Rasta in Chico

IQulah Rastafari

PHOTO BY Vic Cantu

Hardly anyone in Chico knows it, but we’ve got an international Jamaican reggae star living here. Raymond Topping goes by the name of “IQulah,” which stands for integrity, quality, unity, love, Africa and home. For decades, he has spread his message of peace, love and unity worldwide with his band, the Gideon Force, for which he’s the lead vocalist and conga player. When he isn’t touring, he lives in Chico, where his brother, Sipho, serves up Jamaican specialties at Sipho’s Restaurant and Café. IQulah is also the international chaplain for the African peace-espousing Ethiopian World Federation. Find him on Facebook or at www.RasIQulah.com.

How did you become a Rastafarian?

As a young teenager in 1966 I saw His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie speak in Saint Ann’s [in Jamaica]. Our elders used to chant and tell us how Selassie, or Ras Tafari, was God himself and the return of Christ. That speech changed me, and afterward I moved with my brother Iston and 14 Rasta youths deep into the mountains as a form of renunciation, to burn out hatred, racism and negativity. We lived in the bushes with no clothes, money or food. Even though our families suffered the Atlantic slave trade atrocities, Haile Selassie taught us to be positive, optimistical [sic] and to use the power of music.

Wasn’t living such a stark life hard?

Yes, we had to live off the land and sneak into the city to visit friends and family. The governor general had orders to shoot any Rasta first and ask questions after. But it was also enjoyable singing, drumming and learning. We had a very strong energy. Bob Marley came to see us play as a teenager.

So you know Bob Marley’s family?

Yes, especially Bob’s mother. I’ve taken her to performances with us to Uganda, Malawi, South Africa and Mali. I just finished a show in Reno billed with Julian Marley, and I’m performing at the Oroville Reggae Rock Jamfest July 19-20 with Bob’s sons Stephen and Ky-Mani, plus his grandsons Daniel and Jo Mersa Marley.

When did your band start branching out?

In 1987, a few years after Bob passed, I decided, “Now it’s my turn to take on the mantle.” We toured and made four albums, with a new one on the way.

Are your records big sellers?

Not really, since I refuse to sign with the big labels that ask me. When I saw the atrocities of other bands like Bob Marley’s that signed with big companies, I decided not to join the vampire club. IQulah’s mission is not about entertainment, but to teach people, as a living example, to walk the talk in righteousness.

What are some of your band’s highlights?

Last year we played for 100,000 people at the inauguration of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe. We’ve also played to that size crowd in places like Ethiopia and South Africa. We were the only reggae band invited to play at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. During the Rwandan massacres we took Bob Marley’s mother and played two stadiums to create unity and stability.

Why aren’t you known much in Chico?

We don’t play here much. Many people don’t understand us. We do a few little shows, but we want them to receive our message gracefully.