Take the heavy drum and bass sound of Caribbean music, add a dash of Soul, a pinch of Pop, a spoonful of Jazz, a splash of Hip Hop, a bit of Jewish culture, and some Asian drumming, and you have the kind of uniquely funky musical stew that can only be found in heart of New York City’s multi-ethnic melting-pot. The Brooklyn Music Festival, slated for Floyd Bennett Field on June 21st, celebrates Caribbean-American Heritage Month with an eclectic line-up of Caribbean and Caribbean-inspired artists for a tasty musical soufflé that is bound to delight the taste buds of Brooklyn’s multi-cultural communities.
Officially recognized by the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President in 2006, the month of June marks a 30-day celebration of the cultural impact and influence of Caribbean immigrants and Caribbean-Americans in United States. Famed Caribbean music promoter George Crooks has initiated the annual Brooklyn Music Festival as a day-long cultural celebration featuring the best of Caribbean music, food, arts and crafts, and entertainment for Brooklyn and New York City residents.
With Reggae-fusion acts like Asian band Brown Rice Family, the ‘original Jew-maican’ BennyBwoy, acclaimed actor Leon and his Reggae-Soul band The Peoples, ‘Skragga’ musicians The Rudie Crew, Ska musician King Django, and the New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble, Crooks has taken the Brooklyn Music Festival beyond the typical Reggae/Dancehall staging to present local artists heavily inspired by New York’s vibrant Caribbean community.
“This music festival brings together the best in Caribbean music-not just from the Caribbean, but from the Caribbean – influenced neighborhoods right here in New York,” states Crooks. “Caribbean music isn’t just island music. We purposely scheduled the concert in June — Caribbean Heritage Month; we want New Yorkers as a whole to celebrate Caribbean music and culture.”
“When I was thirteen years old, I heard Bob Marley’s Natty Dread album coming from my next door neighbor’s window,” states accomplished actor and native New Yorker Leon, most noted for his roles in the films Cool Runnings, Waiting to Exhale and Cliffhanger, and his portrayal of music icons David Ruffin and Little Richard in the television films The Temptations, and Little Richard. “I just sat underneath the window listening, mesmerized by the sound. From that moment on I sought out every known Reggae artist.”
“I was living in Far Rockaway and had a few Jamaican friends that introduced me to Dancehall in the late ’80s,” states BennyBwoy. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish home, BennyBwoy was not only attracted to the sounds of Reggae, but to the cultural tenants that inspired the music.
“The culture that surrounds Reggae has roots that follow a lot of the tenants of the Five Books of Moses — the Torah. Most of the early artists were influenced by Rastafari and considered themselves part of the Tribe of Judah. So there are nuff (enough) similarities between our cultures.”
Both Leon and BennyBwoy have fused their cultural backgrounds with Reggae/Dancehall to create that kind of unique and experimental sound that New York musicians are noted for.
“Leon and the Peoples is a Reggae band that plays Reggae/Soul music,” states Leon. “Reggae is the soundtrack to my life’s story. The infusion of Soul and even Rock music to our roots of Reggae is only being true to who I am. I grew up on it all, but it was Reggae that made me want to sing.”
Yuichi Iida, a Japanese-born member of the Brown Rice Family, literally bumped into Reggae on the sidewalk in New York City. A trained Japanese drummer, Iida was introduced to Reggae music and Jamaican culture from a Jamaican drummer on a city sidewalk.
“”I saw his group playing outside in the street then I was like, ‘Wow!’ I never seen that kind of groovy drum and then that reached my heart,” Iida said in a recent interview with NY1’s Jeanine Ramirez. “I was inspired strong and I was like, ‘I want to be like that.'”
Classifying the group’s sound as ‘world roots music,’ the Brown Rice Family consists of members of Japanese, Korean, Nigerian, and Jamaican backgrounds.
“At a Brown Rice Family event, you will surely experience many rhythms of the one world,” says Korean native Joe Jang of the Brown Rice Family. “There will be Reggae, Ska, Rock, Jazz, African/Jamaican traditional drums, Korean traditional drum, Dancehall, and much more.”
Roy Radics, lead vocalist of the New York-based band the Rudie Crew, classifies his band’s sound as ‘Skragga’ –a fusion of Jamaican musical forms Ska and Rocksteady with Bluebeat, British Two-Tone, Soul, Funk, and Jazz, in addition to Reggae and Dancehall.
“We play both Reggae and Ska, but unlike some of the other Ska bands around, we incorporate a Ragga/Dancehall feel, which comes from my ‘sing-jay’ and fast-style mc-ing,” states Radics. “We are both Reggae and Ska, so we can only classify it as Skragga.”
“The Brooklyn Music Festival celebrates Caribbean music, whether it be Japanese-Caribbean, Jewish-Caribbean, or Rocksoulskajazzrap-Reggae music,” jokes Crooks. “As we Jamaicans like to say, it’s all ‘One Love.'”