Reggae music is often about solo artists rather than bands or groups, especially in recent years. But something has happened. Live music has had resurgence in popularity in Jamaica, several bands have formed and they’re touring the world. Reggaemani has talked to The Uprising Roots Band and Dubtonic Kru to learn the story behind the upswing.
Reggae bands in Jamaica have always been around in one form or another. One of the earliest examples being The Skatalites, a band that later transformed into several different outfits – The Supersonics and Sound Dimension being just two examples.
In the 70’s other bands emerged, often with a somewhat loose line-up. Members played in several different constellations and changed names depending on the producer or label that hired them.
These bands were often backing or studio bands without a regular singer.
When reggae was digitalized in the mid 80’s the need for bands and “real” musicians decreased. The riddims were laid using keyboards and drum machines instead of using real bass and drums.
“People want more roots. Everyone’s going back to the roots, they see the value of roots reggae. Dub roots from Jamaica. There’s a new era of musicians graduating from the Edna Manley College. Really amazing musicians,” he said to Reggaemani.
And there are several bands active in Jamaica at the moment; some of them have been playing for many, many years.
A new cycle
Deleon “Jubba” White formed Dubtonic Kru about 15 years ago with Strickland Stone. He and his fellow band mates recently won the Global Battle of the Bands where they were up against 17 other countries.
“Well, you see, the music industry is a cycle. It’s a new wave of what’s happening now,” says Jubba on the phone from Poland where the Kru recently finished their Celebration tour, and continues:
“Conscious music is at the center stage again. Youths are involved in this movement. But it’s not necessarily the end of the dancehall cycle. And I don’t want to see an end. It’s all about the evolution of the music. Variety is the spice of life,” he laughs.
Rashaun “Kush” McAnuff is the drummer in The Uprising Roots Band and was literally born into the music business as the son of vocalist and recording artist Winston McAnuff. He and his band have been playing together since 2006 and put out their debut album Skyfiya earlier this year.
Kush says he loves foundation music and positive music, and he seems happy about the resurgence of bands and live music in Jamaica. He describes the factors behind the upswing:
“It’s about revival. The youths don’t pay attention to where reggae is coming from. It’s a call for righteousness and awakening.”
Equality and family
Being in a band means equality. And when talking to Kush it’s obvious that The Uprising Roots Band has a “no man is an island” mindset.
“Each person is a sound. No one is higher than anyone else. Equality in the group is important. It’s about teamwork and everyone is important. We’re not a band, we’re family.
Jubba also mentions the family analogy and adds that a common goal is important too.
“Me and Stone have played together for about 15 years, but other members have changed. We have a common goal – love and passion for music. We’re like a family. A family that plays together stays together,” explains Jubba.
The Kru promotes live music
Jubba and his Kru are heavily involved in the live scene in Jamaica and have worked hard to promote it. Mainly through the yearly concert Bands Incorporated and the regular Friday night show Plug ‘N Play.
“We started Bands Incorporated about five years ago. It features upcoming bands and older bands. Not so much solo artists,” explains Jubba, and continues:
“Plug ‘N Play takes place on Friday nights at the legendary Jonkanoo Lounge at Wyndham Hotel in Kingston. It features as many young artists as possible. We give them a stage and a practice session to increase their live skills. Peer them with older artists.”
Several experienced artists have been part of the Plug ‘N Play format to help the younger ones. Some of these being Toots Hibbert, Capleton, Chuck Fender, Ken Boothe, Gyptian and Protoje. An impressive list to say the least.
“You name them, they’ve probably been there,” states Jubba, and continues:
“Some dancehall artists have come through the show. But it’s about uplifting music. You have to respect the standard of Plug ‘N Play. But it is has not anything to do with segregation. It’s about clean vibes.”
“A new generation of musicians from Jamaica”
Another factor that might have something to do with the recent upswing is the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
“I’m a past student and Edna Manley College did a lot for me, alongside touring and being on the road. It created a good balance for me,” says Jubba, and continues:
“The level has increased. The students are able to bond and practice. There’s a new generation of musicians from Jamaica,” he believes and concludes:
“The number of bands will definitely increase. We are contacted every week. It’s shocking and motivating.”