1. Reggae music is relatively young, barely more than 40 very intense years. We all know well what the 70’s, years in which reggae music was formed too, have given to music in general. We think, and we hope that you share this thought, that this musical genre is still in the midst of its research. It’s a living music! So, Groundation is an absolutely original symbol. Can you tell us how Groundation and their wonderful style were born?
Harrison (H) – We come from California which has been a huge base for Rasta and Roots Reggae since the early 1970’s; this is the home of the “Summer of Love” 1967, the anti-war movements, and the Black Panther Party. In 1972 Bob Marley and the Wailers were on their first US tour where Bob was opening the show for the headlining Sly and the Family Stone. Sly did not like the fact that the audience were leaving saying “man, what was that opening band?” so Bob and the Wailers were kicked off the tour. This is when the seed of Rasta was planted in the San Francisco Bay Area as members of Bob Marley’s entourage settled in the Bay Area, meeting people, and making a home in California. The members of GROUNDATION were born during this time (1967-1980) and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area listening to every style of music possible; Rock, Soul, Funk, Blues, Country, Hip-Hop, Salsa, etc. We came into music at a very early stage, 6-9-12 years old, and for me it was the sounds of Reggae music that sparked my spirit; it was a revolutionary sound calling out for more love and equality to reign on Earth and I wanted to be a part of it. However for other members like Ryan Newman (Bass), Marcus Urani (Keys), and David Chachere (Trumpet) is was the sounds from Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane that ignited their musical engines. [quote_left] “We come from California which has been a huge base for Rasta and Roots Reggae since the early 1970’s” [/quote_left] When we came into our College years we all wanted to study and learn more about the language of Music so we entered Sonoma State University to study in the Jazz program and earn our Jazz Performance degrees. Our professor was the great Mel Graves (livitated on the GROUNDATION album Here I Am) and he had a deep connection with music, time, and life, so we spent many, many hours each day together with Mel discussing music theory, concepts, and composition. There was a connection with Ryan, Marcus and I, and with the immortal words from Mel telling us to “find your own voice,” we came together in 1998 to begin GROUNDATION.
2. The union of Reggae and Jazz music give you an absolutely unique sound. There are those who call it “Spiritual Roots Reggae”, or “Progressive Reggae” and so on. Do you think that music, and your music in particular, can be framed into simple categories?
(H) – No…we try to avoid categories and just record what we feel is strong music worth cementing into an album.
3. The experience that you did between 1999 and 2001 is very interesting: in the same University in which Groundation found and developed themselves, the Sonoma State University in California, you taught in the first course of Reggae Music History. This seems to be a great victory. What can you tell us about?
(H) – The idea to teach the History of Reggae Music was inspired by the first Groundation drummer, Jason Bodlovich, who performed on our first album ‘Tribute to the Roots’ recorded in 1998. Jason just told said to me “man, you know so much about this music and history you should teach a course.” From there the seed was planted and I spent the next summer putting the course syllabus together and then the next semester I would meet with the head of the Music Department to work out all the details. The course was very popular; I had to limit the class size after the first semester. Everyone took the course, 18 year olds, 40 year olds, black, white, some knew a lot about Reggae and some had just heard of Bob Marley. It was a pleasure to teach the course and I enjoyed the time spent with the people, it was an opportunity to share something I loved very much.
4. Let’s talk of “Building An Ark”, seventh studio album of Groundation, soon to be released on 20th March. The title expresses the desire to “build an ark in order to preserve knowledge and positive consciousness”. This is an important mission, because music has always been instrumental in building society. Can you tell us something?
(H) – For sure music has been there since the dawn of history; it is the first, the original human language. Music can heal the sick, free the captive, and lift up the downtrodden. Within each person there beats a heart, our planet beats a pulse, and our solar system puts forth vibrations; everything is music. Reggae music is the music which is focused on the redemption of mankind into a world of love and justice for all. This is a slow progression, lifetimes, but you can see we are moving forward to a world in-harmony, based on the oneness of life, and we as GROUNDATION put forth this energy within every note, every beat, and every word of our music.
5. In the third teaser you say that “Building An Ark” is your greatest album. Personally, we agree with you. But, can you explain us why?
(H) – The energy for Building An Ark came together quit quickly and naturally, nothing needed to be forced, when we went for an idea or concept it was right there for us. This album started with an idea to incorporate very quiet, delicate, and simple moments while also achieving great big arrangements where all nine members are shinning bright. We put the focus on highlighting who we were as musicians, how to bring out the best in all of us; Chachere on trumpet, Te Kanawa on drums, Ryan on bass. Also the idea of bringing people together from all walks of life, and recognizing that good people and bad people are found in all societies and cultures. As we discussed these concepts together as a group we wanted to move forward with the positive good people and rally a place within the music where we all can be much stronger. Once Marcus and I sat together and started to jam an idea I had for some time, just this slow meditative groove with a strange, haunting melody “I’m building an Ark tonight…I hope we are ready;” It was then we knew the name of the record. Marcus Urani (Keyboards) and I worked together concepts he had with an intro I wrote years ago, a country song really, “you know what’s right, you’ve know for a while, oh I’ve got dreams to tell, dreams of you and no one else.” [quote_right] “Music is the first, the original human language” [/quote_right] Other tracks we worked on as a band, most songs Marcus and I worked on, a few I brought in, but the focus was to highlight the nine musicians of GROUNDATION. I think we stumbled upon great lyrical concepts and we really delivered clear, focused ideas. The music on Building An Ark is more what’s in our heads than any other album, all of us, everyone in the group can really stand behind the work; for all of these reasons it is our best effort to date.
6. What has changed since your debut in 1999, with “Young Tree”, to today?
(H) – Since 1999, the release of Young Tree, we have found ourselves. Those first few albums were just songs I had, these were more straight ahead, we did not develop a lot of the “through composed” concepts until later. Also it took new musicians to join the group to be able to execute these concepts. It is a reminder that nothing happens before the right time, today GROUNDATION is very strong and confident, all the musicians have their roles and everyone is really a master of their craft. After all these years we have learned how better to showcase the members of GROUNDATION and this creates a more complex and unified sound.
7. Listening to the disk, we were overtaken by a pleasant surprise. In Roots Reggae the use of female vocalists is an ordinary practice. Groundation do the same, but your female vocalists have a leading role than usual. It’s wonderful! Would you talk about it?
(H) – This was something Marcus and I have wanted to do for years, to use the female voice as a leading “featured” part of the song, finally in 2005 Kerry-Ann Morgan joined the group and then Kim Pommell in 2006. They have such unique voices, and this is something for me as a vocalist I strive to achieve, “what sets you apart from other vocalists?” When you listen to Kerry or Kim, they are instantly recognizable, they have a sound.[quote_left] “We wanted to move forward with the positive good people and rally a place within the music where we all can be much stronger” [/quote_left] In fact with the album Here I Am (2009) we began the process of incorporating female lead vocals, like in the title track with Kim finishing the story after a David Chachere’s trumpet solo. Now with ‘Building An Ark’ it was time for us to push further into the more balance sound between the male and female lead vocals, and I really feel Kim and Kerry’s voices and energy make the release that mush more rich and special.
8. When we talked about preserving knowledge and positive consciousness, an image of the contemporary Jamaican dancehalls came to our mind. Girls and boys in the grip of hard drugs and sexual, racist and homophobic deliriums. What do you think about it?
(H) – Hhhmmmm, you’re stumbling on a HUGE topic. We as a human race are suffering from a weakness of will power, of focus and concentration, and a strong sense of militancy. If you do not possess these things this life may and will lead you in a certain way, the wrong way. You can reason life in many ways, but there will be two outcome; ONE, life is done, the human race is corrupt and mankind will stumble its way into darkness, or TWO that we are in a moment of great positive change, and not everyone will make it, some are fallen and gone, and cannot be saved.
9. I would say that with Goundation, a legend of Reggae was born. In your website there is a section reporting all the disks that every reggae fan must have. Can we add “Building An Ark” too?
(H) – Hahaha, that’s not for us to say…we just put our best music forward to the people in hopes that it will inspire.
10. Can you talk us about the cover art of Building an ark? It’s a very particular picture. What the author, Giovanni Maki, wanted to represent?
(H) – The “Conch Shell” concept for this album came very slowly…lots of work between Giovanni and I. In the beginning we were just brain storming ideas and wanted to stay way from Noah and a BIG boat image. Then was the idea of Joshua and the shofar (Rams horn) call that broke down Jericho walls, the idea of a musical sound to rally people, and this lead us to the Island Nations that use the conch shell to bring the community together to celibate. Also the fact that the first real home of protection that ANY living thing ever built was the sea shell, and the shell image is made up of a celestial image representing the vastness of the universe, as the shell represents the very small.
11. Thanks for your kindness! See you in Sicily! Big up and one love!
(H) – When will GROUNDATION perform in Sicily! We would LOVE to go there! Blessings, Harrison.
(Riccardo Passantino, Claudio Azzarello)