Pato Banton enjoyed success on the U.K. and European charts in the mid-1990s with a cover of Eddy Grant's "Baby Come Back." The song led to collaborations with Sting and Jimmy Nail, but Banton calls those years the "most miserable" time in his career.
"The songs that the record company pushed me to sing at that time, they didn't really mean anything to me," he explained. "And the more success I had, the more I was asked to be involved in nonsensical things, and the more media wanted to pull on me for interviews that had nothing to do with what I was really about. They wanted to hear something scandalous (rather) than to hear about what direction I was taking in my life and what meant something to me."
Banton separated from his record label and returned to what he calls the "fringe," singing reggae music with a positive and spiritual message. He recorded his 10th album, "Life is a Miracle," in his back-to-basics style and received a Grammy nomination for it.
"It's 10 times better," he said of rejecting mainstream success. "I have no regrets whatsoever."
Banton is still spreading positive messages through his music, but now he's doing it in the United States. He likes the idea of touring such a big territory, and he enjoys the cultural and climatic differences one country can offer. He also has a goal of touring all 50 states. Last year, he made it to 46.
While on tour, Banton never has a set list, but one new song he might sing at Ya Maka My Weekend in The District of Rock Island this weekend is "New Day Dawning," which he feels will be the title track to his next album.
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The lyrics are a contemplation of a better future, and to Banton, that means "a world without poverty, a world without racism, a world where injustice is a thing of the past, a world where education focuses more on character-building than historical events, a world where politicians care about the people instead of their own self-investments."
He often invites the crowd to join him in a prayer circle after what he calls an uplifting show. He said most people pray about family or loved ones and give thanks. But Banton doesn't subscribe to any one religion himself.
"I have the same religion as the angels," he said. "My philosophy would be that we're all God's children, brothers and sisters, and when we recognize that, we have a responsibility to serve God and to serve each other."