It's as primitive as King Kong's jungle on Skull Island. It's as basic as cops and doughnut shops, as basic as boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wants-to-kill- mother-in-law. It's only cerebral if your brains are in your feet. It's reggae music--sort of Deadhead music from the Caribbean.
Reggae has the beat, but it can't tell time because reggae songs seem to last for weeks at a time. But your feet don't care--they know what to do. They move. And reggae is everywhere, except on the radio. It's even in the Valley.
And just like McDonald's, which everybody has, every town not in Jamaica seems to have its own reggae band. Even in the Valley. Ventura, for example, has The Lion I's, and Reseda has the cleverly named Urban Dread.
The band plays on Sunday nights in Canoga Park. The locale is pretty urbanly dreadful, the bar of a family restaurant in a shopping center on the corner of a four-lane street that has a shopping center on the other three corners as well. Few people know this, but Valley is actually an old American Indian word that means "it's too hot here, and everything looks the same anyway." Sometimes you gotta suffer for rock 'n' roll.
In fact, suffering has a lot to do with Urban Dread's Friday night gig at La Casa de la Raza in Santa Barbara. The reggae quartet is doing a benefit show for El Rescate, an organization that helps South American refugees. The only Friday night suffering that may befall you, the reggae fan, is sore feet from too much dancing.
Urban Dread plays often from Orange County to Santa Barbara County--they know about 100 songs, with probably 20 or 30 originals. Jason Bourne, who often sits in with the Lion I's, sings, plays sax and keyboards. Calvin Banks, who also sings, is the guitarist. Gary Stevenson plays bass and Kris Carpenter beats out the rhythm on the drums. In a recent interview at the band's Valley venue, Bourne discussed the life and times of Urban Dread:
You guys are Valleys, why reggae?
Reggae is good vibes music. It's world music that crosses all boundaries and is played in Third World countries. It's a little blues, a little rap, a little hip-hop and a little rock. Reggae is all about positive change, and it deals with issues that need to be addressed. Reggae is a reflection of things we care about.
How did Urban Dread get started?
My parents were really into music--they are both professional musicians. A few years ago, I saw a couple of reggae shows that really made an impression on me, mostly this band called Brave New World. They inspired me to get a band going where I could sing and play--that was close to three years ago. Calvin and I write most of the songs, but everyone in the band has an input. No one guy is the boss. And after being together for just a month, we started to get gigs. Now we play from three to five nights per week, from Orange County to Santa Barbara--and I think we'll be doing some shows in San Luis Obispo soon, too. We can play as often as we want.
Who are your musical influences?
Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Shinehead, and we all really like Pato Banton.
Describe Urban Dread music.
It's roots music from Jamaica with a customized, urbanized twist to it. We put a California accent on reggae music.
What would be your dream gig and your nightmare gig?
Our dream gig would probably be to open for Pato Banton. We don't really have a nightmare gig.
Who comes to your shows?
All sorts of people--all sizes, all colors, all ages. Sometimes, we play underage places so kids can come to see us.
What's the lowdown on this benefit for El Rescate?
We try to do at least four concerts per years for free. And El Rescate--that means "the Rescue"--was something we felt was a very good cause, and we like helping people.
Can a reggae band from the Valley get signed?
Well, all we can do is play our hearts out and hope to get signed. We play a lot, and right now we're entirely self-sufficient. We're not this real hard-core dread reggae band; we just really love the music. We just want to pass along the reggae message, which can be very uplifting.
What's the difference in the music scene between L.A. and Santa Barbara?
Reggae is happening more along the coast than it is inland. Maybe that's because the beach people are more laid back--islands, palm trees, the beach, all that California stuff. More people attend our shows when we play near the beach--it's harder for us inland.
WHERE AND WHEN
Urban Dread at La Casa de la Raza, 601 E. Montecito, Santa Barbara, Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7. For more information, call 486-3798.