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Betting on reggae 

32 Bleu brings big-time Caribbean sounds to Colorado Springs

It's a routine that reggae lovers play out countless times during the summer months: You pile into the car an hour and a half before showtime and head north on Interstate 25. At about the point where the speed limit jumps to 75 mph, you breath a sigh of relief knowing you'll soon be in a place where the variety of live music options can be, thankfully, taken for granted.

While the opening of 32 Bleu late last year and the eclectic mix of national and local music acts it attracts has been a godsend to music lovers of all genres (thus drastically reducing the need to travel to Denver for great music), reggae has been conspicuously absent from the bill. And without any other venues in town picking up the slack, it often leaves reggae fans in the cold.

Jason Spears, co-owner and talent buyer at 32 Bleu, said that because Colorado Springs has next to no history of booking big-name reggae acts, trying to schedule such shows that require high ticket sales can be a huge risk.

"Any non-mainstream market is a big unknown and working off of no history of top reggae artists in Colorado Springs is a crapshoot," said Spears. "We had to build up our courage with other acts before booking reggae shows, and we still don't know if it's viable."

Luckily for reggae fans, it's a bet Spears is making this summer with a lineup of four of the biggest names in reggae: Eek-A-Mouse (July 10), Capleton (July 29), Ziggy Marley (Aug. 7), and the Skatelites (Aug. 22).

Appropriately enough, Eek-A-Mouse (aka Ripton Hilton) is himself an artist with a penchant for gambling. His stage name, as it were, comes from a losing racehorse that he bet on in his younger years. The one time he refused to bet on it, the horse won. His friends razzed him calling him Eek-A-Mouse and the name stuck.

Arguably the most dynamic and entertaining of the four acts slated to stop in the Springs throughout the summer, Eek-A-Mouse stands at 6'6'' and commands the stage with anything but a mouse's presence. Normally categorized as dancehall, he sticks to roots-reggae themes utilizing the self-invented sign-jay delivery -- a bizarre and unique style using nonsensical syllables (e.g., bing-bing-bong) -- along with a focus on simple storytelling. Moreover, where many dancehall performers rely on synthesized beats, Eek-A-Mouse always uses a full instrumental band to produce the heavy dub accompaniment typical of his sound.

As much a performer as he is a musician, the Mouse also adds a cache of flamboyant costumes to his stage show, camping it up as everything from a cowboy to a Mexican bandit and even Robin Hood.

The next big reggae act to stop in on the Colorado Springs scene will be Capleton, a dancehall favorite who has collaborated with rap stars like Method Man and Q-Tip. Capleton brings a strong Rastafarian ideology and is an advocate of the teachings of the Jamaican national hero Marcus Garvey.

While Eek-A-Mouse and Capleton are known almost exclusively in the reggae community, Spears is counting on the Marley family name recognition to attract concertgoers to Ziggy Marley, son of the legendary Bob Marley.

"Ziggy was an easy decision," said Spears. "He's huge and is going to appeal to the non-hard-core reggae fans."

Finally, 32 Bleu will finish its first foray into the reggae scene and come full circle in the genre, with the grandfathers of reggae, The Skatalites, on Friday, Aug. 22. The Skatalites are the quintessential ska band, and the musical shift from ska to reggae is generally credited to Skatalite members after the band broke up in 1965. Luckily for the reggae world, and reggae fans in the Pikes Peak region, the band reformed in the '80s with four of its original members and kept its crisp and vibrant sound.

--Aaron Menza

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