When I signed up to make a Republik Music Festival playlist for MauiTime, I totally thought it would be a slog. I hardly thought that I would fall back in love with reggae. The exercise was a nice slap to my jaded opinion of the genre. As I compiled this list of artists' music, from bands and musicians that have been playing roots since the '70s to the next generation of artists, born with Bob Marley already in their ears, I became entirely fascinated by the hooks and messages so crucial to contemporary music and our island culture.
"Me and my brother, we grew up with Bob Marley since we were babies, you know? It was played in the household and that's what we grew up with. Bob Marley and Steel Pulse, Peter Tosh. We connected with the music and the message, so for Steve it was a big part for him to continue what they were talking about, what they were singing about in their music, so we wanted to continue that. You know, what we were inspired by growing up. So, there was a lot of positive messages, and we wanted to continue that. So, that is, to this day, a big inspiration for what we create. You know, the lyrics and music, we just wanted to continue that legacy."
Matisyahu has been one of the most authentic and unique sounds to come out of the early aughts. His early religious Hasidic Jewish identity and hip-hop reggae fusion was a smashing hit with Maui, and he bravely did shows at Maui Civic Center early in his career. I respected that a lot, and his love for crowd surfing. This quote from Matthew Miller, aka Matisyahu comes via his Twitter.
"No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me... no alias. When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process. It was my choice. My journey: to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality - not through books but through real life. At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity... to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth. I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules - lots of them - or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission. Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth. And for those concerned with my naked face, don't worry... you haven't seen the last of my facial hair."
Groundation formed in 1998 in LA, with a distinct sound as a jazz-influenced reggae fusion band. Groundation announced a three-year hiatus a few years back. Then Harrison Stafford, a founding member of the original band, reformed with new members, releasing New Generation and embarking on a huge European tour in 2018. He explains it all in this video here. Jazz and reggae may seem like an unlikely duo, but Stafford explains in this quote from Jazz in Europe Magazine.
"Both jazz and reggae are rebellious sounds born out of the talents and gifts of the underprivileged. Typically musicians don't choose these genres looking to be a star or to have millions of dollars, they make the choice because the music calls them to the mission. As Groundation we are musicians playing our instruments live for the album and recording on the 2-inch analogue tape machine performing the song from start to finish. No fixing, no copying and pasting parts. Like the great jazz musicians of the past, we are committed to pushing the boundaries and often times abandoning the 'normal' ideas found and expected in the music. As a live band we emphasize improvised solos that tell a story and take the listeners on a journey, and at times we'll have almost group solos and moments of collective improvisation."
Steel Pulse is legend. Started in Birmingham England in '74 by David Hinds and Basil Gabbadon, the band's first release on Island Records was "Klu Klux Klan." The band has always had a political stance, and their 2019 album MassManipulation is no exception. This quote from David Hinds captured in an interview with Grateful Web explains everything.
"Society is in this state because of being mass manipulated. It's been in this state because of politicians that are not sincere to the people; greed, religion that's been under the guise of trying to promote peace when in fact it does the opposite, and as long as these negative ideologies persist and exist, you find that time will stand still in comparison to what we were up again 40 years ago when we did songs like 'Ku Klux Klan.' I mean we have versions of 'Ku Klux Klan' like 'Don't shoot' on the album, 'Justice in Jana,' and so many more that show some kind of racism. If you listen to the sentiments of 'Rize,' you can see that we're trying to convey elements of racism to an extent, and we're trying to let people 'rize' in every sense of the word above all that negativity that's out there and everything that's going on out there.
People say 'Rasta is all about politics,' but this is where Steel Pulse has always been a cut above the rest because we built our music off of political issues. It's undeniable. The world is disproportional because of politics, how can you not be involved in politics when the world has been sliced up, carved up, the fact that you've got to hop on the bus to go to school at a particular time and come back home, you got to leave school at a particular age and now you're a man and now you're allowed to vote, you've been governed all the way through politics and you don't want to be part of it? Be part of it."
I love the Original Wailers sound. It takes on a bright Jamaican vibe, with a quick tempo. The Original Wailers do indeed have an Original Wailer in the band, Al Anderson. He breaks it down for us in this quote from a Rootfire interview he did in December of 2017.
"My situation with the original Wailers is that I got to play with Peter, Bob, and Bunny, and I lived with them for several years. I've been supporting their music for 37 years now and my highest interest is to portray these three individuals with respect. At the same time Chet Samuel is the lead singer for The Original Wailers, he has his own material, he has his own convictions on how he sees his own music, and I got lucky with a two-time Grammy nomination with the Miracle album, and so our intentions are to honor Peter, Bob, and Bunny, but not be a tribute to Peter, Bob, and Bunny as the other incarnations are. Our intentions are completely different."
Trevor Hall is a bit of a savant, equal parts musician and philospher. Not afraid to go the road less taken, his most recent release was an independent production supported by his fans called The Villagers. The album made news, premiering at the No. 4 spot on alt charts. He explains his sound as "a mix of folk, reggae, and acoustic roots." His quote about his newest album is from Amnplify website.
"The Fruitful Darkness was really inspired by the last couple of years of my life. I got really into astrology and how the stars relate to us as human beings. I was going through a period of what astrology calls the 'Saturn Return.' This period is usually a tough time in one's life but is said to provide great meaning and lessons. My Saturn Return was all about turning in and facing the darkness. For me, the 'darkness' means the 'undefined.' I feel as a people, we are so obsessed with knowing things and explaining things because it gives us some sense of control. The things that we can't explain or define... we tend to push away and ignore because we can't understand them. However, I feel that if we can turn into those things we can't understand... if we can turn into the 'darkness' and not try to figure it out but just sit with it and not ignore it... then some of the greatest lessons of our lives will come out of that space. That's what The Fruitful Darkness is about for me... turning into the things that scare us and bringing those things into the light."
Friday, September 27, 2019 - Steel Pulse, Trevor Hall, The Original Wailers Saturday, September 28, 2019 - Tribal Seeds, Matisyahu, Groundation Maui Arts & Cultural Center - A&B Amphitheater/Yokouchi Pavilion, One Cameron Way Kahului, HI 96732 5:00 PM (All ages), 6:00 PM (All ages) $39.50 GA (All Ages), $79.50 VIP (21+) $5 increase day of show Tickets available : www.bampproject.com, www.mauiarts.org, Maui Arts & Cultural Center Box Office or by phone 808-242-7469