Interview: Nathan Sabanayagam Talks About Naya Rockers And Creating Their Iconic Naya Sound System Record

Interview: Nathan Sabanayagam Talks About Naya Rockers And Creating Their Iconic Naya Sound System Record

Naya Rockers has re-released their stellar Naya Sound System album! It is a killer testament to the band and also producer, drummer Nathan Sabanayagam and guitarist Nate Edgar. To capture the magic on Naya Sound System, Nathan embarked on a 2 year stay in Jamaica where he meet and recorded with renowned musicians. Credits included on Naya Sound System are Babylon Stress recorded at Tuff Gong, Kiddus I, Mikey General, Frankie Paul, Big Youth, Errol Dunkley, and Johnny Clarke.

We reached out to Nathan to find out more about the story behind the re-release and he talked about auditioning for Damian Marley, meeting Earl “Chinna” Smith and the formations of Naya Rocker.

Tell us about how Naya Rockers formed and how did you meet Nate Edgar?

The Naya Rockers formed during a 7 year Monday night residency at the BeeHive in downtown Boston. We started as the Scotch Bonnet band but there was a band in Baltimore going by the Scotch Bonnets, so we had to rebrand. Naya Records was already established so Naya Rockers became the new name for the studio and live band.

I met Nate Edgar well before Naya Rockers or Naya Records existed, we must have met some time around 2002, I was still attending Berklee and living in Newton, MA. I believe our first gig was on Block Island, RI at Club Soda with a neo-soul band I co-lead with Singer Shea Rose, named Luv Jones. We would keep crossing paths and would begin our reggae practice together in the band King’s Highway around 2004. Together we busked in the Harvard pit using power inverters and car batteries to power amps. We would work in the studio being hired as a rhythm section for soul, rock, americana, Latin and bossa jazz projects. But working in reggae together is where we have always made our biggest impact.

As the Naya Rockers, we have backed and recorded with many of Jamaica’s reggae legends, including Sister Nancy, Clinton Fearon and Bushman, as well as the new generation of roots artists such as; Yaadcoore, Addis Pablo and Iba Mahr.


We are interested to know more about the creative process for the creation of “Naya Sound System” and how does this project compare to your others?

I more or less recorded 2 albums to release one. I played drums on a collection of riddims produced in a studio in Newton, MA. The idea was for me to go to Jamaica and voice artists on the riddims. I began the process by diving in head first, landing in Kingston with very little knowledge of the musical landscape. It would take a lot more time before I would meet and voice the veteran singers on the album. And after more time it was clear that the project was no longer supported or intended for release by the studio back in Boston.

So this begins the recording of the second or remixed album which has been re-released. I took the vocals and re-wrote riddims to match underneath, reharmonizing and re-envisioning what I had. It did not take me very long and once Nate Edgar heard what I was doing, he jumped right on board and took care of cutting bass lines. I tracked and mixed the record at Chillhouse Studios, Boston MA with Will Holland and re-mastered the album with Jason “Jocko” Randall More Sound Recording Studio Syracuse, NY. I often wear many hats in music but to create and release “Naya Sound System”, I had to wear them all.

What inspired you to go to Jamaica? How did you meet all of the musicians included in the project? And are you still in touch with the friends you made there?

Naya Rockers

Naya Rockers

My first trip to Jamaica was back in 2003, I got a call to audition for Damian Marley. I went down and rehearsed with him at 56 Hope Road and fell more in love with Reggae and the island. Things didn’t work out as far as the gig but I knew there was more for me there. I would return to Jamaica but on my own, renting a room from Roy Sweetland, one of Jamaica’s premier photographers.

Roy helped me get started and since his specialty was covering music events, I would tag along and meet musicians and artists. I would meet more musicians and be invited to jam and visit many studio recording sessions. I would eventually meet Earl “Chinna” Smith and he asked me to build some drum tracks at his home “Inna de Yard”. I would then go on to record and work intensely with Chinna for the next 7 years. Recording several records and countless singles on his veranda and in his living room. The Kiddus I track “Illusions” was one of the first recordings I did at Chinna’s home in Halfway Tree.

I do not get to JA as often as I would like but I try to visit at least once a year. I am keeping in contact with my musical family down there, I often joke I have more support in Kingston than I do in Boston. For the past few years, I have been involved with fundraising and music education at the Alpha Institute so giving back is also very important to me.

How was the experience of working on remastering the re-release? What inspired you to look at this project again after about 8 years?

It was easy to brush off the dust on this release and put it back out there. I never released it properly when it first came out and listening to the music made me remember how much energy I put into it. So there weren’t really any questions or confusion, just get it done right this time.

Clearly, you are very talented from producing to musician – writing, recording and performing, from all of these roles which ones do you like the best? Why are you drawn to them?

I suppose I am someone that enjoys defining and executing processes. So my experience in each of these roles was me just learning that part of the process. I enjoy performing the drums live for sure but even more when I am performing a song that I produced with the Artist. I love the time in the studio and the energy of the first day of a new project when we are cutting basic tracks. I love working on lyrics with the artist and reworking a track. My younger self would say, I like playing drums the best but my older self is enjoying the process of writing, recording and releasing music.

What’s next for Naya Rockers?

I hope to bring the Naya Rockers and Artists to festivals and tours around the world. We will continue to produce and release music digitally but will expand to the vinyl market. Listen out for “Juggling”; it will be featured in the 3rd Season of the HULU series: Wu-Tang: An American Saga. And truly I do not know what is next, but I am excited to find out :0)

Check out Naya Sound System here:

Full track listing here:

  1. Illusions feat. Kiddus 1
  2. Can’t Fool We feat. Mikey General
  3. Don’t Give Up feat. Frankie Paul
  4. Cast Thy Bread feat. Big Youth
  5. My Lady feat. Errol Dunkley
  6. Reggae Train feat. Johnny Clarke
  7. Babylon Stress feat. Prince Theo
  8. Juggling feat. UT Ras
  9. Illusions (Dub Version by Mad Professor)

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