By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

The popularity of reggae music in California is nothing short of astonishing.  Countless top-notch reggae bands have come out of here, and compilation CDs such as “Skankin’ Cali Style,” showcasing these bands, are strong sellers.  The Catalyst Club in Santa Cruz is a long-time supporter of reggae bands, and on Friday will be hosting a show by Groundation, a 10-piece band from Sonoma.

The prestigious jazz program at Sonoma State University’s music department may seem like an unlikely spawning ground for a reggae band.  It was here, however, that Groundation founder, vocalist and guitarist Harrison Stafford first conceived the idea for the band.  He was teaching a course on the history of reggae, and began discussing it with his friend, bassist Ryan Newman.  “We had been playing jazz together since we both came to live here about five years ago," said Stafford. "We felt the need to get some kind of roots reggae thing started here, because that’s what I’d been playing singing my whole entire life, since I was very, very young; it was the first music I ever listened to."

Stafford and Newman assembled a band, many of whom were graduates of the Sonoma State jazz program, and Groundation was born.  The band plays traditional style roots reggae, in the vein of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley.  However, given the band members’ jazz backgrounds, the music has a unique vibe.  "The music of Groundation is different,” said Stafford. “I mean, it’s definitely roots reggae, but if you have five or six guys who hold jazz degrees from established universities, the music is going to be different. It’s a freer form of roots reggae, more improv.”  Lyrically, the band aligns itself strongly with Marley’s spiritual stance and the notion of changing society by changing people’s attitudes.  “The lyrics have to be conscious, upful lyrics; they have to have a purpose and try to change the present situation in the world around us.”  Stafford has traveled extensively in Jamaica and Africa, absorbing the cultures there and tries to bring the lessons of his experience into the music of Groundation.

Groundation has played on the same bill as some of the top reggae acts including Steel Pulse, Toots and The Maytals, Israel Vibration and The Wailers. The band has appeared at festivals such as Reggae in the Park, The Sierra Nevada World Music Feastival, and Bob Marley Days.  The latter is an annual touring festival honoring the life and work of Bob Marley.  For this, the band rehearses a set of about 40 of Marley’s songs and expands its line-up to at least 13 members.  Over 200 radio stations around the world are said to be playing Groundation’s music.  The band has released five CDs, including their most recent, 2004’s “We Free Again.” 


First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, May 19, 2005

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