How did the lion become synonymous with reggae music? It's probably because Rastafarian's revere the Ethiopian king known as His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Or maybe it's just because the big cats are powerful and have cool-looking manes.
A pride of one-drop lions called the LionCamp Showcase brings a major blast of reggae, mostly local, to the Arcata Theatre Lounge Saturday night. What is the LionCamp? "It's basically the concept of Jah Sun and myself," said Ishi Dube, an unstoppable force in Humboldt reggae. "There are a lot of different crews within the reggae world. We thought we'd create one of our own. We looked for artists who can hold their own individually and have their own following."
Local dynamo Jah Sun has been working with Jamaican singer Stevie Culture (together they are Jah Culture), so Stevie was a natural. Brooklyn-born Rocker T is a reggae veteran currently working out of San Francisco; he throws in melodica along with his rhymes. Then there's Winstrong, who hails from Suriname (just north of Brazil) and now lives in Mendo, and two dudes from Hawaii: Jahworks the Revolutionary and SoulMedic. For the Arcata show the crew will have musical backing by Ishi's band, Massagana, and Jah Sun's Gravity Squad. Those who were a Reggae Rising got an idea of how it works: During Ishi's set, all but SoulMedic (who had another obligation) came out to drop rhymes and jump around the stage together. The effect was electric.
"Last Friday was the first time all seven of us performed together," said Ishi, who's back in Arcata after the LionCamp debut in Nevada City. This weekend they take the crew to the Monterey Reggae Festival, then zoom back to Humboldt for Saturday's ATL show.
In addition to performing together, they're also collaborating on recordings. "Each of us is constantly working on musical endeavors," said Ishi. "One of us will create a piece and record a little part on it, then we'll e-mail it to each other and all of us will add a part." For example? "The song, 'King of Kings' is on a beat that Stevie recorded. One by one, we each recorded a verse. We'll do that one Saturday night, and another based on a beat by Rocker T."
Why the lion? "The lion is this regal symbol of nobility, and we all try to live up to that -- and I emphasize try," said Ishi. "LionCamp is a brotherhood amongst musicians -- it's a way for all of us to band together and find strength in numbers in a difficult industry. We roar our message from the mountaintop."
I'm thinking the Arcata show will draw most local reggae fans, making it a rough night for the Jamaica Youth Foundation folks, who are bringing Jamaican singer Norrisman to the Red Fox Tavern that night.
The Red Fox has more reggae coming Tuesday, Sept. 8: Something they're calling as Ethiopian New Years Party with Sister Carol and Woven Roots. Apparently Ethiopians (and some Rastas) follow the Orthodox Julian calendar. However my research shows that their New Years (aka Enkutatash) is actually Sept. 11. Whatever.
Are you ready for some blues? The lucky 13th annual Blues by the Bay takes place this weekend. My good buddy Good Rockin' Derral lays out the details in our calendar section. For those who want a warm-up, I'll recommend the show Thursday, Sept. 3, at The Depot at HSU (downstairs in the University Center) with Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears. Joe is a blues/soul/funk whirlwind from Austin who got his start a couple of years ago mixing raw Texas blues with a dash of James Brown. His debut album, Tell ’Em What Your Name Is!, is like a mini blues festival swerving from the Bar-Kays-esque Memphis soul of "Gunpowder" to downhome blues on "Get Yo Shit" and on to N'Arlins funk on tunes like "Humpin'". Well worth checking out.
And for those who spend the day at the Blues Fest and still want more on Saturday night, the Kaye Bohler Band is back at the Wave Lounge. Just be sure to save some energy for Sunday.
The music of Vieux Farka Touré is a totally different kind of blues, but it's blues nonetheless. Vieux is the son of the late great Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré. While his father's music showed us the African roots of the blues -- see his recordings with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder -- Vieux brings things full circle with music that's gone to America, gone electric and returned to the Sahara. Particularly on his stellar release Fondo, young Vieux's sound is closer to a band like Tinariwen than to his dad's traditional music, and he takes things a step further adding sidetrips to reggae and funk and guitar solos reminiscent of Clapton. Don't miss his show at Mazzotti's Wednesday, Sept. 9.
For something more along the alt. blues roots line, there's a Thursday night show at Humboldt Brews with The Bridge from Baltimore, who throw bluegrass, funk, jazz and electronica in with their blues-rock. Thy share the bill with The Quick and Easy Boys, a trio from Portland, who ask you to "imagine The Minutemen, Funkadelic and Willie Nelson rolled into one." Hard to do, but maybe that's the point.
Over at the Jambalaya that same night, Panache pairs Bay area garage psyche trio Ty Segall (led by Ty) with JEFF The Brotherhood, a psyche-grunge duo from Nashville that spent the summer touring with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists before they joined forces with Ty. Follow their adventures at jeffbrotherhood.blogspot.com.
And for the Deadheads that night (Sept. 3), there's a Passion show at the Red Fox with Melvin Seals and JGB, aka "Keepers of the Flame" (that's also the name of their latest disc).
Wait, there's one more choice for that Thursday: a Bad Kitty rockabilly thing at the Pearl Lounge with The Sugar Daddys out of SoCal, The Hard Money Saints from Seattle, and Texas boy James Hunnicutt, who's in Wayne "The Train" Hancock's band when he's not playing solo.
The band name of the week award has to go to Gringo Star, a rock ’n' roll outfit from Atlanta that takes everything from Motown to Brit rock a la Kinks and Animals and pushes it into the punk rock blender. Also on the bill that night, San Diego's Dirty Sweet, and all the way from Eureka, The Common Vice.
At the Red Fox Sunday: the return of Zepparella, an all-female tribute to the music of Led Zeppelin. At www.zepparella.com the ladies provide an eloquent explanation of why they do what they do: "To be able to share this music with you, fellow fans and appreciators of the great Led Zeppelin, only gives it all the more meaning. We can't thank you enough for allowing us to tread on such holy ground. The music feels like a celebration to us."
Monday is Labor Day. If you get the day off, you'll want to head over to Los Bagels in Arcata for the annual benefit for the Arcata-Camoapa Sister City Project, the I-Block Party, a very Arcatan affair that mixes microbrews and BBQ with raffles, a silent auction and face-painting and other fun for kids. The soundtrack is provided by the M. Davis tribute band Miles Ahead and assorted local bands with a tropical feel: Papa Houli and the Fleas, SoHum's Lost Coast Marimbas, the samba drumming Janky Mallets and the Trinidad Elementary Steel Band.
Whether you're there or not, raise your glass (or paper cup) and toast the workers of the world -- after all, it's their day.