Keeping the beats GROUNDED
HARRISON Stafford was an eight-year-old Jewish boy attending Hebrew school in northern California when he discovered Jamaican popular music. Now 36, he is a member of Groundation, a journeyman band that has helped put American reggae on the map.
Stafford, a singer/guitarist known as Professor, is in Jamaica for some R&R but will a lso perform on Rastaman Vibration, a roots show scheduled for Cheapside in Junction, St Elizabeth on Tuesday.
It has been over one year since Groundation's last album, Hebron Gate, was released but Stafford has been active writing songs
for veteran roots-reggae acts like Pablo Moses and Ashanti Roy of The Congos.
Last week, he spoke to the Jamaica Observer about Groundation's 16-year run as well as the emergence of American reggae bands like Souljah and Rebelution who have dominated the Billboard Reggae Album chart in recent times.
"We love one-drop reggae but we are coming from a jazz background so we incorporate that into our sound. We do long songs,
our music is not what you call radio-friendly," he said.
Groundation started in 1998 as a quintet from the jazz programme at the University of Sonoma in northern California. There are nine members in the current line-up which includes co-founders Stafford, bassist Ryan Newman, keyboardist Marcus Urani and trumpeter David Chachere.
Jamaican singers Sherida Sharpe and Kim Pommell are also members.
Typical of American west coast bands, Groundation tours to promote their albums. When they visited Costa Rica last year, Stafford says it was the 38th country in which they had performed.
According to Stafford, Groundation's commitment to traditional reggae sets it apart from contemporary American reggae bands.
"Our sound is more rough reggae, theirs is more rock and roll, three-four minute songs with catchy hooks. But they've got a positive message so that's always good," he said.
That commercial feel has endeared bands like Souljah, Rebelution and John Brown's Body to college and mainstream audiences in the United States. Their albums and tours consistently do well.
Since the group began recording in 1999, Groundation has collaborated with many of the artistes who influenced them such as Ras Michael, Pablo Moses, I Jahman Levi and The Congos. Their albums, including Young Tree, Each One Teach One and Hebron Gate have done well in Europe and Latin America where they tour regularly. They have yet to perform in Jamaica.
Though he has recorded in Kingston, Stafford's appearance at Rastaman Vibration will be his first live Jamaican gig. The show is a joint production between roots singer Kiddus I's Green Fa Life and guitarist Earl 'Chinna' Smith's Inna De Yard projects.
Luciano, Mikey General, Jah9, Jesse Royal and the Raging Fyah band are also scheduled to perform.