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Reefers' Reggae Beat a Diversity of Styles

January 31, 1991|JOHN GODFREY

Before the Cardiff Reefers became one of the most recognized names in the local music scene, five of the six band members lived in one house near Cardiff Reef.

Today, the name "Cardiff Reefers" appears on concert hall and night club marquees throughout the western United States, in cities from Denver to Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. Along the way, the Reefers are building a loyal following for their stylized brand of reggae music.

Robert Melendez, 24, is the founding member-manager of the Reefers, who have been performing together for six years. Melendez met most of the musicians in the band in the music department at UC San Diego, although not all were music majors.

They started jamming together at a house Melendez' father had bought in Cardiff and that evolved into rooming together.

"We spent a lot of time at Cardiff Reef when we were just a garage band," says Melendez. "Eventually, we got better and we had to get a name for the band."

Although they no longer live together, the group's name is rooted in that experience.

Last November, the Reefers hired a producer and recorded their first album, entitled "Alternate Roots." The nine-song collection, available on CD and cassette, demonstrates the band's steady reggae beat and strong sense of vocal harmony.

And the financial risk the band assumed in making the album demonstrates its confidence in its future. Locally, the record is available at Lou's Records in Encinitas and at Off the Record outlets.

Keyboard player Chris Ballard, 22, says the band has grown in popularity primarily by word-of-mouth. "Our popularity has come because of the kind of shows we put on. We get down and groove and give people a good time."

In addition to personal appearances though, their sound has picked up radio play alongside other reggae music on XRTA (91X) on Sunday nights.

The band has spent a lot of time on the road in order to keep working full time.

"Still," adds Matt Hale, 28, "the more we travel, the more we appreciate San Diego. We're really fortunate to be established at the Belly Up (in Solana Beach). San Diego has a great reggae scene."

At a performance earlier this month at the Belly Up Tavern, the Cardiff Reefers drew a large crowd, packing the North County club with hundreds of dancing, smiling reggae fans. Between sets during their concert, band members spoke about their goals, their new album, and their self-labled brand of "unity-rock" music.

"We play reggae, but not with Jamaican roots, because we don't have those roots. We're influenced by rock 'n' roll, jazz," says guitarist Hale.

Vocalist-guitarist Peter Todd, 24, adds folk music to the list of musical influences. "If I could play the banjo, I would."

"Since our music is such a mixture of styles, a lot of people can latch onto our music and enjoy whatever part of it they like," says Hale.

At their most recent Belly Up appearance, people in their 20s danced alongside couples of considerably longer tooth. One woman, easily in her 60s, danced nonstop throughout the Reefer's first one-hour set.

In addition to Melendez, Todd, Ballard and Hale, the band includes Andrew Rosales, 27, on percussion and Gary Otake, 24, who plays trumpet and percussion.

The Reefers pride themselves on both the purity of their music and the purity of their musical process. The success of bands sometimes depends heavily on the help of friends in high places. This is not the case with the Reefers.

"We're a blue collar band," explains Hale. "Everything we've done, we've done on our own. We don't know any big-wigs, we don't know any industry people, we don't know guys who have business cards. Everything we've accomplished has come by busting our butts and playing for the people."

Self-reliance is a central theme on "Alternate Roots."

"The point of the album is that there are a lot of ways to go about life," says Hale. "People should take their own path to better themselves, better the planet, better their lives. We don't believe in a single dogma."

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