We live in a world that accepts American hip-hop as authentic but American reggae as flaccid. Sort of like looking for french fries in Chinatown–sure you can find it, but it’s not the best, so why bother? American reggae has had a hard time finding an international audience that deem their music as authentic and as real as Marley, Tosh, or Beenie Man. There are subtle yet reinforced reminders that only real reggae comes from Jamaica, and no other place has the ability to produce talent that competes with the homegrown originals of Jamaican music. The charts, DJs and journalists constantly remind us of whose riddim and whose song is #1 in Jamaica. The award shows always hone in on strictly Jamaican reggae artists and therefore omit a great market and talent that is out there, pumping out great reggae music just the same. The time has come, for the many who thought only good authentic reggae comes from Jamaica– to bite their tongues.
“Time is not counted from daylight, but from Midnite”
As an avid listener of reggae music, I am certain and definite when I hear true reggae that is thought provoking, heartfelt, and just damn good. It has been said that not everyone can play reggae, and I truly agree with that–it takes a certain vibration and sensibility to get the rhythms and timing right. Many times American bands lack the complete formula to provide consistent and full music and this can leave audiences limp. After all, many average bands have to avert to Marley tunes in between their own to keep the momentum. There is a need to keep covers on their playlists or their albums. For once I have come across a band who uses no filler, no derivatives and no covers to create an original sound of their own, and the St.Croix-based Midnite is that band.
Midnite’s founders are Gainde, keyboardist and musical director and his brother, Vaughn Benjamin, lead vocalist and principle songwriter. Together they have created a musical entity that has transformed reggae music and how we think about it. St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, is not necessarily American, and not at all Jamaican, but close enough to both coasts that the influences of each land is apparent upon first listen. Midnite does not “try” to be a reggae band, but instead they succeed where many others have not and that is in their originality and their determination to stay true to roots music. It’s a very daunting task to find in these days of overdubbing, hip-hop and dancehall remixes into practically every modern reggae song that you hear. Midnite’s resilience shines in their music because they have designed their songs to be raw and rootsy.
The band has produced four solidly superb albums that showcase their ability to go toe to toe with the very best out of Jamaica. “Unpolished,” “Ras Mek Peace (before Reverb without Delay),” “Jubilees of Zion,” and their most recent offering “Seek Knowledge before Vengeance” are all very strong efforts. Midnite’s sound has many Jamaicans wondering what parish are they from, and if they are not from Jamaica, then how dem a do it? How did they capture reggae so profoundly? A lot of that detail comes through in Midnite’s steadfastly strong lyrical content with smooth yet simplistic melodies. Their message is clearly Rastafarian, and their devotion to spreading that message is firm and musically inspirational. They delve deep into subjects that are specific to these times and can address the distinct social problems of today. To complete their formula, they encompass heavy use of drum and bass patterns that are reminiscent of the 70s classic period keeping a harmonious weave in their music. As an avid listener, their music is refreshing.
The band spent roughly six years in Washington, DC, testing out their brand of reggae on whomever would listen, and before long, they had a consistent following that trekked wherever the band played. Their DC shows mirrored going to church–getting cleansed by their music in some of the raunchiest clubs. Most nights the clubs would overflow with people to the point of crowd control–sweat dripping, elbow pushing, and toe stepping. There was always a sincerity in their approach to please the audience, despite the struggles they were going through to break the mold. The regulars and non regulars alike would come just to hear the band, and often the crowd would be singing and dancing so much, they’d be begging for an encore before closing their set for the evening. Every night was like that and it became apparent to the band that in order for them to graduate to another level in this business they would have to leave DC.
In 1999, Midnite left DC to return to St. Croix. DC has not been the same since–no other band has come on the scene to replace or fill their shoes; it became apparent to the reggae regulars that we had witnessed a star rising. And as frequenters of their shows, their absence left a deep impact on the reggae scene here. It’s not often talent comes along and you’re able to spot the essence of stardom when it appears.
Fast forward to 2002 and Midnite has successfully produced their third and fourth album “Jubilees of Zion” and “Seek Knowledge before Vengeance.” They have regrouped their promotion and marketing departments and are now re-introducing themselves to the larger world. No longer a “local” talent, they are a God-given talent that will go wherever the Most High will carry them. The band has been able to transcend to this level through sheer word of mouth, for their music speaks for itself.