An interview with Conkarah.
Avid TikTok users will no doubt be familiar with the sounds of Conkarah, who teamed up with Shaggy on the fruity quarantine favorite titled “Banana.” That song ironically took samples from Harry Belafonte’s 1960s hit “The Banana Boat Song.” Conkarah’s “Banana” song and video found its footing on the app TikTok, which has grown in popularity for its challenges since the onset of the coronavirus and subsequent lockdown.
The #BananaDanceChallenge was picked up by people from all over the world, resulting in Conkarah cementing himself in the history of Jamaica as the first artiste to release a track that has accumulated over 2 billion global streams in such a short space of time. “Banana” has now picked up “2x Diamond, Platinum, and Gold in Mexico, and Platinum in Brazil, Canada, India, Netherlands, and Gold in Norway.”
The Jamaican native who started out doing reggae covers as a way to draw attention to his singing abilities is now looking to follow up the viral success of his original song with another fruity concoction titled “Papaya.” The dance-ready track gets additional life from UNOMAS and DJ Mafi of the Sick Wit It Crew, as well as a stunningly beautiful music video directed by JAROP and executive produced by Pablo Baraybar. “Papaya” is the first track from the entertainer’s upcoming EP titled Destination Unknown to be released under the BMG music label.
Urban Islandz sat down with Conkarah for an interview where we got the opportunity to gather more information about “Banana,” “Papaya,” and to figure out if he had any other fruit-inspired joints coming on his brand new EP.
Your new song “Papaya,” where did you get the inspiration for that song?
It was kind of a follow-up to the “Banana” song. I wanted something fun for the summer, a song that would be appealing to all ages to follow the footsteps of the ‘Banana” song. Very trendy for TikTok, especially gauged to that and the summer vibes, you know.
Since we have had “Papaya” and we’ve had “Banana,” I’ve seen a lot of comments saying your next song is going to be pineapple or orange, does that mean you have another fruit titled song in the works?
No more fruits in my career. Me done with the fruit dem now. I even felt a way doing this song but me say let me just do one more and done with it. I wanted something that could appeal to everybody so that nobody would be excluded so to speak.
I understand that you will not be doing another fruit titled song but I’ve also seen where fans have been asking for Shaggy to be featured on a remix of Papaya, is that something you would consider?
Absolutely, Shaggy is like a big brother to me and he has taught me so much about the music industry and has given me such solid advice over at a time that we have known each other so any project that I can be involved with him I would be open for, you know. But as of now I know he has his own songs he has been promoting and such stuff so I mean I think if the fans scream loud enough maybe he will reply.
I notice that you typically did a lot of cover songs on your Youtube channel so he did you go from doing a majority of cover songs to getting a major collaboration with Shaggy?
As far as the cover songs, what I started to realize was that I did a cover of Ed Sheeran’s song “Thinking Out Loud” that went viral in the Philippines. I think it got over 14 million views in weeks, so I said to myself this is something that is now bringing more of a spotlight to my music and my career so if I can bring in more people that maybe never listen to reggae music like that listen to these covers. Because there was a time when the covers were like a big thing and I just became that guy who did reggae covers. So they would come and listen to the covers and a lot of the comments and messages we would get would be like we never listen to reggae music but we checked you out and we love it and now we are listening to your other music. It was kind of a medium to grow the fanbase and from there my career has just grown and I’ve taken all the different things that I have learned musically to make this song “Banana,” which was my attempt to create a song that would reach all over the globe and I think we did a successful job at that. Having Shaggy on the track is a huge blessing to you know.
How did you first make that link with Shaggy and work out the formula for “Banana”?
I was visiting Colombia in Medellín. I like to explore, I like to seek new inspirations so I just went there to immerse myself in the culture of reggaeton. I was renting an apartment there and I was sitting down playing the guitar on my hammock and I remember looking over on my dining table at a hand of banana and I remembered Harry Belafonte’s song, you know “The Banana Boat” song and it just came to me immediately. I had a little studio set up in my closest and I went to the closest and I sang a piece of it and I sent it to my friend in Barbados. He came up with a beat and I recorded it.
Initially what I was trying to do was to ask a mutual friend me and Shaggy have, who was actually managing Shaggy. I was just reaching out to him with the song to ask how I could get it cleared because obviously, it was using some of Harry Belafonte’s song. He heard the song and said Nick, the song is a smash, “do you mind if I let Shaggy hear it?” From what I understand Shaggy was a little bit apprehensive at first because Shaggy had actually done a version of that song a long time ago but he heard it and he said let me just jump on the second verse and he did and the rest is history.
That’s a really good hand of luck.
Yes, from a hand of bananas to a hand of luck.
That’s really good and it was a hit with 2 billion streams worldwide so far. How do you actually calculate the streams, where do you pull your numbers from?
Is not me eno, this is BMG the label. Those are the smart techy people who pull the numbers but from what I understand it’s an accumulative way they go about it from all of the platforms, so Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music. All of them combine together accumulate to over 2 billion streams.
I must commend you on that. You must feel very proud.
Yea man, representing Jamaica’s reggae music in any way you have to feel proud you know.
So what was your initial reaction to the viral success of “Banana” when it really blew up and kicked off on TikTok?
I felt really blessed. I would be lying to you if I said didn’t know already that the song would be a hit one day because I did know. I just never knew when it would happen so to see it actually come through in full force it was a huge blessing and I enjoyed every moment of it. Shaggy and I agreed when we spoke and we said listen, we looked at all the videos on TikTok and this was during the prime of Covid everybody was feeling really down and stuff and it kinda gave everybody a reason to smile. If you watch the video of them dancing to it, everybody is smiling, everybody is having fun.
It is a very fun video. You have the different dancers on the streets, you have the vendors, you can see the fruits, you can feel the culture, the music, the vibes, you get all of that from the video.
That’s all that we wanted to do. At first, the label was considering having the video shot in maybe the States or something, Shaggy and I said no man, we need to ensure we shoot this in Jamaica and kinda showcase what we have. We are still rich – the culture and beauty of Jamaica and just the positive vibes, so I am really happy the video came out as it did.
Since we had a #Bananachallenge dance, can we expect a #papayachallenge in the near future?
The #Papayachallenge is out already. I think it’s at 600 plus videos on TikTok so far from people all over the world, from the Philippines, New Zeeland, Fiji, and the list keeps on growing. So we had the #Papayachallenge similar to the #Bananachallenge with the glasses drop and people are enjoying it. I see some kids doing it and families and stuff so it’s already doing some good numbers.
How did you get your start in the music industry?
I’ve always loved music but I never really pursued it. So I was in university in West Virginia and was studying broadcasting and I was also on a soccer scholarship. I had gotten an injury and I wasn’t able to train anymore so what I was doing every day was just going to classes and it became very mundane. So one day I was walking back and decided to take a different route to get back to my dorm and I heard singing and it turned out to be a choir. I sat down and listened to it and it just made me feel really good and I waited until they were finished and everybody left and I went to the conductor and I said, “you know I would like to join” and he asked, “Can you sing,” and I said, “I don’t know.”
He put me in front of the piano and he started playing and he said sing along to this and I did it and he said yeah you have a great voice, you are a baritone bass you can join. He asked, “Can you read music?” and I said no, he was like never mind you’ll catch on to it. That’s where the flame was sparked so to speak and from there I just started experimenting, bought a microphone, make pure noise in my dorm room, people banging on my door telling me to be quiet. That is where the whole career started and I remember actually winning an award for the most talented student for the year because of the music we would do and stuff. We had a nice little core group of Jamaicans so you know a lot of them voted for me and stuff. Everything else was really history.
Were you a solo act or did you perform with other members of your choir?
It was just a solo act. I mean I would sing with the choir, we toured all over that side of the States but as far as me performing, it would just be me at the university or if I went to a friend’s house and I play the guitar and I would start singing and people would enjoy the reggae music and such. I was just kind of a very organic beginning, organic growth and from there I moved forward.
What/Who are your musical influences and inspirations?
The top names are always going to be like Bob Marley, Buju Banton, John Holt, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Marcia Griffiths, and you can go through all the names. I think pretty much every reggae singer that there is and some dancehall singers as well. Like there is a song that I would have loved and gotten inspired by it. But Buju Banton was the first album that I got on cassette. I think it was my dad who bought it for me, ‘Til Shiloh. To this day, it is one of my favorite albums.
What is your take on dancehall and reggae going mainstream?
I think it has already gone mainstream. A lot of these musicians nowadays [pop-stars and rapper] use our Jamaican music in their songs, little hints of it, I think it’s great. I think it’s just exposing reggae music and dancehall music to the world more and more and it just shows how influential our culture is. You go from Bob Marley, Sean Paul, Shaggy, all the different artiste you find down the line then our food, dance and everything and all the culture together is something to be proud of. So any spotlight that is put on Jamaican culture in any way I think it’s always a good thing you know. There is just something special about Jamaica that I think you and I know as Jamaicans and the world really enjoys and craves it so to speak, so it’s of no surprise to me that it brings people to want to come and see Jamaica for themselves.
Do you believe that the love from international entertainers is genuine though?
We live in an age right now where everything is so superficial in itself so I think to some extent, no matter what you do with certain things, once you are putting it online there is some level of clout that you are trying to receive but at the very core of it, I do believe they have a very big respect for it and if they don’t boy I don’t know. Maybe some of them don’t but I think the majority of the artiste we would know are not looking for clout alone, and they are not looking for clout alone but have great respect for the art form. I applaud DJ Khaled because he comes to Jamaica and he has such a big platform and such a huge following, so when he has a song such as the Sizzla and the Capleton, it just showcasing our culture more. Waking people up to this genre that some people were not even aware of or might have said this is a really cool style of music but we really couldn’t put a finger on what type of influence this came from so it’s very very good.
What can you tell us about the Destination Unknown EP?
It’s a body of work that I can say that I have finally been able to do to a standard that I am happy with. I’ve been able to work with some talented producers. I have some fantastic featured artistes that are going to be on it but I’m not allowed to call any names yet but I am really really excited about it. This is one body of work that I’m very proud of coming all this way and being able to put this out, and the whole message behind it is very very positive and I would hope that is what the listeners are going to get out of it.
It’s a bunch of different genres that speak back to the destination unknown. It’s Destination Unknown musically, physically, everything. It’s just a blending pot of cultures, sound, and just music in general. My whole thing in music has always been trying to bring as many people and cultures together through music and I think that is being achieved in this body of work. It’s going to be very interesting when it comes out. I’m very curious to see what people think and I do have a good feeling.
Can you tell me how many tracks will be on the EP?
I’m trying to wait on the label to tell me exactly because I will say that I have over 20 but it definitely will not be that amount. I think we’re going to be looking at between 6 maybe 7 songs in total. We’ve had some late songs come in that might be something we want to share sooner than others but I already have my favorites and the favorites I have are already on the EP, so if the label chose to take out some other ones I’m perfectly fine with that.
Will you be coming to Jamaica to shoot some of the videos for the EP?
That’s definitely a possibility. Obviously, the “Papaya” song was one those I had as a single and quite a few of the other songs are going to be collaborations so I think we may be shooting outside of Jamaica for the collaborations. Any opportunity that I have to shoot in Jamaica I’ll take it. You know Covid just makes everything difficult so if things open up and such, it would definitely be something I would consider.
You can follow Conkarah on social media @Conkarah and check out more of his music on his YouTube channel.