The Rocks Off 200: Kyra Noons, Houston's Reggae Sunsplash
Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.
Who? For all its strengths as an international city, Houston has been suffering through a real dearth of quality homegrown roots-reggae acts for years. And one of its very few talented female artists in the genre hardly ever plays out around town.
Photos courtesy of Tony Noons
That would be Kyra Noons, also known as Neutral Sister. About a decade ago, Kyra and her baby sister Bianca were known as the Neutral Sisters, and were tapped by some to cross over into the pop marketplace. Eighteen months apart in age, they were featured in an August 2003 Houston Press cover story, around the time their album Live N Direct was released.
Aiding the Sisters on the album (produced by John "Pops" Dowling) were Sly N Robbie, the famed Jamaican bass-and-drums duo who have backed artists from Beenie Man and Grace Jones to No Doubt, Michael Franti and Sting. Live N Direct is still available on iTunes, and well worth seeking out; both the sisters' strong vocal interplay and the rubbery grooves hold up exceptionally well.
Born to a Jamaican mother and English father, the Neutral Sisters performed at various events like iFest, the opening of Toyota Center and the Main Street Block Party around Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. They became regulars at reggae festivals both in the States and the Carribbean, but Bianca sadly passed away in November 2008 after lingering in a diabetic coma for a year.
"I carry the torch onward and upward for us both now," Kyra says.
She's still out there all right. Kyra has released scattered singles like 2010's "Hold On Haiti," after the devastating earthquake that struck the impoverished Caribbean nation in January of that year. She also appeared at the 2013 JaGa Reggae Festival on the Island -- Jamaica-Galveston, get it? -- and as an opener at "Reggae Ambassadors" Third World's 40th-anniversary concert at Stereo Live last month.
She's even traveling to East Africa for several shows in December, including Nairobi's 7th annual Arts Festival. Now in her mid-thirties, Kyra was actually born in Kenya of British parentage and was raised outside of London. She moved to Jamaica at age 10, and attended high school in Montego Bay until departing for Houston. "Jamaica is very important to me," Noons says.
Good War Story: Kyra's choice is a Neutral Sisters gig opening for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in Jamaica while Bianca was still alive, she says.
"We were on a stage on Cornwall Beach in Montego Bay that was surrounded by people and there were no monitors on the stage," Noons explains. "We could not hear ourselves properly on the mikes, and there was such a delay on the sound that as we were singing we felt the song getting slower and slower, we were singing and hearing our own words seconds later!
"Luckily we were totally in sync with each other, and the song's strong message of putting down the guns and dealing with peace and not war seemed to stand out even more the slower we sang!" she adds. "It was a wonder, but we still got a great writeup in the local paper, thank God!"
More with Kyra on the next page.