One of the most popular artists of the Indian Ocean was released from prison on 21 September 2006 – the man who had invented ‘seggae music’, Ras Natty Baby By Daniel Brown, Freemuse & Mondomix
Ras Natty Baby had always clamoured his innocence against charges of drug-smuggling which kept him behind bars for 42 months. Eventually, all charges of trafficking in heroin were dropped by the State’s court representatives after their key witness went back on a deposition which he claimed was signed under threat.
“I hope to spend a couple of weeks recuperating on my island of birth, Rodrigues,” Ras Natty told us over the phone a few days later. “And then, I’ll be composing for my new album. I have written a lot of texts in prison, I have plenty of things to denounce. I must sing about what’s hidden behind the facade of democracy in Mauritius.”
Ras Natty achieved a degree of notoriety in the 1990’s when his songs addressed prejudice and poverty in this island nation that boasts the second highest GDP per capita in Africa. His lyrics in French and English met widespread success. His concerts regularly drew thousands of Mauritians who identified with what he calls today a “positive revolution to construct peace between communities”. “I know the authorities had a hidden agenda to silence me ever since those days,” he pursued. “They are scared of my rebellious nature. They tried to break me in prison. But it’s only made me more determined.”
Musician died in custody
Mauritius has a chequered history of violence touching its musicians. In 1999, the equally popular musician Kaya died in custody, provoking widespread rioting on the island that resulted in the death of another musician, Berger Agathe. Yet, its authorities claim to have one of the most stable and open democracies in the continent, backed by a pluralistic media. “But right now there is a crucial battle for freedom of speech involving the media and our culture. I’ll be doing everything in my power to stop Mauritius ripping itself apart. If our freedom of speech goes so will our country.”
The singer says he was not mistreated during his three-and-a-half year stay in prison. “They never attacked me. But I saw people brutalised and tortured every day. This is what I will be singing about. I have to get back to my music, my career and my health have been devastated by this imprisonment.”
Ras Natty says he still fears for his safety. He believes attacks against him will continue and voices disappointment at the lack of support from fellow-musicians on the island. “But I cannot leave. My eight children live here, they have not seen me for so long.”
Daniel Brown is the editor-in-chief for www.mondomix.com, journalist at RFI and vice chair for Freemuse. 17 months ago, he wrote an editorial in Mondomix denouncing the unjustified incarceration of Ras Natty Baby.
Ras Natty Baby
Mondomix – September 2006: