this really happen to you?
It didn't. It is reflective of what I've seen happening personally and so I wrote it from a personal perspective. It was also done that way as a personal contact to a lot of friends I have in prison who seek their refuge sometimes within the solace of a song. They apply it. It could be looked upon as if someone advocating »save the rain forest« or the whale but they have never killed a whale or tried to hurt the rain forest. It's from a perspective of bringing the attention to whom ever finds that kind of interest theirs.
I certainly think of you as a songwriter as much as a singer--you write some very unusual songs. A song like »Voices in the Sand«. First of all it's on a rhythm that you almost never hear.
I can't remember other than U Roy and Alcapone, immediate 7's over that track back then, anyone using that »Old Fashioned Way« rhythm for a song and the song's so untypical.
Well Bunny Gemini, the producer of that cd he totally requested that I sing on that particular track for him because he definitely wanted to hear me on that track as we were making the LP he was saying regardless of how many new tracks I make he definitely wanted me to sing on that particular track for him.
So I just took the track and made it caress me and I caressed it back and that's what came of it.
What is the No Surrender album?
That was the original title of that Record Factory Release. Whatever the reason between Bunny Gemini and Jet Star that had to change to Voices In The Sand.
So was there ever a song called »No Surrender«?
No. I'm not sure where he got that title from. So it kind of changed to your own concept then. Right?
Was it issued in some form under that title?
No. They had faxed it to me from Jet Star that it was released with the songs that would be on it and the titles and so on and so forth. The title that was on the cd, it was supposed to be on the lp, No Surrender. But then that eventually changed.
One seven-inch single I've got by you, kind of interesting is on the Burger Success label. It's called »No Worry Your Mind«.
Ah yes. That was my first twelve-inch production actually. I have it on a seven inch but ...... Burger was a friend of mine In Jamaica. He had volunteered to release it for me in Jamaica so he just called the label Burger Success.
It's a good song.
Yeah I find that it's a song I want to do over. It was well received and I actually mixed it myself also. It was a proud project of mine. I think that was my first single I produced and released for myself. We put it out on twelve inch and I pressed about two thousand and I didn't go back to press. I just stopped. The seven inch was probably released a couple of months after. I wanted it to be released in Jamaica.
The seven inch was a more viable form
Yeah. In Jamaica.
That seven inch gave me my first introduction on IRIE FM. He took a copy to Ellie Skelly and she liked it and even to this day sometime I'm in Jamaica people tell me she still plays it. I find a certain magic in that song because it has kept me sort of rooted in Jamaica through Ellie Skelly that she would play almost any Scion she gets. Got that as her first song from me.
Tell us about Decisions.
This is my first cd by myself. I have my company and I'm trying to do my own thing. I've produced singles before both twelve and seven inches but this is my first cd venture. I tried to incorporate a couple of old titles that would have fallen through the cracks because they weren't on any lps or anything like that. There's a couple new ones and a couple of favourites and just started from there. I'm getting very good positive feedback on the cd everywhere it's been. It hasn't been widely distributed as yet because I'm trying to do it myself. I haven't gotten any deal with any major distribution company, I just try to go through the channels that become open and open those that I have been able to open. I'm trying to get my stuff out that way. Hopefully the further distribution on a wider basis will eventually evolve from either my persistence or somebody else.
I wanted to ask you specifically about the song »A Better World«. A lot of people write songs about what's wrong with the world today but not too many people tell you how to fix it.
(laughs) Yeah that's true. Ah, that song. well, for this lp I definitely wanted to make it positive in terms of every aspect I could, even though the genre of songs would be different topics and »A Better World« was conceived with that intention. And the titles if you notice on the songs they try to accentuate toward positive things. I even change the title of the song that was »Nuff A We A Rude Boy« to »Save the Clip« which is even though it's the same song the change of title was to accentuate a more positive attitude toward interpreting everything.
So that means »Satan« is more positive than (7" title) »Leaders«?
Well, the idea of Satan getting behind me. It's not that it's more positive than Leaders -- Leaders didn't really have a positive or a negative -- I mean, you could be a good leader, you could be a bad leader. It was like centered -- put it in a gear so to speak. »A Better World« was an original song that didn't exist before the concept of the cd while »Save the Clip« and »Leaders« already existed having been released on seven-inch. With that intention I made the effort to make a song from scratch that was with pure intention to be on the positive side. And I just went to the keyboard and found it, just with a key that felt comfortable to my ear and I build it from that. Then I gave it to some musicians how I formulate it in my mind and I penned the lyrics to it as I was on the keyboard humming it I got bits and pieces and then I finished and that's how »A Better World« came about. Hopefully my next cd will have a lot more original stuff on it. I'll probably cover a couple or even at least one I'm thinking about that I already have done I'm thinking about, that's that jailhouse song, the one about »The Jury«. The one that was on In the Balance, it was on a twelve inch, I'm thinking about taking that on my next cd, re-doing it. Up-dating it and putting some harmony on it which I felt from the first time but I didn't quite get around to doing it before it was released. I hope to make my next cd much more than this one and all the other lps that have come before. Because I'm currently studying not only my passion with music but my reception by my public to see which songs are really good platforms for me to sing my lyrics to them on. Different keys that they might find more interesting and different titles. Because the genre and topics on which I intend to sing and can sing is really vast. I take positive comment concerning things that people like to see or hear into consideration. If you have any comment concerning what I should do or how I should approach it, i find it valuable. People who are interested in my music, I try to reach out.
But you were reluctant to do this interview.
Yes, that's true. The reasons are varied -- it's nothing personal (laughs). It's varied. I'm mostly -- I'm known as Scion Success as a singer but my interests really are diverse. From simple mundane things to exotic things so I kind of ...
Can you give me an example of what we're talking about here? I mean, what exotic things or what mundane things?
Well, as mundane as playing soccer, that will fill up some of my time. It might be just shopping, that will fill up some -- these are mundane things. And it might run as exotic as singing -- or any hobby I get involved in on the way. So far as singing, I haven't lost any interest in that. Other avenues that I've ventured in and for reasons more than one sometimes I've not ventured back as persistently as I've done with singing.
Another title that is intriguing is the very second song where you sing in the song »Praises to the most high« but what does the written title »Praise To A'Lun L'um« mean?
Oh well that's just an ancient Aramic language that means the most high. It's just by definition in that language if it was translated into English it would just mean the most high. I left it in the old Aramic language.
I notice that you play with symbols to a certain extent in your songs--talking about the cross and the Egyptian Ankh in particular on »Satan Get Behind Me« can you explain that?
Well the cross was originally, the original cross was the Egyptian Ankh. Even before Christianity. It went through a lot of different changes. It even became Swastika at a different point in time. It was a deliberate intention or a conception to make that piece of history understood to people who didn't, even if you don't understand it but to recognize that there is some other information about it that they might not have thought about or might not have heard. But the particular concept was their cross verses the ankh in the song is that the cross is a symbolism of Christianity. Jesus would be the dead man whose cross is on my chest while the original cross was not a symbol of death. It was a symbol of life. Even though it was death in the physical body it was the concept of the ankh being a gateway to another extension of life on the other side. In concept it's close to the same thing religiously to Jesus dying for the sins of the people as it's said in Christianity but the concept predated Christianity. It had a lot more, a lot of different aspects to it that is not in Christianity in terms of the whole ritual and acceptance and meaning behind the ankh in old Egyptian time.
I always thought the cross was a weird symbol to settle on since it's probably the worst thing that happened to that guy. It's kind of like if you like John Lennon or Peter Tosh you hang a gun around your neck.
That's the most prudent thing I've ever heard said in a very long while. It is very true. I always thought about that if you as a Christian was to think about it in terms of somebody who was dearest to you would you want to remember him in his worst moment? You would think you would want to -- even if we have a friend, if we have a friend that died in some horrible way we wouldn't put up that horrible picture on the wall and say that's my friend and put up a car crash.
In the song »Here Comes the Bride« you mention not just of the ring but the little ring.
The tiny ring. Well that's in the song the way it was originally. The original with Michael Prophet. He's one of my favorite singers. One of them -- there's so many favorites.
Another artist at home with roots and dancehall.
It's just the matter of the generation and the changing changes in the generation and different generation grew up with different sound and different artist and they just cling to those they know. it takes a certain mind-set and a certain freedom within yourself to accept something that you didn't grow up with. But a lot of people are blocked into that time gap so to speak of their generation and what their used to.
I notice too that on the new cd there are a couple of bonus tracks that aren't listed.
What happened really with that was I definitely wanted to put the acapella and the instrumental on the cd. But as I start making the cd, putting it together, I am not very much in favour of too many songs on a lp or a cd. I believe twelve, thirteen is sufficient. Ray (Hurford) and I had this talk the other day you know that's one of his dislikes, he loves my cd but he mentioned that he thought it should be formatted with less songs on it. And I totally agree with him. But what happened was that as I didn't want to leave off certain things the number came increasingly away from that twelve, thirteen that I believe the appropriate format for such things. And so I just settled with nineteen because it was a number that I have as a favourite number. I was saying if it's gonna go beyond I'll just take it to my favourite number. and so i started to add the dub, the other mix, and just take it up to that number. And it wasn't listed because when the inserts were being made up I didn't decide to do that yet. the inserts had already been made up and I said I still want to go to my special number. So I just added them even though they weren't on the insert so whoever had the cd would hopefully be surprised gladfully.
This is the first album you've produced
Well yes, really, by myself. Because the album In the Balance was with my and Phillip (Smart)'s input we both co-produced that album but this one really is my own doing. Yes, if nobody had gotten the seven-inches that have been released from it this would be their first introduction to such.
There are a couple songs on this cd that are really examples of your production more than your singing. One of them is the Ebony Sisters song, a Harry Mudie production originally, and one is the Tracy Chapman song. Can you tell me anything about the artists here or how these songs wound up on your cd?
The Tracy Chapman song with Essence was released on seven-inch previously. I had voiced the other song, the Ebony Sisters song to be released on seven-inch (the singer is Faahtiamah) but the project got kind of financially disabled putting out the cd. And I didn't want these two girls to be left behind. So the only thing to do is just take them with me. It was very unorthodox, I wondered how it would be received because it's a Scion Success album. I've had a couple people, not a lot, mention that saying they shouldn't be there that it should just be pure Scion but I made the decision that I didn't want to leave them behind because I wasn't about to put out any singles right now and I needed for them to be out there.
Well I think it also shows another side of Scion because on these productions there's & little more of that pop sensibility than you would ever really see on one of your songs.
Yeah, probably true, probably true. Actually the Ebony Sisters song I was in the studio when I was voicing that »Here Comes the Bride«. I started to sing that song and it intrigued me and I thought it would work and I need a female to sing it. That's how it came about, I just didn't want to leave them behind so I thought I'll just take them with me. Knowing also that these lps that are coming out regularly with these various artists is a trend that was in so if anything I thought it could add some sort of flavour that it's not just me alone it's like a various artist it's just that particular rhythm.
That makes a very interesting point because as we talked about before you're not an artist who really seems to be trying to promote himself. Whereas a lot of artist put out an album and it's just a pure picture on the front cover or it's all about them, most of your songs although you sing some very personal songs are really about life, about the world, it's not maybe that you're disguising yourself but in a way it does seem like you to me that you would put another artist up front on a song on your album.
Well I don't know what to say about that.
Your reputation is -- and you even kind of make reference to it in some of your backup material which refers to »A self-imposed exile from the flashy lights and the money might "--that you're a little bit mysterious.
And yet you're the only artist I've ever seen who puts information on a seven-inch single like Artists Height--artists favorite color--artists first release--what started that?
Well, I was doing that more from a fan's perspective. In collecting records over the years as you get to like different artists sometimes the only source of information about them is if you don't get them on an interview you read about them in the paper. And it was a personalized way of making the people who buy the record more intimate with the artist to me. Without having to wait, after having spent their money and bought a seven inch there would be something that gave them a little more than just the record. So they don't have to go looking for an interview or need to find a picture, you know?
What's next for Scion Success?
I am anxious to get back to work but I'm also trying not to rush into it because the cd is still on the move and it still hasn't reached into a lot of pocket it has to reach yet. So I'm biding my time, spreading it around, getting more entrenched in the reggae business but I'm looking forward to going back in the studio. Hopefully I'll be going back in at least by the end of the year starting the millennium.
♫ Anywhere You Go/Version (Jah Life Time)
♪ Can't Leave Jah Alone/Version (Jah Life Time)
♫ Crying Time/Major Worries: Bawl Fe Serve 'A' side (Jah Life Time)
♪ Done Dead A Ready/Mix Up Version (Life Music)
♫ Leaders/Followers (San Salvage)
♪ Life Time/Dub (Jah Life Time)
♫ Living Strange/Version (Record Factory)
♪ Here Comes the Bride/ Faahatimah:Let Me Tell You Boy (First I)
♫ Mandella Is Free/Version (Jah Life Time)
♪ No Worry You Mind/Headroom (Burgher Success)
♫ # 1 Title/Roland Alphanso & Papa Life: Skokian (Life Music)
♪ One Down/A Better World (First I)
♫ Petty Petty Murderer/Version (Grade One)
♪ Sound Champion/Nuwaubians (San Salvage)
♫ Take It Off/Version (Jah All Mighty)
♪ The Title (San Salvage)
♫ Try Love/An Invitation To Be Mine (San Salvage)
♪ Essence:- She's Got A Ticket (produced by Scion Success) (San Salvage)
By Chuck Foster - © & P 2007