“I’m not just singing, there’s a reason why we’re making music”, says Tarrus Riley speaking about his most recent release, Healing, which came out August 28th of this year. The 12 track LP is Riley’s first full length project since his rocksteady revival Love Situation in 2014 and, more importantly, his only album written and recorded entirely during the quarantine and COVID-19 pandemic. With Healing, Riley addresses with an artist’s urgency the turbulence and emotion of the times. “I have a positive message and I want to spread it internationally, because it’s not for one kind of people it’s for all people” says Riley. That he does.
“Albums should have concepts, Tarrus affirms, all the great albums are like that Life After Death, Ready to Die, Back to Black by Amy Winehouse. When I listen to Snoop, I never been to LA but I can just live in LA through his music. I would know what to wear, I would know everything… Healing is like that. When you listen to Healing you’re supposed to be like, ‘Yo, at that time, this is where I been'”.
The track list speaks for itself; “The Great Equalizer”, “Healing”, “Poor Immigrants”, each cut is a window into the troubles of living in a locked down world personally and collectively. On the titular track “Healing” Tarrus opens with the lyrics, “Staring at these walls, wrestling with my thoughts. Is Jah still with me?”. “Those are the realest lyrics I ever wrote, he says, those words are so real it’s surreal. I was actually in my bedroom staring at the walls, thinking ‘what is going on?’”. “Healing” is a question about what the new world will bring. Who are we without “a simple hug“? However, Tarrus is sure of one thing; “Love is the vaccination”.
With “The Great Equalizer”, Tarrus takes a stock of the world. Speaking on its conception Tarrus recounts, “Shane called me one morning” aka Shane Brown, Jamaican studio wizard, sax-man, longtime friend, collaborator, and producer of “Healing”, “and he was like, ‘I have an idea for a song, ‘Great Equalizer’’ and I said, wow.” Here the duo manages to find the common humanity in the tragedy that is COVID. “Rich people get sick poor people get sick, Carribean people get sick, English people get sick, Tarrus says, in great tribulation we are all equal.” It’s a hard fact to swallow, but the silky guitar and Taruss’ rich vocals bring the message with a groove and clarity that drips with optimism.
Other tracks, including “Poor Immigrants”, is a nod to both the past and present. Tarrus’ father, Jimmy Riley, who passed away in 2016, is a Jamaican music legend boasting an impressive discography with groups like The Sensations, Uniques and as a solo artist. “Poor Immigrants is my Dad’s song, Tarrus confirms, when I heard about the pandemic, I saw they were gonna stop people from getting their citizenship. Could you imagine your whole life, you’re trying to migrate, make a better life, and then what do you do? So I remembered my Dad singing about poor immigrants and I know that we all are immigrants from somewhere. That’s what I love about the world, the diversity of people. That’s what makes the world beautiful.” For Tarrus, the song hits home on multiple levels. “You don’t need a visa for the sun to shine on you. The Sun shines on everyone. The rain falls on everyone, not just on those who have documents and citizenship, he says, in a time like this, people are what we need.”
Family Tree also makes appeals to our common humanity and the need to cherish people through respect and kindness. “Let me show you how we’re so connected, Tarrus breaks down, there’s a disease on one side of the world, and now the whole world is infected. What does that show you? It looks like we’re more connected than we think we are! COVID didn’t start in Jamaica, but Jamaica had to change its lifestyle. We’re not as different as you think because one little virus come around, and everybody life change.” The track, and the album, have a constant thread of unity, “we’re all people and this is our world, Tarrus concludes, stay humble, you can’t stop the Sun from shining“.
All in all, Healing is an answer to today’s troubles, and the message is one of peace, love and positivity, dipped in the soulful vibes of reggae and dancehall. The project hosts some of today’s biggest dancehall stars including, Konshens, Dexta Daps, Teejay as well as Shenseea and Rvssian featured on “Lighter” whose music video is “a big deal everywhere” in Tarrus’ words; accumulating over 18 million streams on YouTube to date and a reaffirmation of the power of positive music in the darkest of moments. As Shenseea says in the hit single, “when the bright light starts to fade, fire up your lighter…”
Tarrus closes the interview with a heartwarming sense of gratitude and humility, “The world is crazy right now. Just to even consider me, I gotta say thanks. I never take it for granted. I love what I’m doing, he says, let’s try and protect each other and we’ll be good. I’m not just singing, there’s a reason why we’re making music”