I love all music, but admit some genres draw the short straw when it's time for me to tune in. Reggae and ska are a couple of those styles I'd like to know more about. Who better to ask than the proficient artists in this Houston Press Music Awards category to help expand my playlists beyond Bob Marley and Streetlight Manifesto?
BRAINS FOR DINNER
Brains for Dinner originally formed in 2005 as a punk band, hence the punk-ish name, but soon morphed past ska and right into traditional reggae. Over the years, it's featured some of the city's busiest and best-known musicians.
A spokesperson, commenting as the collective Brains for Dinner, said "while most of its members have other projects, Brains For Dinner has always been a constant, unifying all people through reggae music."
Caddywhompus' Sean Hart, Curran Rehm of the The Riff Tiffs, Dane Foltin, Greg Butera and Amirah Ramsey formed the original band. Ramsey was a gifted singer who earned Texas University Intersholastic League accolades.
"Amirah was a beautiful soul and an immensely talented singer, however the band only played one amazing show with her," says BFD. "Soon after, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, slipped into a coma then passed away in 2006. Though the band has changed a lot since then, we like to think that we honor Amirah by continuing to play the music she helped us to create."
Along the way, King Shanty, Evan Demonte The Tontons' Asli Omar, Ashley Davis of The Manichean, Fat Tony and many others have been featured or contributing members. Recently, Brains for Dinner opened for international reggae act Inner Circle and is now looking forward to "an all-star 10 year anniversary show." They selected their own track, ""Real Rasta," as an influential song we reggae-starved music fans should check out.
"In this song King Shanty defines what being a Real Rasta is about," explains the band. "In the song he turns the word 'Rasta' into an acronym to break it down for the youth. 'R' is for the 'revolutionary', 'A,' 'absolute never scary', 'S is 'Jah Salvation', 'T' 'the trinity from the Almighty One' and 'A' an 'African direction.'"
I waited a day, then two and a third for the members of Cassette Tape to provide a pair of songs that have influenced the band. I know these guys stay very busy, so I wasn't exactly holding my breath for a reply.
I had caught them earlier this year at the Katy Crawfish Festival. That was an early morning gig, so early that only a half-dozen folks caught their self-described "psychedelic reggae experience." Although few people wanted crawfish for breakfast that morning, Cassette Tape played an inspired set. It was also the first of three shows they played that day alone.
When they're not gigging together, the band's members host various open-mike nights. Maybe because of their island-heavy sound, they play lots of shows on our own tropical paradise, Galveston. They're out there, making music and friends and contacts for whatever might come next. The band's guitarist/vocalist, Matt Cash, made an 11th-hour call to apologize for the holdup. It turns out Cassette Tape's loaded schedule actually wasn't the reason for the delay.
"As a group, we just couldn't decide on two songs," Cash said. "All of us come from completely different musical backgrounds and we just happen to infuse reggae into everything that we do. It's like nothing you've ever heard before."
IDIGINIS wanted to thank the HPMA nominating committee for its inclusion on the 2014 ballot. Those who've followed the band since its formation in 2008 would say it's a well-earned recognition of their work ethic. One recent weekend, they played an 8 p.m. set at Bohemeo's, packed up and played an 11 p.m. show at Royal Hall, packed up again and hit the road for Dallas, to play at the Hoop-It-Up event there. You can catch them next at the Caribbean Rum Fest August 16 at downtown's Jones Plaza.
Aauzraam Levi, Dizzy Bootz, Michael J. Phillips, Terence Martinez, Sangone Diagne, Jomo, Nevelle O'Brady and Junior Gil make up the band. Phillips answered on their behalf, with a pair of their own songs as influential tracks to check out.
"Our first song has to be 'Jah Kingdom Come,' from our first album, Suspended Animation, which can be found on iTunes. 'Jah Kingdom Come', simply put, is a song about the coming of the Creator.
"Our second song is 'Decisions,' from our newest album being released in August of this year," Phillips continues. "'Decisions' touches on the choices we've made in our lives. Right or wrong, we have to live with them."
"The reggae vibe is growing, as well as the numbers in the IDIGINIS army of souljahs, here in the U.S. and abroad," he concludes. "When you hear IDIGINIS' music, the message is clear, reggae music in Texas is real."
The Suspects have got a deal for you, Houston.
"We recorded four CDs back in the 1990s. We have boxes of those CDs in our garage, and we'll gladly give you one in exchange for your vote," says Bill Grady, jokingly answering on the band's behalf. [Note: HPMA voting is now closed anyway.]
These forebearers of Houston ska and reggae don't need to bribe fans. With more than 20 years and an HPMA already to their name -- Best Reggae/World Act all the way back in 1999 -- they're sure to garner their share of votes.
"Asking the Suspects to agree on two of anything is asking too much," says Grady. "Instead, we are prepared to suggest the two best local-regional-Texas ska songs that we can think of right now."
They chose the Grown-Ups' "Bajaj In the Garage" and Middlefinger's ""Celibate Brine."
"The Grown-Ups ruled the north Texas ska scene in the early '90s," Grady explains. "'Bajaj In The Garage' is from their 1993 self-titled cassette demo, re-released on CD in 1997, and is an excellent example of the original lineup's fun, ska-centric point of view."
Grady says Middlefinger was "not so much a supergroup, but more like a master race of punk, metal and ska. None more fun, and none more live -- we pray for reunion show announcements."
"We feel a little weird being the only ska band nominated in our category," he say. "We didn't plan on playing ska for 20 years, but we're glad it turned out this way. We love you all."