I remember a sweet mellow voice drawing me towards the makeshift stage at last year's Manchester Carnival in Moss Side and thinking I have to interview that man. When I was handed a postcard with a photo of Skibu on one side and his manager's contact details on the reverse I knew that my luck was in…
Gladston Foster was born in 1964 in Handsworth, Birmingham, England into a large family. Singing was part of his everyday life and with 12 brothers and sisters that could all sing it's not surprising that he was under the impression that everyone could sing. This led him to come to the conclusion that, "I used to kinda have this idea that every black people can sing". When he began to attend school and noticed that some of his classmates weren't singing he realised this was not the case.
At the age of about 11, Gladston and his friends used to name each other. In time to return back to school following the holidays Gladston would have his hair cut really short and his friends used to say he'd been skiffled. This name later developed into the name he now performs under, Skibu.
He entered into various talent contests at school and came out victorious but at this point he wasn't taking his gift very seriously. He went on to work with the Kokuma Dance Company for a while and got involved in various aspects of their work including playing various instruments and assisting with choreography. He then joined forces with 4 friends and they formed a company called African Cultural Exchange (ACE).
Skibu has a beautiful voice, which he calls his instrument from God and lyrics to match, most of which he pens himself. He does occasionally deal with covers but this is something he would prefer to keep to a minimum. Singing covers may not be his favourite thing but he looks on the task optimistically and says, "if I'm going to sing something that someone else sing then I'm going to mek it mine, if you understand what I'm saying? If I can't mek it mine I won't sing it".
Skibu likes to give his audience his all and he does this by rehearsing and deciding prior to a performance how it's all going to come together. Therefore when he had 'The One I Adore' single out in around 1988 and was called upon by Wassifa sound system to do an unrehearsed performance he was disheartened by this experience. He states, "everyone up to you and everything but it wasn't me it's a nice vibe and me tek the mic and I was just singing but to be a DJ is an art in itself, you know how to work the crowd right".
He has performed at events up and down England including Sheffield's Music in the Sun Festival, Manchester Carnival and The Reggae Peace & Love Concert in London. He has also performed as far a field as Africa at Gambia's Roots Festival. The response was so great in Gambia that he hopes to go back and "cover the whole of Africa just singing".
He loves live performances where he's singing alongside a band. He gets a sparkle in his eye when he describes the atmosphere, "Getting the band to be as one for me and when you're performing reaching out to the crowd and the crowd receiving it. You're on stage and you're in the middle of that. The band, to you, the crowd to you". I get the impression that Skibu is a perfectionist because when he begins recording a track he goes in with the intention that this will the best track he has every recorded. With that in mind you can be sure that you will be always in for a musical treat.
Skibu dislikes, as he puts it, the cat and dog business where people who get involved in the music just do so to see what they can get out of it. "Music is supposed to be a blessed ting to inspire people but they way it is at the moment I have to accept it the way it is". Skibu was lucky enough to be introduced to African the owner of Humal Records and they have a very close artist/producer relationship.
To get the best of Skibu then you really need to take in one of his live performances along with the band because "I don't really like doing PA's. So sometimes you'll hear people say oh him nah come but PA's don't show me well. I don't feel the vibe".
If you can't manage to reach one of his live performances then pick up a copy of his album. Humal Records has recently released his debut album 'Surround Me With Love' **Link to album review**. Which he has dedicated to the memory of his mother.
When he has a chance to kick back then he likes to take in a host of artists including Luciano, Garnet Silk, Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff.
Skibu's advice to up and coming singers is to, " have faith in what you're doing it going to be hard you know but if you really want it you'll have to sweat for it and pursue it all the way". He then went on to say, "right now me a still sweat, me nose still a run, trus' me. Nuh get nothing yet, it's hard for some people outside to believe that. Me heart get filled with much more than money because you know I'm achieving a lot".
Look out for Skibu in a town or country near you. He will reach Gambia in November or December of this year.
If Skibu's life had taken a different path he thinks that he would have probably been an artist drawing pictures or getting involved in some other aspect of the performing arts. Fortunately for his fans he decided on being a singer and as long as he continues to do what he does best then I am sure you will be hearing a lot more from Skibu.
To book Skibu please contact African at Humal Records PO Box 5342, Birmingham, B13 9FH, England, cell number +44(0)956 553498 or via firstname.lastname@example.org