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Photo by James BunoanThe last time I hung out with reggae singer Kyng Arthur, he was sporting the most impressive crown of dreadlocks I'd ever seen, an elaborate network of oily coils he sometimes arranged into a turban, a work of art years in the making.
But on his latest CD, Prisoner of the Flesh, Arthur's regal mane has been clear-cut. The suddenly shorn Kyng is wearing a black bowler hat and starched white shirt that make him look like a droog from A Clockwork Orange.
Arthur patiently explained to me that God had told him to cut his hair.
"Sometimes I was having fulminations and recurring dreams that I would be in a barber shop," he said in a Trinidadian patois thicker than Bill O'Reilly's forehead. "It keep happening all the time, consistently. When I didn't [cut my hair], something was always going wrong. I would have problems with headaches and stuff like that. Sometimes we have to go with the vision that God gives us. He always have a message for everything. Sometimes a tree has to be cut down for it to come back stronger and renew again. Sometimes you have to shake off the burdens you've been carrying for a long time."
Kyng Arthur, you see, is one heavy dude, and I'd expect nothing less than an act of God behind any major decisions he makes in life. On Prisoner, a CD which is some kinda masterpiece, Kyng Arthur sings of demons and burning flames, of lost souls and alien beings, of 10,000 warriors coming down from the sky to open up a serious can of whoop-ass, most likely on spiritually retarded heathens such as myself.
Kyng Arthur's debut CD, 1999's Mister Master, was wonderful but flawed. His singing and songwriting were in top form, but the background music was mostly samples and snyths as opposed to live musicians. On Prisoner, that omission has been corrected. Bassist Fully Fullwood; guitarist Dale Hauskins; keyboardist Jawge Hughes; drummer Rock Deadrick; and backup singers April Weller, Aiysha Sinclair and Elizabeth Hangan weave a hypnotic spell of pulsating, deep-groove roots and dancehall reggae that showcases the Kyng holding court to marvelous effect.
"The last one we did was mechanical, but this time, we used live musicians," quoth the Kyng, born Arthur Oracio Sinclair 40-some years ago in Trinidad. "When you do that, it makes it fatter and gives it more of that spiritual vibe. Most of the musicians, we've been playing together for a long time, almost 15 years."
Kyng's live presence is as compelling as the new CD. A gnomish fella, Arthur bounds around the stage, more energetic than most of his reggae brethren, for many of whom a stoned-out skank passes as showmanship. It's as if Arthur's supernatural obsessions take possession of his earthly form and force his body to speak in tongues. And it is those bizarre obsessions that set him apart: rather than using the same old Jah/ganja/one-love imagery, Arthur is fascinated by forces the human eye can't see.
"It's the reality of things and the way we survive in this world," he says. "There are always elements trying to pull you down and fight against everything that is positive, especially gifts that God gives you. There are a lot of obstacles. Every time you climb, someone tries to pull you back. There are forces from above, from other planets. Ever since we've been here, we've heard about alien beings. I was looking into Hebrews, chapter 1, verse 2. You have worlds here and worlds afar. I believe that God is a very massive God, and he didn't create just us; he created everything—other forces and alien beings that look after us, forces that are superhuman, supernatural to man. There is guidance in the world."
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Among the guiding forces in Sinclair's music is South OC resident George "Fully" Fullwood, who produced Prisoner of the Flesh and handled the bass chores. Fullwood can lay claim to being an actual architect of reggae music; he founded and led Peter Tosh's band Soul Syndicate, and he backed almost every other major Caribbean reggae star, including Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and OC's other authentic reggae mensch, Rascalin. Fullwood spends much of his time on the road and is a very busy man indeed, but his belief in Kyng Arthur's gifts made him decide to find the time to oversee the Kyng's latest proclamation.
"I've known Kyng Arthur for a long time and seen him playing at different clubs," says Fullwood. "I think he's a very good songwriter; he has a very good talent. This song, 'Prisoner of the Flesh,' I like it very much. The lyrics for that and many other of his songs is something that is very touching, you know. And he is a very humble person, a unique person and performer, which is a very important thing in the music. You don't want to sound like somebody else. What he does is different; he has his own unique voice and style. And I also think he's a very nice person."
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Nice, but dead-serious, a guy from whom it's hard to elicit laughter, a man who seems so genuinely seized by what he refers to in conversation and song as "dreams and visions" that he functions on a different plane. While he's deeply spiritual, Arthur's unnamed religion is benevolent and inclusive rather than rigid and dogmatic. He's no Bin Laden, no Falwell.