Ras Kidus makes fashion statement
Ras Kidus

A steadfast student of roots-reggae, Ras Kidus has never shied from learning new things. Regarded as a stalwart of the San Francisco Bay Area reggae scene, he has recorded six albums and appeared in several independent movies.

His latest venture is a fashion line comprising Afrocentric T-shirts projecting his latest songs and symbols depicting his Rastafarian faith. They are produced by his company Bionic Roots.

The songs Strong Like a Lion and Where Is Jah Love were released in the past 18 months. Ras Kidus, who is from "lower St Andrew", credits his wife Stephanie Slade for being the creative force behind Bionic Roots's diverse catalogue.

"She is a broadcast designer, animator, music video editor, and her technology and art began in the '80s as a computer artist in Hollywood. The designs from my new store have been created by designers and artists that are in my reggae creatives circle, including Marisa McFarlane, my daughter, who designed the One Love Tree; Messenjah Selah, who designed the One Love Cat; Stephanie designed the Strong Like a Lion, Realistic Lion, and Electric Lion; and Bobito from Africa, who designed the Strong Like A Lion logo," he said.

Where is Jah Love is co-produced by Slade and Makonnen Blake Hannah. It was recorded at the latter's studio in Kingston where Ras Kidus visited three years ago.

Ras Kidus oversees operations at Bionic Roots despite suffering a massive stroke in 2008. Three years later, he was struck down by a brain aneurysm that required sensitive surgery to help get him back on track.

Like many Jamaican youth from the early 1970s, Ras Kidus was entranced by roots-reggae and Rastafari. He began recording in the middle of that decade, one of his early singles being Exile Song, produced by Keith Hudson.

It was while touring northern California as a drummer with Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus 40 years ago that he was drawn to the liberal nature of the Bay Area, epicentre for the Flower Power movement of the 1960s.

In addition to forming the Roots Connection Band and recording albums and singles, he has acted in films, such as Cop and a Badman and Rude Boy: The Jamaican Don.

The reggae scene in California has evolved since he moved there.

"In the early '80s when I first came to California the scene was poppin'. The Wailers had a show at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. After that I played all the reggae venues and played behind other artistes like Hugh Mundell. I collaborated with other Jamaican artistes who were based in the Bay Area, like Rankin Scroo, Majestic, and Phone Bill Reggae Band," Ras Kidus recalled. "Back then, the clubs featuring reggae included Keystone, Slims, Ashkenaz, The Caribe, and many others. In 2006, Sweetfingers Restaurant opened in the Bay Area and became a great hub for reggae artistes and Jamaican food and culture. The clubs featuring reggae have closed since the pandemic but now some are opening again."

Howard Campbell

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