Dancehall’s latest sensation sits down with Splash to discuss finding success and happiness through a music career, plans for his future and how overcoming hardship helped breathe life into his eternal passion.
STRIDING into the Natural Bridge Studios on Dumbarton Avenue in Kingston on a bright and crisp Saturday afternoon, dancehall entertainer Konshens is in a very upbeat mood, arriving from a recording session at a studio located elsewhere in the Corporate Area. Tall as a model with the looks to match, and dressed in full black (shirt, short pants, sneakers, a cap and a backpack), the 23-year-old has reason to bask in the glow of his newfound success – and it’s no wonder he exudes confidence.
Not only is his hypnotic single Winner (and several others) blazing the airwaves and music video playlists across the country and the oceans, he has the clubs and everybody in the streets nodding their heads to the groovy beat and spitting the well-written lyrics word for word. But has he allowed the blossoming fame and success to get to his head? From all indications, he’s taking it all in stride unself-consciously.
“I like to think that success is a journey instead of destination and I’ve been on this musical journey for a while now so I don’t allow all the attention to get to my head or distract me from the bigger things I want to accomplish,” he tells Splash, seated behind a production table in the dimly-lit studio. “I’m really proud of the song and the response it has been receiving from people out there. It feels good,” he says of the hit single, which references family, ambition and achieving the finer things in life.
At the same time, he plays down the controversy that has materialised concerning the song’s second verse, which talks about making money whether the means are “legal or illegal”.
“It is not about promoting anything negative. The song actually started out as a poem after the birth of my daughter February last year. It was about the mood I was in. And a while after that the poem became a song. What the song is reflecting is my thoughts and mindset at the time it was written,” he stresses, sounding like a parent explaining his child’s actions.
Controversy aside, Konshens is on a roll these days with a strong management team behind him and the self-determination and ambition one needs to compete in today’s overcrowded dancehall landscape.
Singles like Winner, which speak to readily relatable issues, are always gobbled up by the masses – surefire bets to ride the charts. Konshens and his team clearly know this.
Born Garfield Spence, the Excelsior alum was raised in Kingston in a family of hard-working folks as the son of an army officer (who served the Jamaica Defence Force) and a mother who travelled abroad regularly.
“I was always into my books, girls, football and basketball. When I was very young I lived with my father at the Up Park Camp residential area. I think I lived the best of both worlds,” he says, smiling at the memory.
Living at Up Park Camp, surrounded by military men and their diurnal rigorous activities, had no adverse effect on Konshens’ upbringing. The environment, he says, contributed immensely to his personal growth and maturity.
“I just learnt to adapt to the situation. During that time my mom was overseas but it was still a normal childhood for me,” he recalls.
By age 14, he relocated to Sherlock Crescent to live with his mother who, by this time, had returned from overseas. Like his more seasoned contemporary Damian ‘Cham’ Beckett, Konshens lives in the community to this day. But for all his community pride, Konshens stresses individuality over any obligation to constantly ‘rep’ his neighbourhood in his lyrics. He’s focussing his energies and attention instead on writing and recording tracks that will encourage dialogue.
Listeners are getting familiar with his other released singles including Don’t Waste Ur Talent, Clap It, How It Feel and Music. He even penned Rasta Imposter, a hard-hitting missive aimed at lock-wearing individuals whose lifestyles contradict the Rasta faith.
“The song is not an attack on Rastafarians. I’m just highlighting the men in particular who use the Rasta thing to better their careers and are not living what the faith says they are to do, what the faith is about,” Konshens tells Splash.
Konshens has had quite a journey to get to this point in his music career. After starting out as a ghost writer for established deejays and singers, he found success as half of the duo Sojah (with older brother, Delus), releasing singles like Pon De Corner and the 2005 album Sons of Jah, which did well in the Japanese market.
“After the success in Japan, we decided to focus on getting the same kind of attention on our local market. So we decided to branch off into solo projects but we still do work together as a duo from time to time.”
These days, the solo artiste is riding a tidal wave of media attention that not many relative newcomers achieve early in their careers. And like the true stunner, he attracts the female groupies like magnet to steel.
“Everybody with a certain level of success in the biz gets that kind of attention (from the females) regularly. But it’s like that for me from high school days. It’s just on a larger scale right now so you have to be extra careful out there,” he admits.
On another bright and crisp day, Konshens arrives for his photo shoot at the Observer offices in Kingston. This time, he’s attired in a bright orange shirt with matching shoes, dark jeans and the ever-present backpack, looking like a teenager returning from soccer practice. He was recently confirmed as one of the opening acts for Dancehall Night at Reggae Sumfest next Thursday and rehearsals have already begun.
“It’s one of the most exciting feelings. I’m getting things ready and I hope to bring across a good performance for the people,” he tells Splash, just before our photographer arrives and starts snapping away.
Like many before him, Konshens is certainly the new kid on the block, one who has recognised that he’s got to seize opportunities as they come – step out and make your presence felt. Undoubtedly, the connection he’s been fostering with his audience is working and his debut album, set to drop by the end of 2008 or early 2009, should help solidify his status in the dancehall arena.
“I really like his writing ability. He’s very creative in that way. He puts a lot into his work and listeners can pick that up in his songs. Plus, he is very flexible in terms of the topics he sings about. He’s just a good yute,” says fellow dancehall toaster and close friend, Da’Ville.
In the meantime, Konshens says he refuses to fixate on anything negative (considering that the industry is rife with negativity), vowing instead to continue on his chosen path and further embrace his role as a role model and father to his one-year-old daughter.
“Being a father has definitely opened my eyes to see life differently. I have to prioritise even more and set proper examples. So far it’s working and I’m glad. I take my responsibilities very seriously.”
For Konshens, all his experiences influence his positive restraint, deejay rhymes, vocal syncopations, storytelling and the sense that every single should impart a message.
“I don’t want to sound like other artistes. I want to pursue my own lane and my own style. I like to plan and scheme and work towards my goals. I’m doing a whole heap of work so I expect to get the rewards.”