English-born reggae vocalist Maxi Priest has seven gold albums to his credit. He will be performing June 15 at The Hub at David Pecaut Square, as part of Toronto’s Luminato Festival. His latest release is Maximum Collection.
Where did you go to high school?
I went to a school called Roger Manwood in southeast London, Forest Hill. It was an all-boys school.
Was it a happy-go-lucky time, or did you feel stressed and worried about the future?
We didn’t have the same kind of support that maybe young kids have now, with parents who somewhat understand the true value of education. A lot of us went to school not really knowing what exactly we were supposed to collect to face the world that we would have to face as adults. We didn’t know until our final days at school.
As a youth, did you know what you wanted to do with your life?
Only what you dreamed of and fancified; soccer and sports or entertainment, that sort of thing.
Here in Canada, a large school-based study revealed that a shockingly large number of students felt stressed about their futures, admitting to losing sleep, feeling confused or being driven to tears. Does this surprise you?
There is an expectation. Sometimes, when you are setting the laws down or the guidelines for a child in the house, you’ve got to sometimes be cruel to be kind. You take away the discipline you had back in the day – when I grew up, you’d get slapped, you’d get a beating. Now, we no longer have that.
Now parents are competing with all this media and TV and entertainment and the fantastic things that come on MTV and you tell the kids, “It’s time to go to bed,” trying to discipline this child. He sees outside the front door a whole world that he sees 80 per cent of his time. The world kind of dictates how he’s going to live his life and everything the parents say kinda gets weak. When they get home, the parents kinda pressure him: “Have you done your work. Have you done this, have you done that?” And of course, it’s gonna be confusing, it’s going to be pressuring.
There were expectations when you and I were kids. What’s different now?
The labour work has gone. There’s fewer people leaving school wanting to be a labourer. Everyone now is wanting to work in an office or be a lawyer or a doctor, so obviously the pressure has got be on because they’ve got to get the grade that is required. You have a lot of kids that drop out because they cannot maintain that level of study and when they drop out, there’s not many places to go. So it gets even more frustrating.
In a competitive, stressful world, should school shield youth from stress, or ready them for it?
You climb the ladder one by one. You don’t go from one to three to six. As they mature, then the pressure pot begins to boil. In life, there has to be pressure. Once you’ve done schooling and college-ing and university, you are now in the world on your own.
The complex connections of social media occupy youth and can add to stresses but they also make them more knowledgeable, less naive and impressionable. Is that, on balance, a positive?
I often wonder if kids know too much, too early, and that’s why we’re in the positions we’re in. As good as the computer is, we have yet to fully understand how to use this thing.
As a boy, what did your parents want you to be? What sort of career was expected of you?
We were told, “Get a job.”
Not to become a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist?
Those were way too far away from where I come from. From parents coming from the Caribbean in the late fifties to a country [England] that told them they didn’t belong. I went to a school and was often told “Why don’t you go home?” And we were born here. We never had much time to think about it. It was just “Get a job.”
Do you express expectations to your own children?
I can now somewhat talk to my children and say, this is why you should get an education. This is where you should be aiming. What is it you want in life? If that’s what you want in life, investigate it. Is most of your life going be taking up with that, are you going to have any free time? Are you going to have any family time?
Is this pressure or guidance?
The way I try to put it, it is guidance, but as I said, we are competing with media, hype, TV, bling and every other thing, so you have to be a friend, a disciplinarian – a parent.