Most native Jamaicans I’ve met are possessed of a similar quality, namely a Zen-like balance between an intense drive to do the best possible job regardless of the task at hand and an almost blissful serenity borne of the faith that all things are possible with God, or Jah.
That quality radiates from Reggae singer/songwriter Milton Blake in palpable waves; you can almost see his aura of positivity and determination.
“I’m bursting at the seams,” Blake says over coffee and cocoa on a blisteringly cold Friday night at Taste of Belgium in Over-the-Rhine. “I’m disciplined in every era in this music. I’m already ready. I’m fully loaded, the complete package.”
Blake’s confidence in his talent and future are well-founded based on his debut album, People Need Jah, released last October on Blake’s own Lion and Lioness Productionz label. Response to the disc has been overwhelmingly positive, but Blake, who began as an old-school break dancer in Jamaica as a child, understands full well that success is a marathon, not a sprint.
“I’ve sent it to a lot of places for distribution and all that,” Blake says in the familiar patois accent of native Jamaicans. “The feedback is very great, and I’m so grateful. When you plant a seed, you have to water it and allow it to grow, so we’re just giving it time to grow.”
As it happens, People Need Jah has been watered for a fair number of growing seasons. The process of bringing the album to fruition began a dozen years ago, with sessions taking place in Jamaica (some of the tracks were mixed at the legendary Tuff Gong studio in Kingston) and New York. As Blake gigged, worked and saved money for studio time, he amassed a potent collection of songs until he had the album he wanted to make, a brilliant Reggae/Soul hybrid that nods in the direction of his heroes like Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaac and Luther Vandross, among others. People Need Jah — available locally at Everybody’s Records and online at cdbaby.com — is both an end to a long journey, and the first beautiful step down a new path.
“This is patience and faith,” Blake says with a wide smile.
“A lot of people don’t know that faith is work. Faith is not sitting down. Faith is work. Having that vision for what you need and going for it, that’s faith. When I was writing my compositions, I wanted to be the person to produce my first album. Words are powerful. Words create life, so this is the life I created with my speech years ago, and it comes to reality, all praises to the Most High.”
If the album itself was a long time coming, recognition of its stellar accomplishment was relatively rapid. In addition to the aforementioned feedback, Blake found himself among the six candidates for Reggae/World Music Artist at this year’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards. Although he and four of his fellow nominees came up short against the Reggae juggernaut that is The Cliftones, Blake was ecstatic to be cited for his efforts.
With People Need Jah generating interest, Blake is actively seeking players for a band in order to begin setting up gigs. The multi-talented artist is also a skilled carpenter, a trade that’s helping pay the bills while he ramps up his music career here in Cincinnati.
“I can build and do finishing work and all that,” Blake says. “When I’m not in the studio, I’m in the workshop. I’m on the verge of opening my own shop. It’s not just the music.”
With snow piling up everywhere and bone-chilling temperatures becoming a hallmark of every weather forecast lately, it seems natural to wonder how Blake came to roost in this part of the polar vortex. In fact, he moved here in 2011 from the exotic wilds of … Cleveland.
“Whenever I (came) up to do a show in America with Luciano and Mikey General — normally I’m with them, opening act and all that — and we go back and forth,” Blake says. “The community I’m from in Jamaica, a lot of friends I have reside in Cleveland. So wherever I’m at, New York or whatever, I’d try to make it to Cleveland before I go back home.”
Eventually, Cleveland visits led to relocating to the city’s north coast in 2009 with his wife Marjorie. In 2010, Blake received an offer to play a gig in Cincinnati at a venue in Mount Healthy’s Hilltop Plaza. It was well attended and he was enthusiastically received. Staying for a few days to explore a new area, Blake was impressed with the atmosphere in Cincinnati.
“I liked the spirit of it,” he says. “It was gentle and warm, a cool vibe. It reminded me sometimes of being in Jamaica, where you have the trees and the mountains. More country life, that’s my type of environment.”
That’s the kind of thinking that forms the foundation of Blake’s personal and professional decisions. He understands that knowing the business side of the equation is every bit as important as concentrating on making the best music possible, but he also believes in the idea of following “the natural mystic,” the muse that guides us all. There was no conscious accounting for the advantages and disadvantages of moving to Cincinnati as opposed to staying in Cleveland, just a few sharp observations and an intuitive sense of people and places. Blake didn’t come to Cincinnati as part of some master career blueprint, he came here because he liked it.
“Environment has a lot to do with a person; it can build you, it can break you down,” says Blake, who has four albums worth of material waiting in the wings. “My mission is the music and spreading the good message to the people. So wherever I may be, I’m always pushing out my hand to put out some good music. My music deals with spirituality, sufferation, black consciousness, giving praise to God Almighty. That’s the type of music. I have to put myself in a position to do the work that I’m ordained to do. I know I can achieve things anywhere I go.”
For music and more info on MILTON BLAKE, visit reverbnation.com/miltonblake.