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21 February 2024

Tippa Irie Q&A: “I see myself as a cheeky chappie”

The producer and MC on Match of the Day, the power of Bob Marley, and longing for life on a tropical island.

By New Statesman

Tippa Irie was born in London in 1965 and came to prominence as an MC on the reggae sound-system scene in the early 1980s. He is now also a radio DJ and record producer.

What’s your earliest memory?

Falling over while learning to walk at our house in Dulwich when I was about three years old. My mum and dad always encouraged me to keep going and they cheered me on every time I fell until I made it all the way across the room.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was U-Roy. He was the first MC I ever heard and I fell in love with his voice and his music. My adult hero is the reggae artist Papa San. He wrote a lyric, “DJ Business”, that was the longest I had ever heard in my life – it was eight minutes long. I couldn’t believe he wrote a lyric that long and could remember it!

What book last changed your thinking?

Finding Home: A Windrush Story. The author is Alford Gardner – he is 97 years old. He came to one of my shows recently and was dancing to my music with the energy of a young man. It was inspiring.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I don’t look up to any political figures. I am one hundred per cent not into politics.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

Football and reggae music have been my life. There are no other subjects that I know better than those.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would love to have experienced life in the 1950s on a tropical island. I can picture myself in the hills with nature, away from civilisation, living off the natural resources.

What TV show could you not live without?

There isn’t much television that interests me. But Match of the Day on BBC One – I watch it every week without fail.

Who would paint your portrait?

My mum. She was a talented oil painter and she knew me better than anyone. If she was still alive, she would capture the real me.

What’s your theme tune?

“Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley, one of the most powerful tunes ever written. It’s a message to my people to fight against oppression and it will always be relevant.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

When people show you who they are, believe them. I remind myself of this daily.

What’s currently bugging you?

What bugs me is that people in the UK support foreign artists more than they support their own. I don’t think that our people support each other enough. We have so much talent. If only we rallied around each other more, everyone would be better off.

What single thing would make your life better?

I wish my mum and my sister were still alive. Enough said.

When were you happiest?

When I was growing up, all my family would sit together and eat at the table – my mum, my dad, my sisters and me. I have some of the best memories from that time. 

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

If not a musician or a footballer, a stand-up comedian. I see myself as a cheeky chappie and people are always laughing with me.

Are we all doomed?

If people don’t stand up against the 1 per cent, then we are definitely doomed. People are too easily brainwashed by the media. We need to ask more questions and not just accept what is fed to us.

“Stick to My Roots: An Autobiography” by Tippa Irie is published by Jacaranda Books

[See also: Yoko Ono’s seriously painful art]

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This article appears in the 21 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Fractured Nation

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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