The Northwest has never been recognized as the world music center of the U.S.
But as the scene in this part of the country continues to grow and diversify, a host of reggae, soca, calypso and African music bands keep popping up. In many cases, they’re finding regional success.
Seattle’s Jumbalassy, which plays the Panida Theatre in Sandpoint tonight and Outback Jack’s in Spokane on Saturday night, is, without a doubt, the region’s most successful and popular reggae/soca combo.
Boasting one of the most highly touted live shows around, the eightpiece unit draws crowds that number into the thousands at concerts. Further, judging from the exponential growth at concerts, Jumbalassy’s popularity has yet to reach its peak.
What’s impressive about the band’s strong, almost religious following is that it was achieved through constant gigging and word of mouth.
“There aren’t any (radio) stations out here that carry the kind of music we play,” said vocalist Alex Duncan in a phone interview last week. “We have generated huge crowds from word-of-mouth because we’re not getting any airplay.”
Between weekend shows, Jumbalassy is recording two new albums, one reggae and one soca.
The reason for putting out two different albums is because fans frequently confuse Jumbalassy as solely a reggae band. With two albums “we can educate the world about the difference between the two musics,” said Duncan, who moved from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts to the U.S. a couple of years ago.
“A lot of people really don’t understand the difference between the music we play. They call it reggae music, when it’s not all reggae music,” explained the lead singer. “One’s reggae and one is soca music.”
So what’s the difference between the two Caribbean styles?
Soca, which has its roots in the island of Trinidad, combines soul and calypso and is fast-paced style of dance music. Reggae, which originated in Jamaica, formed out of ska (another Jamaican style) and rock and is often slower than soca, though still quite dance-friendly.
Both albums, yet to be titled, should be in stores in the late summer. Jumbalassy will release a couple of EPs in the summer as a precursor to the full-length releases.
Jumbalassy’s captivating sound hasn’t gone unnoticed, and commercial success might be looming. A couple of major labels have been sniffing around.
Signing to a big label would fulfill a major dream for Duncan, even if it means criticism from his peers. Reggae artists Ini Kamoze and Supercat, both recent signees, have been called sell-outs by purists for crossing their sound into mainstream pop.
“People tell me, ‘oh they’re just trying to make money,”’ said Duncan. “As a poor man coming from a little island and having nothing at all, you got to think about that this man (Kamoze) had nothing. He’s got to work and sweat. That’s why you do what you got to do to work.
“If you sit on the side and beg, they call you a beggar. But as soon as you work and do something to prove yourself, they call you a sell-out. I don’t understand this world.”
Jumbalassy performs at 8 tonight at the Panida. Tickets are $9, $7 for students 18 and under. Saturday the band plays at 10 p.m. at Outback’s. Tickets are $8 and are available at Outback’s.
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