Interview With Italian Reggae Band MagaDog

Couch Mode
Last week I had the privilege to Skype with Pietro (bass player, guitar track recorder and producer) and Don Tino (singer, producer) from the Italian reggae band MagaDog for a very insightful interview. MagaDog not only talks about their successes and aspiration as Italian Reggae artists, but also enlightened us on the Reggae scene in Italy, and what we can expect from their upcoming album, touring, how exactly their collaboration with Million Stylez came about, producing for California-based artist Jah Sun and plans for the future.

Islandtunup: I assume you grew up listening to reggae and dancehall music. What other musical influences did you have growing up?

Pietro: well let's start with Reggae music. First of all Mr. Bob Marley is the most important to talk about and him being an inspiration to artist around the globe - his music, lyrics have always being inspirational to me. Apart from that I am influenced from all music that comes from the 70's, also from the 80's, bands such as Black Uhuru, Sly & Robbie, Roots Radic, & The Aggravators. The vocal groups that was around the 70's & 80's such as The Gladiators, the abyssinans to name a couple (who are still around today), Peter Tosh, to name a few. I'm not just into Reggae music, I actually graduated in Jazz guitar from the Rotterdam Conservatory of Music. I record stuff as a Jazz guitarist. I compose my music and I am a lot into composition. That is also a part of my musical background.

Don Tino: Peter Tosh is my inspiration for my lyrics; not only his style but his strong messages in his lyrics."

Islandtunup: When did you first discover YOUR musical talents?

Pietro: Well I come from a musical family. My grandfather was an Oprah singer - pretty well known in my area. My father plays Mandolin and loves to sing. As well as my mother. In a way, I have always been surrounded by music since I was a child. I started playing guitar when I was 12yrs. I am 34 now. So it's being a while."

Islandtunup: Opera is one of my favorite genre. I would have asked you to sing something in Opera for me but you already told me you are not the singer of the band.

Pietro: [chuckles] Thank you. That's much appreciated.

Islandtunup: What about you Don Tino?

Don Tino: I started at 14yrs learning to play the guitar and Blues music. Then around 2000, I started listening Reggae music. I started with Bob Marley, then Turbulence. I started composing lyrics. Then started playing the Reggae guitar. Since 2000 I have been playing Reggae music with Pietro.

Islandtunup: Tell me about the reggae scene in Italy.

Pietro: Well maybe it's not the strongest country in Europe when we talk about Reggae music. But still, it's kinda of an island; not completely an island, but there is still a link to the mother land of Reggae music that is Jamaica. Our popular music is also influenced by the sun. Italy is kissed by the sun and our popular music does have something to do with Reggae. If you listen to music from the 60's & 70's, in the lyrics and root there is some feel to Reggae music. But still I can't say that Italy is not one of the strongest country in Europe when it comes to Reggae compared to Germany and France who have a longer Reggae tradition. However, there are plenty of bands and singers who are pretty well known outside of our borders. To name one, Alborosie, who hails from Sicily. The funny thing is that, although many people know him, years after he went to Jamaica, he has been playing Reggae music for a long time. But he didn't manage to get known internationally until he went to Jamaica. This is kind of significant to me as the Reggae scene in Italy.

Don Tino: We have Alborosie as Pietro stated. However, we also have other bands such as Mellow Moods who travel outside Italy. We have many DJ sound systems, DJ clubs so live music is dying since 2-3 yrs ago. It is very difficult for a band of 8-9 people to play in a club live or in a festival. We play in English for our fans and to ultimately keep our music out there.

Islandtunup: Tell me a bit about the concept of the album. What can fans of MagaDog expect from this album to be released in May 2015

Don Tino: The album is a new concept; it is different. The album is different because the composition is different.  Our previous album, there were other people who composed the songs and wrote the lyrics. For our new album, the core has been changed. Myself, Pietro and Claudio our drummer are the ones more involved with the entire project. It is a normal thing when you change the core of the music, you change the feeling of the music; the approach of the music. So our fans are simply waiting for this product. We have recently released a few singles in February and November 2014, so fans can have a feel of what the new album will be like.

Pietro: By the way, before the album which will be released in May 2015, we are going to release one more single in a few weeks. And again, it's gonna be different from the other first two singles. These 3 singles will provide an insight as to how our third album will sound.

Islandtunup: Who other artists are you featuring on the album?

Don Tino: We will be doing features with a local artist,Marco. He is a great singer and is young.  we want to give exposure to our local artists (young artists). We are trying to do a feature with a Jamaican artist. At this moment we would like to not disclose the name of that individual because it is not a sure thing as yet. Another feature is an Italian veteran artist. He sang with Africa Unite, the first band in Italy. They founded the band in 1985. So they have more than 29 years of musical experience. The feature with the Italian artist will be the only song on the album done in Italian due to the fact that the artist sings in Italian. We've decided to keep the song in Italian (our language). 

Islandtunup: Are you planning to tour after you release the album?

Pietro: We are currently working with our German booking agent to set up our summer tour, that would be done to promote the album. At the moment we are currently promoting the singles previously released. Then we will be promoting the album within a month. Right after the album release, we will be touring. However, touring will be done only in Europe.

Islandtunup: What part of the musical success that you’ve achieved to this point do you find most satisfying on a personal level?

Pietro: Well, to me, from what I can remember, I get this beautiful feeling, I can clearly remember it from all the time I have been playing in front of large audiences. Off course it can be awesome to play in front of 20 people that are into what you are playing; that can be wonderful. But when you have 10,000, 20,000 person in front of you that is kinda of a special feeling. In a way it is like all the energy flowing through you and you are able to give it back to them.
Islandtunup: Apart from yourselves, who other artists have you produced for?

Pietro: I guess this is going to be two different answers. I have worked with quite a lot of artists - international artists - such as Million Stylez. I have also worked with and is collaborating with a few labels, recording guitar and/or bass tracks for them in my own studio (come shine studio). what sometimes happens is that these tracks become part of songs of international artists, as it happened with million styles or mavado. I have been asked to record guitar tracks for songs that have been released for some of these artists. There are many! There have been a track that has been released a couple months ago, it's a remix from a Mavado tune. 
Don Tino: There is also California-based artist Jah Sun. Not the last album, but his first album, "Battle of the last dragon", the first track (In This Time), is a MagaDog production. We also gave another riddim called "Bun the police" to two other artists in Costa Rica (Noah and Jahricio). The song "Revolution" is produced by MagaDog. We also produces music for artists in Italy such as Lion D,amongst others.

Islandtunup: I know MagaDog is more into the 60's, 70's, 80's & 90's music era from Jamaica. However, do you also follow modern dancehall music in Jamaica? Artists such as Mavado, Vybz Kartel?

Don Tino: Personally, I don't like Mavado & Vybz Kartel. I don't like violent artists. We are in a cool mood. We are in a peaceful mood. And we like artists like Luciano - conscious artists. The music style is not important. I like dancehall music, rub-a-dub, all Jamaican music. But the message is important. So I can't listen to music from Vybz Kartel that sing about violence. But we are in democracy and they can do what they want, but I do not listen to it. Pietro I don't know about [Chuckles].

Pietro: The thing is, as a musician, I want to be informed about what is going on around me. I am not living in an Eiffel tower and just doing my thing. So I want to know what's going on around me. But that doesn't mean that I am listening to all bad music. Off course, I listen to the music that is closer to my mood, to my spirituality. To me spirituality is quite an important aspect of music. As [he] said, the message, I totally agree with that. Here, we are not talking about musical styles. Here we are talking about the other half of what people are dancing to, off what is coming out of those speakers. I am also hearing weird stuff. There is one that I couldn't believe and it's fairly new to me. I got it from a DJ friend of mines a couple days ago, I was talking to him and he was mentioning this music that is referring to the devil, I don't remember the artist. I'm not saying you need to believe in God or anything. Personally, I work a lot on my spirituality, I am not a part of any religion, but at the same time, when I hear songs that are talking about the devil, what kind of message is that?

Don Tino: It's not Reggae music.

Pietro: I don't know what kind of music it is.

Islandtunup: So in a nutshell, MagaDog is strictly conscious: Luciano, Morgan Heritage. Artist that sing about peace.

Islandtunup: If you have the opportunity to do a major collaboration with any artist (s), who would that be?

Don Tino: Mavado! [Laughs jokingly]. If I can choose an artist, it will be Burning Spears, a living legend. The successor of Bob Marley, for lyrics, for message, powerful show. I think that in my dreams there is a featuring with Burning Spears. I don't know if this will be possible, but I hope that it will come true. But like I said, I know Pietro is up for a feature with Mavado [laughs].

Pietro: I've been at his concert actually. Although he's not one of my favorite artist, I have recorded a little guitar track for a label that did a remix of his track and after going to his concert, I can say he's not my favorite artist. I would "collaborate" with Mavado again, only deciding not to do it if I don't agree with the message of that specific song. I can't judge anyone as a whole (and, to be honest, I just can't judge anyone). Still, I say no to violence. Doesn't matter if it's physical, verbal or whatever. Since [he] mentioned Burning Spears, this will be a good feature.

Islandtunup: So let me make the question more interesting. If you can choose someone who has passed on, who would that be?

Pietro: Guess who? Bob Marley!

The interview ended with us extending another invitation to chat later in the future
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