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Rebel Music

December 1, 2011

By Maayan Arad

Few bands manage to combine roots-reggae and jazz in the way that Groundation does.

The unique mixture of these two genres is completely natural to the band. The minute they step on stage, the audience can hear, see and feel that through the energetic and stirring performance. “For us, reggae and jazz, it’s like rebel music, like who we are as people”, Harrison Stafford, the lead-singer says in a recent interview after the band’s show in Amsterdam’s Melkweg.

The nine-piece band from northern California is on tour again. Groundation is one of the leading artists on the American reggae scene today and is gaining popularity all over the world. Their show in the Melkweg, with French reggae band Danakil on Nov 2, shows that they have much more music to offer to the world and to keep spreading a positive message. Since the establishment of the band in 1998, Groundation has released 7 studio albums and a side-project, Rockamovya. Their diverse sound doesn´t stop with reggae and jazz but incorporates a wide variety of musical influences such as funk and dub. They are widely known for their unique sound and the powerful vocals of Stafford.

“I thought it was great. It was sold out. We had a nice heat, nice energy and all that you know, because people are elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder,” Stafford says with a confident smile. We nod our heads in agreement whilst still overwhelmed by the experience.

Although the band has visited Amsterdam frequently during their tours in Europe, there isn’t always much time for exploration, “For a lot of us on the road, five or six shows in a row, it is tiring. It’s nice just to rest. Get a good sleep you know. Get ready for sound-check. That happens in the middle of the day so you can’t go to a museum across town. You got to be here two or three o’clock.”

One of the most striking qualities of Groundation is the live composition with a lot of improvisation. Each member gets the chance to shine and speak his mind through the music. “Everybody gets the time to tell their stories; it is a huge, important thing for all of us. That goes again with the whole; it’s not a one man show. We make the sound, what do you want to do right now on the bass? It’s very rare in reggae performances to hear bass solos and Ryan is free to do what Ryan wants to do.”, Stafford says before Marcus Urani, the keyboard player gets his turn, “We have been playing together for a long time. So for us now it’s about the exchange, the communication between us and about what Groundation means to the audience.”

In the early days of the band, while Stafford, Urani and Ryan Newman were studying together in the Jazz program of Sonoma State University, the original sound of the band started to form. “The first two three years it was just us practicing, getting to know each other, find our style together and what we can do with the music.” says Urani. “We love just being a part of that continuation, that inspiration for the next generation of musicians to see where we are coming from. That’s really what jazz and reggae have, that common vibe. People who take that kind of sound are rebels,” explains Stafford.

The music doesn’t stop when the albums hit the production line. It continues to breathe and influence the listener long afterwards, Stafford explains about the impact of the music and the message, “You put the energy out there that you hope will evolve and become more dominant on the planet. Just like “Rockamovya” on the cover, when you see the stone dropping and the ripples coming out, it’s the same with the music. So there are songs and things that we sung 12 years ago that are really becoming more and more fulfilled now today and you see that.”

Groundation’s songs tell a story and really capture the moment. They deal with important issues and events that our generation experiences. “My father told me this when I was a young kid. The people on top who only give little bits to keep everybody calm and when that little bits become not enough, people start to revolt, and that’s what you start to see now. People go on the streets and say hey, we are tired of this; I can’t pay for my apartment. I couldn’t dream of buying a house. I don’t have any savings. There’s no future for me – this is not the world that I want. You know, those are things happening in our music since the early beginning and you see that.” Stafford says about the recent revolts and wave of demonstrations around the world.

“I would not be spending my time thinking and hoping that people idolize us. I would hope for the opposite. People would see us as just people, trying the best we can, certainly trying to put a new foot forward musically. And I hope we continue do that but we have much more creativity and much more musical things we need to achieve that we have not began to achieve.“ Stafford explains his view on the possibility of being idolized by the fans, “Our whole thing is about trying to empower the listener, trying to show them that there is no idol you need to look to, you are the one, you are the person that all this music is about.”

There’s good news for the fans, in 2012, the band is expected to release their new studio album. “We are finishing a new album. It’s coming in March and we’re going to start working on new music right away.” If the band continues the tradition, there’s much reason for hope and anticipation, “I have been doing it for a little while, I’ve been doing it for a few years now but we have not begun.”

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