I first heard roots artiste Gregory Walker, aka Khalij (pronounced Kol-iJ) at Rooftop bar in Northside Plaza when a local selector dropped his dubplate to a packed crowd. It got me thinking about how often these new artistes get radio and club play, if ever, when they’re just breaking out on the scene. While Khalij’s positive-minded first single “Stand Tall” has slowly been leaking onto radio, both locally and abroad, he’s had more then a few mountains to climb since he began his journey into the music world. I took a moment to speak with him in his Dun Robin community about the struggles of being a new artiste and how one goes about planting their roots in Jamaica’s quickly evolving music industry.
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Who encouraged or inspired you to write songs and sing?
From a little after birth I lived in Peter Tosh’s house for about ten years and saw a lot of musicians from that era. I met Junior Gong through the same connection. I sat around and watched him write and record songs, and perform them.
I had major encouragement from my father. Initially, I used to only write songs. Then he said to me, “You should just sing them yourself.” Wayne South, Seven South EyeQ, has also had some influence. He is trying hard to make some way out for Khalij.
Why did you start writing?
I used to have this literature teacher who was really, really hard. I thought I was doing great but she thought I could do better so she’d grade me hard. She was grading me off my potential and I’d always try to reach that standard that she thought I should be at. That led to me writing a lot and to writing real songs, like structured eight bar verse or sixteen bar verse.
You are careful about what you write?
I’m very careful about what I write because in the end it might just come back to haunt you. The type of person you are will come out in the song. If you are a negative person you’re gonna talk about guns and all that. I am the type of person who tries to share a positive energy and message. I’m trying to give food for the brain, some teaching, which is where the name Khalij comes from.
Who were the first producers you worked with?
Andrew Bassie Campbell, he is the first producer really. He gave me a CD with thirteen valuable tracks to expand on my craft. Also, a young producer called Granny Boy and then Tenemant Yard, where we are at now.
The biggest thing as a young artist is that a contract might be used to trick you. I had a producer who wrote up a contract and asked for fifteen albums. Then, after the contract is done, the company would have the right to five more. Fortunately for me I read the bold and fine lines and I didn’t sign that.
How does a new artiste avoid payola?
The only way, I think, is by trying to make the music good, positive and likeable and a person may give it a power play because they like it. What I’m seeing is that a person will like it, but they’re not gonna give it that power play. They’ll play it one time, two times, but for a person who’s paying money for payola, they will get their own rotation.
You think that artistes can get past that if they have a mentor?
Maybe. It’s very frustrating. I was in Deva Bratt studio and there was a young producer there and Wayne South says to him, “You know, Khalij could go on the riddim” and he said it’d be hard to put a young artist on his riddim because he’d have to spend. After I left, Wayne South told him, “Khalij has a connection to Junior Gong unuh.” [Laughing] The producer has a different sentiment now I guess.
I have a song called “Smile With Them,” that could be a follow up. I have three or four hard cover books of songs that haven’t even been touched yet. I would love to write for other people, no strings attached. Eventually, I’d like to start my own record label. It’s pretty early, but I still wanna make the move.
You have lofty goals.
I learn really fast. If I wanna learn something I will. As a new artiste you have to pay attention.
All photography courtesy of KingstonStyle.com