The Natti Love Joys are old hands at reggae music. Husband and wife Sonia “Marla” and Anthony “Jaht” Allen performed in bands separately for years before meeting in New York, where Jamaica native Jaht provided bass backup to Londoner Marla’s band, the Love Joys. It was the start of a musical relationship that led to marriage and years of performing together around the country, playing shows with the likes of Joan Jett, Three Dog Night, The Ramones, the Psychedelic Furs and The Clash. They’ve participated in the three-year creation of a multimedia documentary about the band called “Non-Returning Status” and founded yearly camping reggae festival Camp Reggae.
The band returns to Cheaha Brewing Company Friday at 7 p.m., with their blend of roots reggae, that deals with the human condition, and lovers rock, focused on love and good times.
The Star spoke with the couple about performing with well-known musicians, their musical backgrounds and why Jamaican radio fears the power of reggae.
Q: You’ve opened up for huge names, and not just huge reggae names. How did you come to be on stage with these rock bands?
JAHT: Amazing. When we lived in New York City, we moved up to Woodstock, and it kind of helped us to meet a lot of different people. We met a booking agent, he’s the one that gave us this gig opening for Marshall Tucker Band, The Ramones, Psychedelic Furs and The Clash. They all came from one person, that booking agent.
Q: Who did you enjoy playing with the most?
J: That was Joan Jett. We did that twice at two different places.
MARLA: The first time we went it was fantastic, and she met us. She asked us if we wanted to perform again at another show she had and we said of course.
Q: Reggae has a very different vibe from rock and roll. Is it hard to open up a rock show?
J: It’s wild. A lot of the rock crowd, they get reggae, but they just get Bob Marley. So it was like a treat for a lot of them. A couple came up to us and said, “Wow, today we’re fans of your band.”
Q: How did you come to play reggae music?
M: When I was young, I was raised with reggae music in England. Even though I love American music, reggae was what made me feel good, made me want to be an artist.
Q: What was it about reggae that touched you?
M: Oh, the drum and the bass and the happy feeling — you want people dancing and they’re happy. It’s a happy music. It’s a conscious music.
J: Reggae in Jamaica, where I grew up, was kind of like news. Whatever happens in the community, you’ll hear it right there. It was different, not about romance or different things that a lot of different music had. It was protest music. It wasn’t played on the radio — American music, blues, gospel and no reggae. Bob Marley had to fight for the music to be played on the air. Some of the styles they still don’t play on the air because of the content.
Q: How do you think reggae became a platform that the Jamaican media fears?
J: Reggae speaks the truth — the plain, unadulterated truth. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything. That’s one of the things they don’t like about it.
Q: That punk-rock, brutal honesty is probably the No. 1 way to fit in with a rock crowd.
J: (laughs) Yes. A lot of protest lyrics are about political conditions, living conditions.
M: My group, Love Joys, did a lot of lovers rock — everybody has a good time, relax. But Jamaica has that political side.
J: Dancehall is kind of like hip-hop toward vanity, cars, girls — things. We don’t call that reggae.
Q: There is stuff like ska and rap-rock where elements of reggae mix with other styles. As a group that plays authentic reggae, what are your thoughts on that?
J: You’ve got the dubstep as well, a different beat, but the Jamaicans keep their protest lyrics on top if it. Talking for myself, personally as someone from Kingston — I’m from the old school. I hung out with Bob Marley and jammed on music with Bob Marley when I was younger, because his keyboard player was a neighbor, Tyrone Downie. That mindset, I don’t buy all this type of stuff and try to keep it roots rock because I know the reason for it, why it was created. Reggae will always be reggae, it’s not dubstep or dancehall.
Q: What keeps you touring the country with authentic reggae in a world that seems to want to blend everything together?
M: When I see people feel good, that’s what makes it worthwhile. I’m not putting anything negative in their heads. Kids can come see us, the young and old can come and watch and have a good time. That means a lot to me — and playing good music, that’s the greatest feeling.
IF YOU GO…
WHAT: Natti Love Joys
WHERE: Cheaha Brewing Company, downtown Anniston
WHEN: Friday, 7-11 p.m.
TICKETS: Show is free and open to all ages
INFO: Call Cheaha Brewing Company at 256-770-7300, and visit facebook.com/love.joys and campreggae.org for news and information about the band
British punk band The Clash included a song called "Police and Thieves" on their self-titled debut album, released in 1977.
It was the cover version of a hit from Jamaican reggae singer Junior Murvin. He released "Police and Thieves" a year before the Clash did their version.
Murvin died on Monday at the age of 67.
“That song is very much a product of its time,” says musician and filmmaker Don Letts, who was a DJ back in the 70s.
Letts is often cited as the man who — through reggae and ska 45s — bridged the worlds of the Jamaican rastas and London punks.
Because Junior Murvin wrote "Police and Thieves" in Jamaica, it's about what he saw there, says Letts.
“In Jamaica, in the early to mid 70s, there was a lot of political struggle. And there was a lot of gunfire on the streets ... a lot of it instigated by the politicians who were bringing in weapons onto the island and putting them in the hands of young kids that really didn't know what direction to point them in. So, it was very, very messy.”
"Police and Thieves" became Junior Murvin's big hit, charting in Jamaica and in the UK. When it came out, Murvin had already been singing for a while, Letts says.
“Like many Jamaican artists, he grew up as a child singer, like Curtis Mayfield who was very big and very popular on the island at that time. If I remember correctly, he was actually rejected by Lee Perry and the legendary Coxsone Dodd when he first auditioned for them," Letts adds. "And then he went off and had this small career, releasing a few singles for other producers, before he re-approached Perry with his self-penned 'Police and Thieves.'”
As it turned out, Perry also produced the Clash's version of Junior Murvin's song.
Punks and rastas as allies may seem strange now, but it wasn't at the time, Letts remembers.
“In the mid-70s, we had this punky reggae connection, which was very strange because you know they are two tribes from very different worlds," he says. "But we were like-minded rebels thrown together by circumstance and chance.”
And by Junior Murvin, with his song "Police and Thieves."
A few years after he and The Clash put out their respective versions of the song, Junior Murvin performed it on the British music show Top of the Pops.
To powerful effect, Letts says: “For him to actually chant and appear on this TV program with such a politicized song was a major achievement, not only for reggae, but for black people in this country, as well.”