Jamaican singer-songwriter Christopher Martin is as versatile a performer as he is a well-versed pundit of Jamaican music. The Green Apples singer’s prowess comes from fifteen fruitful years in the industry, a ‘big deal’ by anyone’s standards. Martin’s diverse influences range from prince of parables Tenor Saw to dancehall singer, Ghost and the results are undeniable – his catalog is a buffet of crafty confessions (Cheaters Prayer, Big Big Trouble), flirtatious hooks (Under The Influence), updated classics (Green Apples) and more.
Though he cites everyone from Cham to Shinehead for his Dancehall swag Martin (born on Valentine’s Day) has struck gold over the years with his slow groove singles. His latest song, You’ll Never Find, is a potent serenade about the highs and lows of love with what the singer says is an “intentional” crossover vibe. With the premiere of the song’s visuals tomorrow (August 22), DancehallMag caught up with the smooth crooner to chat about the new single, his many influences, and navigating the music business.
You’ll Never Find is a breezy singalong ballad, pleading while pouring out bold lines. Can you tell us who/what inspired the new single?
It would be nice if I had a story to tell you, like it’s for a special person, trying to make them understand (laughs) That would be very spicy, but it’s nothing like that. It’s just a concept that came to mind at the time of writing. We had a song on the beat before that was produced by Robert Livingston (Big Yard). He just asked me if I could write something else for the beat and You’ll Never find is the idea that came about. So nothing exciting, no juicy details (laughs). It’s just something that people go through you know, it’s love. You feel like you find a special person, it’s like things are taking a turn for the worst, and you just feel like ‘why can’t we work it out? I’m the best thing for you’.
It’s getting plenty of traction and airplay. Both the track and visuals hint at a crossover focus. Was the overseas market your main aim when recording this time around?
I wouldn’t say it was my main aim, but we wanted to create something that could compete on that level. So we had our Diaspora in mind and Jamaica in mind, something that would hit home with the masses. We definitely wanted something weh can stand up on the world market and that’s why we love to say You’ll Never Find is something like world music. So, it’s definitely coming from Jamaica and it is Jamaican but it can stand up wid dem out deh man. It was definitely intentional. There’s nothing wrong with competition, and if you want to compete on that level you have to try and be on that level.
What is the best compliment you have received about the song so far?
The best compliment I’ve received so far if I’m to be totally honest are the videos. I see videos of children, like 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds and they’re singing it, and when they’re singing it’s like they’re playing out the words, you know. When I see little children singing it and loving it, that is the biggest compliment for me. It just shows that the type of music I do, it has no boundaries, it hits home with like everybody. It’s not a song where parents are gonna be like, ‘you can’t listen to that song, turn it off’, you know? They don’t have to be sheltered from it, that’s the biggest compliment for me.
You’re no stranger to the Billboard big leagues. Your last album, And Then, debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Reggae Albums chart, the Steppin Razor EP peaked at number 15 and Big Deal reached number three. What are your top five classic reggae/dancehall albums though?
So definitely for dancehall, I love WOW by Baby Cham, that’s probably the first dancehall album I ever bought when I was a likkle youth. That’s always been in my top 5. Then, any Dennis Brown album, any Beres Hammond, I have a ton load of Beres albums. To be honest with you, Ghost would be number four. I don’t know if that body of work was just a compilation ‘Best of Ghost’ or whatever it was, but I love that body of work. Ghost was like one of mi favourite artistes growing up. I always say this, and when I say it people are like, ‘Ghost?’ And I’m like ‘yeah, trust mi’. Last one..it’s a tough task but I cyaan leave out The Cool Ruler, cyaan leave out Gregory, Sir Isaacs.
And it don’t stop there! Yuh have Alton Ellis, yuh have Freddie McGregor, oh gosh man, we have too much greats, and the more I call names, is the more I keep remembering. We have a rich culture man!
We know from your Reggae covers and overall catalog that you’re a roots-rock fan but which dancehall acts have had the biggest influence on your sound?
Beenie Man 100%, Bounty Killer. I don’t even know if you can classify him as dancehall still, but haffi go back to Ini Kamoze. And yuh cyaan leave out Shinehead either, ah boss dat. Yeah man, impossible for you to leave out Shinehead. Yuh done know Vybz Kartel, Mavado, dem man deh as well. Another one of my favourites from back in dem time deh was Tenor Saw, wicked dancehall artist. I feel like dem kinda span the whole vibe that I have so anytime I choose not to sing per se and feel like mi waan deejay or singjay, ah from dem time deh when me a listen these kind of acts and ah try mimic their sounds and their flow. Is a bag a mix up inna my vibes! (laughs)
You’ve said of the new single that you “just wanna sing and perform” every time you hear it. What’s the thing you’ve missed most about the road since COVID and where’s the next place you can’t wait to perform?
The thing I miss the most is just travelling to new places, interacting with the people who love me and love my music. Being on that stage and you start a song and then the entire crowd takes it over, it’s one of the best feelings ever. No amount of money cyaan buy that feeling, the endorphins, listen to me man, it’s crazy. So I miss the interaction with supporters, seeing what your music does for them, and I’m really looking forward to getting back there. There are a few places I really want to go back to like Africa, Japan is a wild experience as well, Costa Rica. Anywhere in the Caribbean right now, from we pull up, ah craziness. I miss it man, going to the airport with my band, the jokes and camaraderie on the road. I miss it and I’m looking forward to it soon.
You had a successful Zimbabwe tour and countless other international appearances to your credit. What top three things has travelling opened your eyes to?
The top three things, I would say different places enjoy music differently and that kinda helps you to read a crowd. You go to one place and they’re jumping, go to another place and they’re just easy going, doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying themselves. Yuh have di crazy crowd, the mellow crowd, the hype crowd, etc. In my travels I’ve gotten to understand that and just read it and be like, ‘yuh know dem ah gwaan good doh, dem love it enuh, but they’re not the crazy crowd’, you know? In my many travels I’ve grown to understand that. That’s one.
Music has zero boundaries, and language is never a barrier. When you travel sometimes you go to a place where English isn’t spoken or is their second language and when you start a song they’ll still take it over. That happened to me in Japan and it was crazy, and it’s good because it happened very early in my career like about 2009, so it really opened my eyes to that level of connection.
And the third thing that’s very important, I’ve learned you need somebody you’re close to or even one person you can confide in to travel with you, because sometimes the road gets to you. As an artist, you love being around your fans, your supporters, your band members but you have to have that one person who is like a safe zone when you’re really feeling like you need somebody around you. That’s why you see entertainers bring different people on the road with them, for that familiarity. It can be a business partner, whoever, but you need that support system on the road with you.
You add a certain spark to your female collaborations, including Until The Dawn w/ Efya and Platinum with Briani. Which local or international female collaborator would you choose for a You’ll Never Find remix?
If I could have my way right now and worse like she no put out no song inna a long time, if I could get Rihanna on it ah murda! Jamaica and Barbados Caribbean link up, ah mad vibes! Riri deh at di top ah di list 100%. Outside of that, Adele would bring an awesome mix to it as well enuh, it get serious right desso now.
From di Jamaica side, I feel like Alaine would be a good fit for it. For shock value vibes, I’d definitely do a remix with my daughter’s mom, Ce’cile and she’s super talented as well. That would be a good marketing vibe, plus it would be a dope song anyway so ah right desso it deh.
Songs like Cheater’s Prayer, Big Big Trouble and Numbers put an inventive spin on daily life that fans find humorous if not completely relatable. What’s your process for writing these crafty tracks?
How it starts is that I get the concept, and I’m like ‘this would be nice, I think this would be funny, it would be something that the people would gravitate to’. Once I have the concept, I think, what’s the most clever way to bring it across? And that’s how I go about it, bring it up to a point and then add a plot twist. Everybody thinks it’s going one way and then we just shift it. Anytime I’m trying to write a song like that I ensure I just keep them thinking that it’s gonna be normal and then just throw them left field. We coin it in a way that it’s so relatable, yuh can’t even bash it!
You have an incredible rags to riches success story — on Big Big you sang “Mi block and delete di wicked gyal ‘Poverty’”. Based on your own come up, what advice would you give to upcoming acts about handling themselves in the music business?
First and foremost, you have to believe in yourself and in whatever product you’re trying to give to the public. If you’re not willing to be the first buyer of whatever you’re selling then it don’t mek sense, yuh understand? So you have to believe in yourself 100%. Don’t have a bunch of enablers around you and when it comes to the business side of the music, treat it accordingly.
Learn. Read up. Know about your rights, your publishing, your royalties, everything. Don’t just feel like it’s a free for all or like yuh just come to sing a song. Learn about your craft, this is your substance of survival. And yuh haffi love it man, and don’t try have too much expectations, you know? Just do it from a pure place and then whatever happens, happens. At the end of the day, yuh might feel like yuh create a body of work dat will mash dung di world and if it doesn’t do that, it brings frustration and disappointment. But when you just do it because you love it genuinely, everything will come, yuh feel fulfilled regardless.
Answer these last three ‘This or That’ questions:
Dennis Brown or Gregory Isaacs?
You have two songs with these titles but which would you choose foodwise, Green Apples or Big Deal?
Big Deal, man. (laughs)
Dancehall or Reggae?
Reggae ah mi don!
Thanks Chris, all the best with the new single!