California reggae legends on the Ground

Mandy Nolan

Roots reggae favourites Groundation are making their way around the country with a stop-off planned for the Byron Brewery on Wednesday February 5. Founding member Harrison Stafford chatted about this legendary outfit.

What was it that started your love affair with reggae music?

I first heard reggae music through my older brother, who was listening to Bob Marley, Black Uhuru, Culture, Don Carlos, etc. I was maybe 6–7 years old (1982–1983) and hearing the sounds coming from my brother’s room struck a chord in me. Also at the time I was attending Hebrew school and studying the Torah so the songs about Moses and Aaron and the children of Israel seemed to be made for me. As one of only a few Jewish kids in the area reggae music was like my personal music.

As a reggae academic, what would you say have been defining moments in reggae?

I would say the most defining moments in reggae would have to include the winter of 1951–1952 when Federal Studios, the first-ever recording studio in Jamaica, first began recording music; 1962 when the country gained its independence from Britain; 1966 when His Majesty Haile Selassie visited Jamaica; and 1972 when owner of Island records, Chris Blackwell, gave £5,000 to Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh to record their first album Catch A Fire.

Why do you think as music it is also so closely aligned with a ‘spirituality’?

Jamaicans tend to be very religious and spiritual people of Christian background, and for these black African people looking for the second coming of the messiah. On 2 November 1930 when Haile Selassie was crowned as ‘King of King and Lord of Lords, the Conquering Lion of Judah’, as recorded by John in the holy Bible’s ‘Revelation’, this was the answer. Also as very poor people you must look for ways and means of keeping positive and that is the backbone of Rasta spirituality.

How did this evolve?

It all first developed when African slaves where forced to adhere to Christianity and learn the holy Bible. The birth of Rasta culture came from Jamaican and African leader Marcus Garvey, who said, ‘look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; he shall be our redeemer’. Then another Jamaican by the name of Leonard Howell saw Haile Selassie’s 2 November 1930 coronation as this redeemer and began to spread the message and the seed grew from there. Rasta is about love and a close connection to the planet and a commitment to social justice.

Where does Groundation posit itself in the story of reggae?

The Groundation story is a continuation of reggae and Rasta story that came from Jamaica and reached worldwide. It’s a reaffirmation of the message of true oneness and togetherness. It’s also about pushing boundaries and breaking down barriers, both socially within the lyrics, and also musically. Our story is about bringing people together and to put forth the message that times are changing and good people are going to push this through to see a positive future for our coming generations.

You are named after Haile Selassie’s visit to Jamaica – Groundation Day. What was so significant about this day?

Kingston, Jamaica, on 21 April 1966 was the scene of a miracle, a living god coming forth to bless his people. It caused a huge awakening among many Jamaicans, who that day began to grow their locks, stepping out of the world of Babylon, and calling themselves Rasta. However, most Jamaicans where very much against this ‘cult’ as they called it and wanted nothing to do with what they saw as a false messiah. It really was a day of judgment for the people on the island; some for Rasta and some against. However most Jamaicans would say, ‘yes, Rasta philosophy of loving each other and the planet, and doing no harm to no-one it the right way’.

How do you keep a band like Groundation together? There have been many players to pass through the doors.

It is very challenging. In fact most people are not really able to handle the pressures of touring. You have to be kind and very positive towards life to keep a band of so many musicians together. It’s true we have had many different people along for the ride; however, the foundation remains the same as of those who started the group: me on vocals and guitars, Ryan Newman on bass, Marcus Urani on keys, David Chachere on trumpet, and Jason Robinson on sax. Of course Kim Pommell on vocals from Kingston, Jamaica, has been a part of the group now for many years, as has our Maori drummer Te Kanawa Haereiti.

Tell me a little about the current lineup.

We have a new trombone man, Daniel Wlodarczyk, who is brilliant and carries songs like Weeping Pirates and Music is the Most High to even greater heights, and singer Sherida Sharpe, also from Kingston is like an older sister to Kim Pommell. In fact she was the first Jamaican female vocalist who began rehearsing the Groundation works back in 2005 so everything has come full circle.

What should we expect for your Byron Bay show?

Byron bay is gonna be on fire this night of the Groundation performance. Each one of our shows is unlike the previous: new songs, new solos, new collective improvisation. Expect to hear a reggae band that sounds different from anything you’ve known to be reggae and yet it will be welcoming. I expect the show to be full of positive energy that will stay with the people for many days and weeks to follow.

Wednesday February 5 at The Byron Bay Brewery. Supported by Tom Frager (France) and special guests.


Find this and many other great gigs in Echonetdaily’s North Coast Gig Guide.

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