Friendlyness and Bernie Pitters at Bob Marley Tribute Feb 5th 2011 photo: skyephotography
I would say reggae is the most internationalized style of popular music. It has captured the imagination of rhythm and song enthusiasts in the most remote lands and most densely populated spots of our world. The joy, uplifting and deep sounds of Jamaican music never fail to move those who like dance and the themes of resistance, sustenance, love and devotion that roots reggae inspires in many of us.
Toronto has reggae. I remember back in the day, at an 888 Dupont studio sound clash I saw Supercat kill it on the mic. I remember Lion Heart Studios. Many artists have filmed videos and recorded albums in Toronto (Sean Paul among them). And with such a large Jamaican and Caribbean community in the GTA, many people in Toronto have a certain affinity towards the reggae sound . More than a few citizens from a greater demographic connect with the rhythms. College radio shows like Patrick Roots’ Reggae Riddims on CIUT keep it alive and strong, and Chocolate’s show Rebel Music and Ron Nelson’s Reggaemania from the old CKLN educated thousands in their time. There is home grown talent all over the city. Among the finest is Friendlyness and the Human Rights, who will be featured at Uma Nota’s next event at the Great Hall on Friday April 27th.
The Human Rights: Eric Woolston, Drums. Tyler Wagler, Bass. Ben Macdonald, Sax and Keyboards. Friendlyness, Chant. Bernie Pitters, Keyboards. Jason, Guitar. Patric, Horn. Graham Campbell, Guitar.
We asked Friendly for his perspective on reggae in Toronto and our culture of music and events.
What (if anything) makes Toronto’s reggae scene unique?
“Yes I. Maybe the diversity represented is the uniqueness of the TO scene. Rockers and oldies nights, dub nights, dance-hall nights, roots and new roots reggae nights all have their place and their crowd that supports them. There has been a lot of DJ nights and I’m happy to say it seems like the live band aspect is starting to pick up again after being dormant for a while. Either that or it’s the hypocrisy and back biting, joker promoters, lack of support from local media, lack of venues and some other bullshit that I would hope is absent in other reggae scenes.”
What is it about Toronto that makes it fertile ground for the scene we have?
“Ha! Ok, fertile ground for scenario 1, or scenario 2? For the former, it’s the people who love this music in all its forms who come out and make the events happen. For the latter, anywhere you go you’ll find hypocrites and jokers, so you can’t get away from that, but as for the ‘Reggae-phobia’ on the part of the local media, I don’t know. You’d have to ask them about that. Feels like everything is under some corporate control so they don’t really want to big up this music that’s exposing or criticizing them.”
Do you think it’s compartmentalized? Why is it so spread out?
“It’s only spread out to the extent that the city is spread out and ever expanding. People go to events in the west end because they live in the west end. Same for the east, same for uptown, same for downtown. Only when there is a really big event or artist performing do you find people travel from all about to wherever that event is being held.”
Do reggae artists in Toronto reach out past their own community?
“Oh yeah! Lots of Artists from Toronto are getting international attention and some even travel and tour all over the world. Artists like Tréson, Dubmatix, Exco Levi, Tanya Mullings, Tony Anthony, Blessed, Korexion, Elaine ‘L’il Bit’ Sheppard’ just to name a few. Friendlyness and the Human Rights made it onto some Reggae charts in Italy and got a really good review in a German reggae magazine called Irie Up.
If you’re talking about reggae artists reaching out past their own reggae community to other genres here in Toronto, I’d say not that much. Not that there is an unwillingness, but reggae is so fringe already that reggae is marketed as reggae to people who love reggae. F&THR does it a little different. We like branching out to different scenes as well as playing for our reggae fans. We’ve done shows with Aline Morales (Brazilian), Yuka (jazz funk), Islove (check him out!), Isla Craig and the New Civilization. Good music is good music, y’know?”
The short story of Friendly and Human Rights? When did group come together?
“JAH put the band together in the late part of 2007 and our first official gig was opening for the great Gregory Isaacs at the Phoenix on March 10, 2008! What a blessing. We’ve had a couple guys come and go due to obligations and relocations, but Eric (drums), Bernie (keys), Tyler (bass), and Graham (guitar) have been there from the get-go and now we’re blessed to have Ben (sax), Pat (trumpet) and JT (guitar) to fill out the sound and the vibes, and we’ve been playing like this, as an eight-piece for a couple of years now. Real Band of Brothers. Really coming together.”
Any special vibes for Uma Nota?
“Big vibes for Uma Nota! We’re honoured to be in the Uma Nota show and hopefully we’ll win over some new fans if they haven’t heard us before. We’ve got a couple of new songs we’ve been working on and we really want to give the people something special so we’ve been working hard. Blessed love to all and looking forward to this! JAH bless, 1Ness.”