By Shelah Moody
Photos by Lee Abel, www.LeeAbelPhotography.com
“Roots music is the foundation; you can’t pick fruit from a tree and nah water the roots, you know.”—Kumar Bent, Raging Fyah
“I hope this isn’t another Jah-praising pro-ganja pretty boy band with dreads.”
This was my first thought before entering the New Parish in Oakland (on November 23rd) to see Raging Fyah for the first time. Emcee DJ Smoky, who presents the wildly popular Reggae Sundays at New Parish, took the stage and announced that this was not like any other Reggae Sunday; and introduced the band with enough vigor to start a fyah indeed.
I was proven wrong once again. Yes,they are good looking men, and they do advocate the health benefits of marijuana, but Raging Fyah is also an intelligent well-rounded collective of musicians who came out of the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in New Kingston, Jamaica. Growing up in Kingston, they learned from the great ones and are well versed in roots reggae, dub, lovers’ rock and what is now classified as “reggae revival” music.
Lead vocalist Kumar Bent, on rhythm guitar, reminds you of young David Hinds of Steel Pulse sans the massive dread. Veteran musician Courtland “Gizmo” White (lead guitar), Delroy “Pele” Hamilton, (bass) Demar Gayle (keyboards), Patrick Anderson (drums) and Kumar Bent (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) deliver blended harmonies, dance music and uplifting messages that keep the crowd grooving all night long. Their set list included original songs and crowd favorites “Judgement Day,” and “Irie Vibe,” “Nah Look Back” and “Barriers.” This writer’s personal favorite is “Behold,” based on the Jamaican gospel song “Behold I Live for Evermore.”
Since 2011, Raging Fyah has released two albums, Judgement Day: Music for the Rebels and Destiny. Their next album, Everlasting, produced by Raging Fyah and Llamar “Riff Raff” Brown, known for his work on Stephen Marley’s Grammy winning albums Mind Control and Revelation Part I: The Root of Life, will be released in the spring of 2016.
Yes, you should never judge a band by their promo picture. Another surprise was finding out that they are managed by Lukes Morgan, longtime guitarist for the roots reggae band Morgan Heritage.
“I first saw Raging Fyah when Jamaica had its 50th (independence) anniversary celebration at O2 Arena in England; they actually opened for Morgan Heritage,” said Lukes. “From that time, my eyes were on them. They played Summer Jam two years ago and I actually discovered their performance on YouTube. I reached out to them and got a hold of Pele, the bass player. From there, we were moving; we decided that we were going to do some work together. Things have just been progressing ever since.”
At the New Parish gig, we found Lukes working the sound board during the show.
“I’m just filling in on their California promo tour,” Lukes joked. “I actually know engineering but it’s not my forte. I used to do it in our studio in Brooklyn, NY, so it’s something that I’m used to.”
In fact, Lukes feels quite comfortable working behind the scenes.
“Oh, It’s beautiful,” he said. “I love the business side. Even when I’m on stage as a member of Morgan Heritage, as soon as I’m finished, I go right into business mode.”
More than 20 years ago, a young band of siblings with a fresh, R&B/dancehall/pop infused style of reggae—Morgan Heritage—burst onto the scene with their debut album, Miracles, (produced by Bobby Digital) and released on a major label, MCA. (On Dec. 7, it was announced that Morgan Heritage was nominated for the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Reggae album for Strictly Roots, on the CTBC Music Group label).
“It’s like a full circle,” said Lukes. “Morgan Heritage came out during a time when dancehall was at its peak. And then you had roots artists like Sizzla, Garnett Silk and Capleton. After a while, dancehall rise again. We give thanks to the youth dem like Chronixx, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid and Raging Fyah. The circle has come back around; that’s why they’re calling it a reggae revival. It’s a revival of people’s awakening, of roots reggae. Roots reggae music runs the world; the world loves reggae music. Nothing is new in life, everything is a cycle.”
Backstage after the show, Reggae Festival Guide caught up with some of the band members as they were cooling down in the green room. Pele and Patrick reflected on their Edna Manley experience.
“We were enrolled in the same classes back in 2005,” said Pele. “We realized that we had the same passion for music; we shared similar ideas and ideologies, so we decided to put them together and create our own music.”
As half of the rhythm section, Patrick says he listens to famed drummer Sly Dunbar almost every day. “My Edna Manley experience was learning, learning, learning the root of music,” said Patrick. It’s always a good thing to know music wide, to study wide.”
According to Pele, Raging Fyah has a wide range of influences, including U.K. reggae bands Steel Pulse and Aswad.
“Aswad is one of my favorite groups out of the U.K.,” said Pele. “Back home, our influences were the Wailers, Third World, you name it. Gizmo is a big fan of rock music.”
I also asked the band members to define roots music.
“Roots music is the people’s music,” said Patrick. “It’s the voice of the oppressed. It tells a story; it’s social commentary, so whatever you want to talk about can be roots music.”
“The heartbeat of roots music is love, drum and bass with a tight rhythm section,” said Pele.
In terms of influences, Kumar goes back to the basics: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and of course David Hinds and Steel Pulse. Full circle. Kumar studied piano and voice at the Edna Manley. He has been playing the rhythm guitar for a few years now.
According to Pele, the band received its moniker in 2009, when they used to rehearse in Stand Pipe, a subdivision of Kingston.
“The owner of the place, his name was Raging, and the people in the community would pass and say ‘That’s Raging band rehearsing.’ Gradually, the name caught on, and we said, ‘woi, it feel like a fyah raging within.’”
During Raging Fyah’s encore, Kumar delivered a version of Lloyd Park’s love song “Conversation,” made popular by the Mighty Diamonds. Incidentally, Gizmo toured with the Mighty Diamonds back in the day. Gizmo said that roots music is his life. He feels the modern day reggae revival of conscious young artists delivering spiritual messages goes back to pocomania, a Jamaican spiritual folk music. Full circle.
For more information on Raging Fyah, go to their website: www.ragingfyah.com. Like them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/raging.fyah.