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NIGHT LIFE THE CLUB SCENE

Rockin' Reggae : The Jamaican band Third World, which has been together since 1973, hits the Ventura Theatre stage tonight.

August 22, 1991|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It is hard to confuse Third World with anything but reggae. This Jamaican band has been touting its style of rockin' reggae for a long time, before most industrialized nations even realized there was a Third World--the place, not the band.

"The band's first album came out in 1973 with a different singer and a different drummer," singer William (Bunny Rags) Clarke said in a recent telephone interview from Baltimore. "A new drummer joined in 1974 and I joined the band in 1975. So the band has been together for 18 years, brother, which makes us the longest-lasting group in Jamaica.

"Between us, we have 26 children and a lot of them are already in bands. We're not just playing around--we're here to plant some seeds. We want to make a difference."

Third World along with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Arrow will cause the multitude to dance when the groups hit the stage of the venerable Ventura Theatre tonight.

"We started the tour in Florida and went all over the state," Clarke said. "Now we're in Baltimore. We went to Rome for a day, which was totally awesome. We tour every year--we have since 1975, and we really love California. We're on the road usually seven months a year and we go everywhere--Africa, Japan and all over the Caribbean. Reggae is really big in Japan, they have a lot of reggae bands over there."

Jamaica might get fewer gold medals in the Pan American games than the Americans and the Cubans, but they have a lot more reggae musicians. Unfortunately, reggae is not part of the competition this year.

"Kingston is a heavy place," Clarke said. "It has more recording studios and churches than any other country in the world. It's very difficult to get recording time in the studios."

Don't feel bad for Third World--it already has its medals. In the mid-80s, the United Nations decorated the entire band for its work in helping children in Ethiopia. The band has received many awards from other countries, plus several Grammy nominations. The band has also played with such stars as Aswad, Steel Pulse, the Jacksons and Stevie Wonder.

"Stevie Wonder is our favorite," Clarke said. "He does such great stuff. We'd love to play with him again, but the man's so damn busy."

Reggae seems to be getting bigger than that fish you said you caught back at summer camp. Reggae bands are everywhere; the whole world is getting the beat, mon--everyone but MTV.

"Reggae is a world music; it's a music with a sense of humanity," Clarke said. "Reggae is happy music, also a music of race and love--Africa must unite. All of us must come together. Reggae is God's music; it is dance music. Reggae has been getting bigger outside of Jamaica ever since Bob Marley died. It's becoming hip now. We attract a lot of Hispanics, blacks as well as a lot of white college kids."

And reggae is not endless, mindless and senseless. There are all sorts of reggae variations, including dance hall reggae, roots reggae and even some thrasher reggae by such bands as Bad Brains. Third World takes the basic reggae beat and infuses pop, rock and soul influences.

"We are different than other reggae bands because we are more musical," Clarke said. "We are capable of doing much more than other bands because we have better musicians--several members in our band are classically trained. That way we can interject, infuse and intertwine our style with other styles."

Plus, he said, the group knows more than 120 songs and and presents a strong message. "You will leave our show with a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction," he said. "We deliver a message of hope; we don't bore you with fire and damnation."

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