Junior Reid with Katchafire, Innavision & Fiji
Maui gig: Friday, April 16, 7pm on the lawn at the MACC, $35-$40, 242-7469 or mauiarts.org
“Waterhouse weeps,” reads a headline in a Sunday issue of The Gleaner, a Jamaican paper of record. “[T]he community has long been infamous for acts of violence,” it says of the troubled district on the edge of St. Andrew, the parish bordering Kingston on all but its sea side.
On this tiny West Indies isle, there were “1,361 murders in the first 10 months of ” alone, and The Gleaner reports, Waterhouse is especially stricken by shootings and fire bombings, with residents burdened by “the weight of the violence.”
Yet from the hardship this neighborhood endures, triumph is born. Waterhouse has “produced the current world’s fastest woman, Shelly-Ann Fraser, many other outstanding athletes, and a number of Jamaica’s leading musicians.”
Musicians like legendary reggae artist Junior Reid. Around the time of his birth, the short-lived West Indies Federation had collapsed and Jamaica was the first of the Greater Antilles isles to gain independence. Reid’s youth was spent in the thick of the political upheaval and economic downturn that followed.
The tumult today may have a different veneer, but as I was speaking with Reid from Kingston last week, the background noise gave validity to reports of worsening gang violence. Repeatedly, the sound of sirens and engines overtook our conversation, draping it with a disquieting air.
But Reid—who recorded his first single at the age of 13 for Rockers International—speaks of a healing that can be found in music, especially in reggae. I ask him to identify what it is about reggae that leads to so much international appeal, particularly in other island communities like Hawaii.
“It’s the tribulation of the islands, the tribulation of the islander,” says Reid in his rich Jamaican lilt. “Tribulation is more bad times than good. But when you listen to reggae, it is only good times.”
Indeed, the music is uplifting, rife with guitar upstrokes, open bass lines as deep and vast as the sea and piercing rim shots that seem to key into the militaristic side of our psyches with rebellious bend. Add Reid’s iconic voice and you have the makings of an anthem.
Famously a frontman of Black Uhuru during the mid-’80s, Reid earned a Grammy nomination for the 1986 album Brutal. But it was songs like 1989’s “One Blood,” and 1990’s “I’m Free”—from his solo re-embarkation—that solidified his position among the reggae elite. Fans find joy in his vocal qualities as much as his messages; Reid’s tone has a way of evoking the aboriginal meaning of the name Jamaica, “land of wood and water.” If sound were color, the spectrum of his voice would be contrastingly infused with dark amber and azul.
Today, Reid runs his own recording studio (JR Productions), dons sophisticated threads, still records albums—this show promotes his latest, Living Legend—and saunters out of helicopters in music videos. His name is often seen alongside the likes of Alicia Keys and Lil Wayne. The wisps of gray in his impressive dreads reveal the fact that his career is older than the lives of many of his collaborators, solidifying his living-legend status.
Hawaii fans will be glad to hear Reid loves playing in the 808. “Hawaii is my place,” he says. There are songs Hawaiians have embraced, Reid says, that even Jamaicans don’t know. “They sing every word—front to back, top to bottom. So I will sing those songs for them, my sons of Hawaii.”
Joining Junior Reid for his MACC show will be New Zealand’s famed Katchafire, another Hawaii favorite who recently completed their fourth full-length album. Of their experience recording at home in NZ, band manager Logan Bell tells MauiTime, “Previously, we’d recorded in the city… This time, we used a studio out in the country.” The locale switch added an intangible, “extra,” element to the process, Bell says. “There was such a great vibe, a homey warmth and attraction [in a] very quiet, peaceful way. It wasn’t just a studio, it was a sanctuary.” When asked to sum up the mood of the new album in five words or less, Bell says, “Fresh, warm, unity, love and experienced.”
Such a vibe bodes well for local fans anticipating both the album and Friday night’s show. “We’ve recently put ‘Rude Girl’ back in the live set,” says Bell. “It seems to be a favorite among the girls, which in turn gets the boys going!”
As with Reid, Katchafire recognizes the love Hawaiians hold for reggae. “Ten thousand people all singing the words to a song, in sync, is a very powerful thing.” Bell says Maui is the band’s favorite overseas venue, and closes with this Maori sentiment, “Ka hoki au ki haiki nui ki hawaiki roa ki hawaiki pamaumau. The fire cannot wait to return to our homeland from where we migrated from. Hawaiki…” Anu Yagi, MauiTime