Five Questions With… John Orpheus

Hot on the heels of his 2016 mixtape Goldchain Hennessey, Toronto soul singer and rapper John Orpheus returns to his Trinidadian roots with BACCHANAL, a new mixtape steeped in Caribbean slang and West African rhythms.

Before he (in a previous guise) collaborated and toured with JUNO-nominated artists Alysha Brilla and Danny Michel, as well as members of Oasis and the Happy Mondays in the group The Hippy Mafia, John Orpheus came to Canada from the southern Trinidad town of New Grant as a 13-year-old. While he soon became known for effortlessly moving between hip-hop, rock and pop, reconnecting with his siblings recently prompted a re-discovery of his Caribbean roots, which Orpheus sees as the roots of all his music.

The heartbeat of BACCHANAL is supplied by Sarah Riegler, Orpheus's musical soul mate and drummer in his Molasses Soul Band. She studied West African drumming at the University of Ghana in Accra and is also a member of prominent Toronto drumming group OrkestraGatigo. They began building pop songs off the traditional rhythms that are Sarah's specialty. Orpheus instantly started singing Trini slang and the songs on BACCHANAL quickly took shape.

The lead off single “JIGGY AF” goes deeper into Caribbean culture, employing the infamous “Bookshelf” Jamaican dancehall riddim and allowing Orpheus to move deftly between Caribbean and American slang in a way familiar to all diaspora kids. BACCHANAL is available now as a free download from johnorpheus.com, and he will officially celebrate its release with a show at Toronto club The Painted Lady on Feb. 23.


What makes Bacchanal stand apart from your previous work?

It’s Caribbean music rooted in West African rhythms played by my drummer and musical partner-in-crime Sarah Riegler. It's still pop and hip-hop but it's dripping in Trinidadian slang and dancehall energy. It's the best music I've ever made. I've spent my whole life making music but never made music this rooted in where I'm from. So it's very different but very natural to me. My earliest musical memories are my grandmother sitting on the veranda singing as I came home from school. She had songs for when she was happy, sad, waking, going to bed, frustrated, dancing, she had a song for every experience.

 

What track do you feel best captures the overall vision you had for this mixtape, and is there a story behind it?

The word “bacchanal” in Trini has two meanings: one is a wild drunken fete, and the other is drama. So there are two songs, each capturing one of these vibes: “JIGGY AF” is the turn-up wild dance party vibe and “SO WE SAY” is a Caribbean troubadour reflecting on his life—like a curry goat Leonard Cohen! The track “FOOLS IN LOVE” also means a lot to me right now. It's the most honest I've ever sounded on a song. You never know how songs affect people but this one really gets me every time I sing or play it.

 

You're a filmmaker as well. How do your videos tie in with your overall artistic vision?

Making striking visual art is part of our mission statement. With the video for “JIGGY AF” it was all about colour scheme and movement. We wanted to build the narrative around bright, vibrant colours and sunshine so it would feel like the Port of Spain or Kingston. 

What’s your favourite and least favourite thing about Toronto?

I love all the cultures mingling. I love that you can get authentic food from anywhere in the world whenever you want and hear languages from all over as well. I don't like the lack of mountains and trees and billy goats. Gotta have billy goats in your life man! 

 

What's been the biggest change in your life over the past year, and what are your major goals for 2017?

The biggest change has been a freedom—a sense that there is nothing I need to hold on to. Nothing I need to prove to anyone. It's freed me to be myself, dream bigger and really commit to my path. This year we have two more mixtapes before the summer. Outdoing ourselves is the goal on each of those. Each must be a quantum leap better than the last. Playing Pop Montreal and at least three U.S. festival dates are goals for 2017. We are also working on a shows in Africa, which is a major life goal for me and—fingers crossed—will be happening later this year.

 

 

 

 

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