Fantan Mojah is rapidly working his way through the ranks of Jamaica's new battalion of roots reggae soldiers. Selectors from across the globe continue to drop his two biggest hits to date-the socially conscious "Hungry" and the spiritually empowering "Hail To The King"-to a reception of horns, lighter flashing and reload requests. But in a genre where one-hit wonders are idiosyncratic (remember VC's "By His Deeds?"), Fantan has far from secured his place in the reggae elite.
Speaking from Kingston, Fantan is "holding a vibe" with his Macka Tree cohorts, his crew of artists and right-hand men. He is eating steamed fish and bean stew from a calabash, a bowl made from natural materials (such as a coconut shell), in preparation for a studio session recording specials. Specials, re-recordings of hits with lyrics replaced to big up a DJ or soundsystem, are an essential source of income for Jamaican artists, particularly new ones like Fantan.
"They ease the pressure," he admits. "I have nuff people to tend to. While you wait for advances and royalties they keep the bellies full."
If its sales figures correspond to its quality, Fantan's debut album Hail To The King, soon to be released on UK reggae imprint Greensleeves, should keep his family's belly full for some time. Produced within Kingston's Downsound Records camp, it's a consistent, beautiful and lyrically disarming debut with guest beats from b-line maestros Bobby "Digital" Dixon, Donovan "Don Corleon" Bennett and In Da Street.
Like many reggae artists, Fantan cut his teeth by starting at the bottom. Following his dream to do music, he moved, as a teenager, from the idyllic countryside of St. Elizabeth-where he helped his dad with farm work-to the studio-saturated streets of Kingston.
"When I come to town I knew music wasn't going to come straight so I was a baker," says Fantan. "Then I start lift box (speaker boxes) for Killamanjaro [soundsystem] and that how I learn the business. They were good years. Hard work but I loved watching [MC/DJ] Ricky Trooper fire up a dance."
After four years of lugging speaker cabinets, Fantan began establishing himself as an artist, performing at street dances in Kingston's ghetto districts Tivoli Gardens, Jungle, Seaview and Trenchtown. During this time he recorded his first hit, the rallying "Search Until You Find," which he still opens shows with today.
"The ghetto make you sing with feeling. And it feeling make you hit," explains Fantan. "Nuff man can sing in Jamaica but few can find the hit. Now I find it' must give thanks, show love and life will continue to shine on me same way."