Contrary to what the pharmaceutical industry would have you believe, there is a cure for sadness, angst, dissatisfaction, and general depression, and it doesn’t involve doctors, prescriptions, or drugs. It’s called reggae music. Reggae started on the little island of Jamaica, and has since spread throughout the world, becoming infamous for its uplifting, positive message and sound.
Like all styles of music, reggae has undergone changes in its sound since forming in Jamaican soil. The meeting of cultures has sparked fusions of reggae with other musical forms like funk, hip-hop and jazz, and has widened both the musical vocabulary of contemporary reggae and the audiences who love it. Reggae has embraced these changes and remained true to its roots, unchallenged in its title as the ultimate feel good, positive-vibe music. As the crowning jewel on the series of awesome events happening for Bob Marley week, Friday night will bring a concert by the band Groundation, a contemporary reggae group from San Francisco who are a good example of this type of musical evolution.
Groundation is coming to Western thanks to three musically savvy guys who make up the Western Sound System Federation. Quoc Pham, Ryan Greigg, and Sterling Riber all share a love for reggae music and a passion for breaking down the cultural stereotypes and expectations that surround reggae. “People see reggae as such a monoblock entity,” said Pham. “With Groundation, you can really see a cross-cultural musical evolution.”
“Reggae is such a broad term,” added Riber. “Its like ‘rock’- there is classic rock, hard rock, indie rock… A genre goes through so many different stages. People now are still playing ska, one of the first styles of reggae music, but it has evolved. Now there is dancehall... A lot of music is influenced with other styles. Groundation has a heavy jazz influence, because a lot of band members had a jazz upbringing,” he said. “These guys are from California. They grew up around another type of music- so when they play reggae, it is influenced by their musical and cultural context. This adds another level to the music.”
Although Groundation’s sound glides under the genre of reggae, they are clearly not confined to the common expectations of what reggae sounds like. “It’s a merging of culture through music,” said Pham. “That is the backbone of our club– we want to show people that reggae music is much more than what it was 30 years ago… It’s a worldwide scene. We want to break people’s stereotypes about culture and music. It’s not just black people with dreadlocks in Jamaica.”
Riber described that one of the greatest things about reggae is its widespread appeal. “Reggae really brings a lot of people because everyone can associate with it.” Unlike some other styles of music, where you feel like you have to fit a certain mold to be a part of the scene, “everyone feels in place when they are in that [reggae] vibe. With reggae, everyone is invited.”
Because the message behind the music is so universal, many different types of people can relate to it and enjoy it. “Reggae is a celebration of life,” said Griegg. “Reggae music is great because it’s music with a positive message. Everything that goes into it is about living a good, conscious life, and about doing things that fill your heart with joy. When people tune in, its really a positive message.”
Perhaps the lifelong quest for happiness and joy leads to the widespread, intergenerational appeal of reggae. “This kind of music really transcends generations,” noted Pham. “There will be parents with kids, professors… we have people coming from all over for the show. People are coming from Vancouver, Victoria, San Francisco…” [Groundation] has a big following.”
Since the concert is a tribute to the late reggae musician Bob Marley, Groundation will be playing covers of many of Marley’s songs. Additionally, they will play some of their original material. WSSF noted that although they will be covering many of Marley’s songs, you will not be hearing a duplicate of the classics you hear when you pop Legend into your CD player. “They have their own style– they bring something new to the music. The music doesn’t sound like Bob Marley or anyone else– it’s really Groundation music,” said Pham.
To provide a bit of education on the history and evolution of reggae music, Harrison Stafford, the lead singer of Groundation, will be giving a free talk called “From Ska to Dancehall: The Story of Jamaican Music,” on Friday, February 17 at 5 p.m. in VU 552. “He’s an expert on reggae music,” said Pham. “He did a lot of field research in Jamaica and Africa, learning a lot from the people. He is going to give a review on the evolution of the music.” If you are interested in the process of musical and cultural evolution, this is an event not to miss. What an awesome opportunity to gain insight and understanding into the music you will be enjoying later on in the night!
“He was a professor at Sonoma State University, and he taught a class on Rastafari. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the country on this subject,” said Greigg. Because musical evolution and cultural context are a huge topic, and could easily fill an entire quarter’s worth of study, this talk will be more of an overview than an in-depth report. “It’s Reggae 101,” said Riber.
Groundation will be playing 3 hours of live, energizing music, on Friday, February 17 at 9 p.m. in the VU Multipurpose Room. In addition to the full band, two amazing guest artists will be joining them. Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, the drummer for the old-school reggae group Burning Spear, and Will Bernard, the “legendary acid jazz guitarist” from San Francisco, will both be joining the group for the night and playing for the concert.
Tickets for students are $5 in advance and $8 at the door, and $10 for the general public, and can be purchased at the PAC box office or on Vendor’s Row, where WSSF will be tabling all week. “Anybody that appreciates music would love the show,” said Greigg. So whatever your condition, I prescribe Groundation. Bring your friends, family, and loved ones for a night of uplifting, inspiring reggae music.