The Jamaicans are coming! You’re thinking, what’s new about that? Humboldt is a dread zone, a reggae magnet, and Caribbean musicians come through constantly. But this contingent is a bit larger than most with almost two dozen guys from Kingston, JA, coming in for two shows. In SoHum Friday, July 6, at the Mateel, there’s a CD release for the debut disc by Joseph Shepard , Be Yourself . And on Saturday, July 7, there’s a NoHum show at the Eureka Muni: “the First Annual Humboldt Humble Jam” with Capleton and many others, billed as “the first time outside of Jamaica [that] Judgement Yard and David House will be on the same stage.”
What exactly does that mean? Well, Judgement Yard is a compound/recording studio in August Town, a rough part of Kingston, home to the dancehall star Sizzla. The young Joseph Shepherd lives there, as do Congo Judah , Bobo David and dub plate producer John Marcus — all of them record for Sizzla and all are performing at both shows. David House is home to JA-based dancehall star Capleton , aka “The Prophet,” coming here with his Prophecy Band and a cat known as Jah Thunder .
If the names sound kind of biblical, it’s no mistake. All of them are Rastafarians, and most follow the path of the Bobo Ashanti, “the Priestly Order of Rastafari,” whose members adhere to strict religious guidelines and typically wear their dreadlocks wrapped in turbans.
You might remember the last time Capleton was scheduled to play locally, a Fall 2004 show at Humboldt State that stirred controversy and was ultimately canceled. Along with Sizzla, Beenie Man and other reggae artists, Capleton had been accused of advocating violence against homosexuals through his lyrics and placed on a blacklist by the British gay rights group OutRage! as part of its “Stop Murder Music” campaign.
Capleton is known as “The Fiyah Man” for his tendency to call down biblical fire and brimstone on sinners of all sorts. Asked about the OutRage! allegations before the 2004 show, he claimed he was basically misunderstood. “When Capleton say
burn’ or when Capleton saymore fire,’ it’s not on a destructive level,” he told me. “It’s not saying to go out there and kill no one or murder people or destroy people. This fire is all about the purification of humanity and the uplifting of the people.”
The Murder Music campaign was fairly successful internationally, resulting in the cancellation of many dancehall concerts. OutRage! estimates income losses for the various blacklisted reggae artists at upwards of $5 million. But all of that is over as of June 13, at least for some on the list.
A press release from OutRage! declares, “Three of the world’s top reggae/dancehall singers have renounced homophobia and condemned violence against lesbians and gay men.” It goes on to explain that Capleton, Sizzla and Beenie Man have signed something called “the Reggae Compassionate Act” in a deal between Stop Murder Music activists and top reggae promoters.
Said OutRage! leader Peter Tatchell, “The singers’ rejection of homophobia and sexism is an important milestone. We rejoice at their new commitment to music without prejudice.”
The pledge reads in part: “We, as artists, are committed to a holistic and healthy existence in the world, and to respect to the utmost the human and natural world. We pledge that our music will continue to contribute positively to the world dialogue on peace, respect and justice for all. To this end, we agree to not make statements or perform songs that incite hatred or violence against anyone from any community.”
While signing puts an end to the campaign against the three artists, Outrage! is still asking for boycotts for others who did not sign: Elephant Man, TOK, Bounty Killa, Vybz Kartel and Buju Banton. The overall effect of all this on reggae in general is hard to judge.
Warren Smith, the concert promoter who put on the recent Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, says he has seen a contraction in the reggae audience in recent years. He blames this at least in part on “fundamentalist Bobo types” who have become dancehall staples.
“All of I sudden I realized these people have more in common with George Bush than they do with me,” said Smith. “They’re fundamentalist Christians. They’re very sexist towards women. They’re anti-gay.” As a result, he figures, “The younger generations are not embracing [reggae] like they used to. There’s been a negative reaction to the whole stance on gays ... and the fact that some of these artists take a Bible on stage and start quoting from it. It’s no longer the cool music, and I think we’re starting to feel that in the business ... I really think the Rasta thing has run its course.”
Will this alleged anti-Rasta reaction take hold in Humboldt? It’s doubtful. This is still dread country. An on-again-off-again concert at the Mateel last September featuring Buju Banton sold out easily, and truth be told, when Capleton speaks of “fiyah,” locals are more likely to think of lighting their spliffs than of hellfire.
The Mad River Festival rolls on out in Blue Lake heading inexorably toward the Humboldt Folklife Fest , which starts July 15. A few things this week might put you in the mood. First there’s a film, Lomax: The Songhunter, playing at the Morris Graves Museum Thursday, July 5. It details the life of Alan Lomax, an influential figure in the history of folk music, the son of musicologist/folklorist John Lomax, and like his father a collector of songs. Patrick Cleary of the Humboldt Folklife Society leads a discussion following the film.
Then on Friday, July 6, the Mad River Fest presents the first of its “ Bands Out Back ” concerts in the Rooney Amphitheater, with Blue Lake-based groove/folk/rock band Kulica out back behind the old Oddfellows Hall that houses Dell’Arte.
Saturday the B-O-B is an ad hoc combo called The Greenhorns assembled by the continually amazing Gregg Moore to play original music he composed as a live soundtrack for Buster Keaton’s great comedy The General , a tale of a man who loves his train and is willing to go through hell to save it (which, come to think of it, fits right in with this week’s cover story). Fred Belénger, Chris Larson, Susie Laraine, Julie Froblom and Dell’Arte’s resident sound designer Tim Gray complete the Greenhorns band. BTW, if you saw Tartuffe , Gregg was the multi-instrumentalist wearing the extremely floppy hat. He also plays Portuguese folk-inspired jazz as part of the festival’s Acoustic Jazz Night Wednesday, July 18.
Meanwhile Saturday, back at the Graves, it’s a Folklife Festival Preview with Circle Time music by Lisa Monet , songs by Melody Walker (featured on Folklife’s Songwriter’s Night, July 17) and neo-old timey tunes by Old Dog . (Lisa and Old Dog both play Folklife’s All Day Free Festival July 21.)
Big Pete’s Pizza in Northtown celebrates its 2nd anniversary July 5 (has it really been that long?) with a jam including members of Moo-Got-2 , Bump Foundation and (Little) Pete’s band, Nucleus . No cover, happy hour all night. Sounds like a blast.
Got a note from an old friend, Coleman , who moved up to the Snoqualmie Valley in Washington a few years ago. The former guitarist/bassman for now-defunct Humboldt County bands like The Yowling Zygotes and The Cow Persuaders is coming back for a show at Muddy’s Hot Cup Saturday, July 7, with the acoustic trio Ask Sophie : Coleman on guitar, Snoqualmie accomplices Joe Burgener and Cal Christensen on harp and percussion, respectively, playing eclectic folky country-ish music, “leaning toward songs that tell stories of outlaws, criminals, outcasts, and misfits.” They share the bill with Peggy Martinez ’ new band, No Not Yet .
A missive from (Rutabaga) Queen Monica notes, “In case you are mentioning Los Olvidados in the Hum for this week, you might like to know that they’ll be playing live at 1 p.m. Saturday, in the KSLG studio. I caught them last year sometime, at the Alibi, and adored them.” In case the reference slipped by, the forgotten band from Moorpark (down in Ventura County) is named for a classic Luis Buñuel film. A visit to their MySpace shows them to be a moody, slightly folky rock band with a classic SoCal flavor, as if the music of The Eagles, The Heartbreakers and The Burrito Bros was somehow genetically imprinted on them. Jay Dirt opens the show for them at the Alibi Saturday night, many hours after they play on the radio. Don’t forget.
Remember last week’s item about Steel Toed Slippers , the local kids battling for the national spotlight on The Early Show ? They won! Round one anyway. Heads up: Next vote comes July 16-18. Vote often. Really. Don’t forget. l