HPMA Nominees School Us On Reggae & Ska

Categories: HPMA

Graphics by Monica Fuentes
I love all music, but admit some genres draw the short straw when it's time for me to tune in. Reggae and ska are a couple of those styles I'd like to know more about. Who better to ask than the proficient artists in this Houston Press Music Awards category to help expand my playlists beyond Bob Marley and Streetlight Manifesto?

Photo courtesy of Brains For Dinner
Brains For Dinner
Brains for Dinner originally formed in 2005 as a punk band, hence the punk-ish name, but soon morphed past ska and right into traditional reggae. Over the years, it's featured some of the city's busiest and best-known musicians.

A spokesperson, commenting as the collective Brains for Dinner, said "while most of its members have other projects, Brains For Dinner has always been a constant, unifying all people through reggae music."

Caddywhompus' Sean Hart, Curran Rehm of the The Riff Tiffs, Dane Foltin, Greg Butera and Amirah Ramsey formed the original band. Ramsey was a gifted singer who earned Texas University Intersholastic League accolades.

"Amirah was a beautiful soul and an immensely talented singer, however the band only played one amazing show with her," says BFD. "Soon after, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, slipped into a coma then passed away in 2006. Though the band has changed a lot since then, we like to think that we honor Amirah by continuing to play the music she helped us to create."

Along the way, King Shanty, Evan Demonte The Tontons' Asli Omar, Ashley Davis of The Manichean, Fat Tony and many others have been featured or contributing members. Recently, Brains for Dinner opened for international reggae act Inner Circle and is now looking forward to "an all-star 10 year anniversary show." They selected their own track, ""Real Rasta," as an influential song we reggae-starved music fans should check out.

"In this song King Shanty defines what being a Real Rasta is about," explains the band. "In the song he turns the word 'Rasta' into an acronym to break it down for the youth. 'R' is for the 'revolutionary', 'A,' 'absolute never scary', 'S is 'Jah Salvation', 'T' 'the trinity from the Almighty One' and 'A' an 'African direction.'"

Photo by James Herrington/Lucid Arts Photography
Cassette Tape
I waited a day, then two and a third for the members of Cassette Tape to provide a pair of songs that have influenced the band. I know these guys stay very busy, so I wasn't exactly holding my breath for a reply.

I had caught them earlier this year at the Katy Crawfish Festival. That was an early morning gig, so early that only a half-dozen folks caught their self-described "psychedelic reggae experience." Although few people wanted crawfish for breakfast that morning, Cassette Tape played an inspired set. It was also the first of three shows they played that day alone.

When they're not gigging together, the band's members host various open-mike nights. Maybe because of their island-heavy sound, they play lots of shows on our own tropical paradise, Galveston. They're out there, making music and friends and contacts for whatever might come next. The band's guitarist/vocalist, Matt Cash, made an 11th-hour call to apologize for the holdup. It turns out Cassette Tape's loaded schedule actually wasn't the reason for the delay.

"As a group, we just couldn't decide on two songs," Cash said. "All of us come from completely different musical backgrounds and we just happen to infuse reggae into everything that we do. It's like nothing you've ever heard before."

Story continues on the next page.

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Haha, every one of them ducked the question?  Lawls!

Cool to get some good recs out of the comment thread, though.


This whole article confuses me!  The majority of the bands mentioned songs they wrote and perform.  Isnt the article about getting deeper into "Real" Reggae? Nothing after 1975 is real reggae and certainly not rocksteady.   My suggestion is for you to dig deep into Studio 1.  Anything from Studio 1 but mainly stuff from the 60's.  They are the originators of reggae or rocksteady, and I'm sure all these bands would agree. 


@RoosterMcGee wholeheartedly disagree that music after 1975 cannot be considered "real reggae". Several great reggae records were released well into the 80's. The Congos' Heart of the Congos, Lee Perry's Super Ape, Culture's Two Sevens Clash, Jah Thomas' Dance Pon the Corner, King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, the list goes on. By the mid 80's the dancehall sound had turned a bit more electronic and groups like Black Uhuru, Sly and Robbie and Third World were using American studio techniques to completely alter the sound of reggae music, generally. There have been revivals, over the years, in many countries, and often by the original 70's artists (Jimmy Cliff just released a great record). But those are more from a revisionist perspective with American and British musicians and may not really be technically the same music. That's for a discussion over a 6 of Red Stripe, though.

Quality Rocksteady music was made clear into the 80's by some of the original artists who refused to adopt the new reggae styles (Justin Hinds and the Dominoes' Travel with Love album released on Greensleeves comes to mind). Then again, the argument can be made that Rocksteady was really more of a time period than a standalone genre as Lloyd Bradley maintains in his book "This is Reggae Music".

But, yes Studio One is a great starting point. The Trojan box sets from the early to mid 2000's are also fantastic. Blood and Fire records was recently rebooted. A bit nerdy and esoteric, but they have rereleased some of the finest vintage Jamaican music ever. 


@adamrcastaneda @RoosterMcGee ...I agree that I exagerated saying nothing after 1979 is "real" reggae, but the % of "real" reggae after the 70's is so slim compared to the early stuff from the 60's / 70's.  I can name 100's of albums from those 2 decades and only a handful from the 80's that were truely great.  My whole point was to find "great" reggae you have to go to the origin and work your way back to present era.  I'm just a huge fan of early Studio 1 and I'm obviously biased.  I just can't bring myself to listen to stuff put out today. 

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