Interview: Bunna: Africa Unite Image

by Federico Di Puma

If there’s a band who wrote the history of the Italian reggae scene and of Rototom Sunsplash that’s for sure Africa Unite. With a 35 years long career and a new album, Il Punto di Partenza (Starting Point) just released, Africa Unite were present once again on the Main Stage of Rototom 2015. We had the pleasure to sit with the lead singer and founding member Bunna just after their show.

JAmusic: How was the vibe on stage?

B: It was great! We had prepared a show with lots of tracks from the new album and I have to say we are very happy of the response we got. When you play at Rototom it’s always an important show, you know it’s a festival for real reggae lovers and for people who know the music so here you have to play really well. But I have to say I’m really happy, I saw lots of Italians in the crowd, even someone from Pinerolo our home town!

JAmusic: We can say it’s not exactly your first gig at Rototom right?

B: No, definitely not the first time here (laughs). We were there on the first edition in Gaio di Spilimbergo in 1994 and in its 22 editions I think we missed only 4. We know very well the organizers and the people here, we know all the difficulties they have had over the years to put up something so nice and with such quality. So you can imagine how happy we are to be here once again and to support this festival as we do from day one.

JAmusic: When you come here do you get some time to enjoy the festival?

B: Unfortunately not really. We come and we leave the next day, tomorrow night we have another show back in Italy. But you know it’s normal, when you are on tour it’s not holiday so it’s ok like this. But it would be nice to have some more time to stay here, look around and enjoy the vibes.

JAmusic: Let’s talk about your new album, I found very interesting that a band like yours decided to call the album Il Punto di Partenza.

B: We formed the band 35 years ago, in an era where music was listened on vinyl and tapes, we know we are not young but we wanted to call the album like this because we felt we had to find new ways of communication that could be in step with the times. It was time to stop for a moment and think better to what we wanted and still want to do. And therefore the decision to put the album online for free download. We think that music has to reach as far as possible and over the years we always felt that our better dimension was the live show, not the album. 

JAmusic: The choice to put the album on free download on your website was explained as a way to push on live shows. Did it work?

B: I have to say that till now we are very happy, almost all the shows we had on this tour have been quite crowded. And we are very happy because we reached nearly 40.000 downloads of the album which means there’s love around the band and also that the idea was definitely appreciated. We hope the concept could spread to other artists now.

JAmusic: You have some collaborations in the album, one is with Architorti, a classical ensemble who worked with you previously in the past, how did this special collaboration start?

B: We first worked together 10 years ago when Marco Rubino who is the cellist of the ensemble came to us with several arrangements of our music for orchestra, which was something that immediately impressed us for its uniqueness. From there on we collaborated in several occasions and so when we were working on the album we asked them if they wanted to collaborate with us once more and it came out very naturally. Also, our guitar player now, Marco Gentile, comes from the Architorti project so it’s a story that keeps on intertwining with ours.

JAmusic: Over the years the band has changed  its elements many times, with many people coming leaving and coming back again, how does it work for you?

B: Well there isn’t really a rule, usually the reasons why people leave the band is because they are working on other projects or they are looking for something different musically. We are very sad for example that Paolo Baldini (producer of, among many others, Mellow Mood and former bass player of Africa Unite ed.) has left the band because he gave us so much on every level, production, writing, everything, but he is working on his project and this project needs is full time and his full energy and we fully endorse it. So we put together some new musicians and when new musicians arrive there is always a fresh energy and we are happy of it.

JAmusic: Another collaboration you have in the album is with Raphael, a young upcoming Italian artist. What is your view on the Italian reggae scene?

B: The Italian reggae scene is strong and a lot of bands and musicians are ready for the next big step. Mellow Mood have already reached an amazing success, Raphael is undeniably a talent, Mama Marjas is great, there are so many.  We just wished they could obtain a bit more from the mainstream media because they deserve it. Unfortunately, in Italy at least, there is no musical education, the media tend to give to the people what they already know and like, while it would be important to give something else, to have some courage and introduce new music. But anyway Italy has a very interesting scene, both on who creates the music and on who listens to it.

JAmusic: On the new album the track Riflessioni has created a lot of controversy, did you expect this kind of reaction?

B: Actually we expected some controversy but we didn’t expect the world of the Italian reggae to be so unaware of our philosophy and ideas. We never hide our ideas and our position, we have never related to the mystic part of reggae or to its religious part, it just never interested us. With that tune we never wanted to say “That’s the truth” we just wanted to say what our vision is, we don’t say it has to be the right one, it’s just ours. We never said that others are making mistakes because they are doing differently from what we do, people are free to do and think whatever they want, we just wanted to say what we think, that’s it. Even if we play reggae that doesn’t mean we have to embrace all the different aspects of this music, we are not born in Jamaica, we don’t live in Kingston, we mainly refer to an Italian audience and that’s our life. As Alborosie would say, we don’t want to look like Posers.

JAmusic: When you started 35 years ago, did you imagine you would still be here on stage today?

B: No, not at all. We started because we liked it, because we had fun and we enjoyed playing music. And I think one of the reasons of our longevity is that that joyful spirit never left us, we are still happy and we still have fun when we are on stage. And I think people recognize it. The moment you get on stage just because you get paid to do it then it’s time to stop, and luckily that moment is not arrived yet. We are happy of the journey we made so far and we look forward to what is going to happen in our future.

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