In the midst of another cold snap – it’s been that kind of winter – jetting off to the Caribbean seems a very good idea. The next best thing, and much easier to arrange on short notice, is basking in the sounds for which the area is famous.
Errol Blackwood certainly recommends heading south, but the Canadian reggae legend will be on stage in Kitchener Friday night generating his own brand of warmth.
The concert is not only a way to chase away the mid-winter blahs, it’s a fundraiser in support of the raft of Caribbean countries hit by hurricanes. That February is Black History Month also adds to the spirit of the evening.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Blackwood has called Kitchener home since the 1970s, when he first got involved in music. It seems a strange happenstance at first, given the makeup of the population today, let alone 40 years ago, but it’s worked out well for him.
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The Kitchener connection began with a band called People’s Choice, formed by some Jamaican guys living in the city. Blackwood began coming out this way to jam with them, playing a weekly matinee show in Woodstock, of all places. He moved to Kitchener so he could perform more often.
In time, he began writing music, forming his own band, Messenjah, which went on to success in the early and mid-1980s. College campus shows were a mainstay in those days, he recalls.
“There weren’t a lot of bands like us around,” he laughs. “They didn’t know about that sound (reggae), and we mostly played universities and colleges.”
Since that time, Blackwood continues to produce new material that stays true to the authentic roots of reggae – think of Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. He says he’s not keen on what some reggae has become. Over the years, reggae and the music it influenced changed in tone, much like some of the early rap material became more negative and violent.
“Reggae was a totally different thing then. It was all about rastaman and peace and love. It was positive. Now it’s too negative,” he maintains. “The music before was the real music. The stuff we do, this is the real reggae.”
In Jamaican, there’s been a shift in some of the music, moving more to a dancehall sound, much of it that never makes it to the wider, mainstream music world. Bob Marley, still an icon, his brand of reggae still the most recognizable.
“He went universal. Everybody knows his songs – even the little kids today, they can sing them. He brought it (reggae) to the international stage,” says Blackwood.
His own sound still draws on that, along with blues and R&B. He grew up in Jamaica listening to a mix of music, from the likes of Elvis on the jukeboxes to what drifted in over the radio from the surrounding islands and even Miami, including jazz and latin music.
“And there were Jamaican folk songs, that spoke of slavery, redemption and freedom.”
All of those influences will be on display when Errol Blackwood and his Injah Band take to the stage Friday (February 9) at the Registry Theatre, in conjunction with the Our World Music Festival. Tickets are $22, available by calling 519-578-1570, or online at www.registrytheatre.com.