Some reggae pundits regard St. Croix band Bambu Station the next Midnite. But Bambu Station sounds and feels nothing like Midnite. Its message is more accessible to the general reggae listening audience unlike Midnite’s sometimes esoteric and enigmatic lyrics. In addition, they rely less heavily on thudding bass lines and offer more intricate guitar riffs than Midnite yet the vibe is still utterly driving. The two bands sound and feel completely different.
There is a sense of balance and dexterousness in Bambu Stations music because of lead singer Jalani Horton’s forthright delivery, the adroitness of long-time reggae guitarist Tuff Lion, and the solid musicianship of drummer Andy Llanos, bassie Warren Pedersen II, touring keyboardist Jamal James, and some stunning harmonies. Bambu also includes listeners in its vibe rather than making us feel like outsiders observing from a distance. This was evident in their inspired performance to a packed house at Ashkenaz Community Center in Berkeley, CA.
The band and its label Mt. Nebo Records has helped forward the USVI reggae movement with its production, backing work, and compilations of reggae artists on the verge including singer Iba Jah Lion whose Chant and down tempo piece Tell Me Why were featured on the bands seminal compilation Bambu Station Presents: Talking Roots I.
Iba opened for Bambu Station and delivered a strong performance of songs from his debut solo album Children of the Nile on the Mt. Nebo label. Although new to many of us on the continent, Iba is a popular veteran performer in St. Croix and former lead singer of Frontline. He carries a beautiful vibrato and such voice control that his live performance is nearly indistinguishable from his recordings. His tunes Chant and Work to Do were lively but Jah Lion and Whats It Gonna Take? set the audience bouncing as he skanked across the stage. Iba Jah Lion will be releasing new material later this year.
Jalani Horton holds the ability to halt a pulsing crowd to a standstill with his powerful delivery of Bambu’s message. His signature a cappella breaks drive home Horton’s onus to illuminate societal and political ills and to call out to others to make paradigm shifts in the way we turn this earth. The bands performance of Humanity Bawlin captivated the crowd as he belted out a litany of jaw-dropping statistics on the numbers of AIDS-related deaths in Africa and Tuff Lion sang out the respective countries.
The band performed several cuts from its album One Day such as Even Man Cry, Gunsmoke, Pass it, and its tribute to Dr. Betty Shabazz Eyes of Men. The bands performance of Eyes of Men was inspiring, empowering, and uplifting. I noted a good number of women with eyes closed, swaying, and immersed in Horton’s singing:
She must first bless herself
She must first love herself
But I noticed the affects of the females in the audience only after I stopped to open my own eyes, cease my own swaying, and took note of having been immersed myself in the power of this song.
Bambu Station performed pieces from their forthcoming album including Birds Eye View and Sing Upright. One would think that these songs had been previously released by the reactions of members of the audience. Sing Upright is an incredible tune telling dancehall, slack, hip hop, and pop performers to do just that. The harmonies and soaring backing vocals make this tune come alive.
Drummer Andy Llanos presented a gift to the crowd–a moving vocal performance of his ballad Only Jah Jah Know from Talking Roots I. Llanos sang with such tenderness and piety that experiencing his solo was like eavesdropping on someones most private moment of prayer. I first heard him sing this piece four days earlier at the bands StudioZ performance in San Francisco. I was equally moved the second time.
VI reggae aficionados know Tuff Lion for his contributions to Cruzan reggae with his pristine guitar riffs. Unleashed from his Gibson, he shocked the house as he sang his hope-inspiring anthem from Talking Roots II, Good Works, which is dedicated to the suffrage of independent reggae artists. He does not style himself a singer yet possesses remarkable vocal skills with a range stemming from a resonant baritone to a toe curling, Motown-imbued falsetto that would make Smokey proud.
The set ended after a good two hours but the audience could not get enough. After loud ululations and cries for fiyah, the band reemerged, exploded, and set Ashkenaz ablaze with an impassioned delivery of their most driving One Day track Fire. When the figurative smoke cleared, all band members were off stage and in typical Bambu Station fashion warmly greeted audience members to connect with them.
One of my favorite Bambu Station songs has yet to be released but they’ve played it at each show Ive attended. Its a simple ditty but so evocative of the bands vibe:
Lets make this a better day
Catch them on their Bambu Station Tour III / Talking Roots II tour this summer. Enjoy. Full joy.