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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

‘Positive Vibrations’ Night Goes Back to Reggae’s Roots

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Though Milwaukee isn’t by any means known for its reggae scene, the genre has maintained a steady enough presence at local clubs and bars that fans can catch a reggae DJ most nights of the week. Seeing a reggae band live, though, is more of a challenge, says veteran reggae promoter Daudi Shabaka. That’s why after 10 years of hosting reggae nights—first at the late Thai Joe’s, then at Club Timbuktu—Shabaka launched a new Wednesday night showcase for regional reggae bands at Mad Planet called “Positive Vibrations.”

“I think there needs to be a spearheaded move to return to live bands,” Shabaka says. “To me, live music and live singing has a lot more spirit than DJs and prerecorded music can offer.”

In its inaugural weeks, “Positive Vibrations” has hosted Milwaukee’s best-known reggae band, King Solomon, and the Chicago roots ensemble Indika. On Wednesday, April 14, it will feature the Madison group Roots Collective.

“I’m trying to expose Milwaukee to other bands,” Shabaka says. “There are a lot of great bands right here in the Midwest area that don’t get exposure, so they don’t get bookings in Milwaukee, and people don’t see them, even though they’re great bands. The goal is to get these bands to meet and congregate and mix it up a bit. The goal isn’t just to showcase Milwaukee reggae, but reggae as a whole.”

When Shabaka booked and spun reggae across the street from Mad Planet at Club Timbuktu, he focused primarily on dancehall, but for “Positive Vibrations” the emphasis is squarely on traditional roots reggae.

“A lot of Jamaican dancehall is really rough, veering toward hard rap, depending on the content,” Shabaka says. “A lot of it uses digital beats, too, so it doesn’t have that roots vibe that reggae music is best known for, and it doesn’t carry the same energy. Right now there’s really a push to go back to the foundation of reggae music: This is universal music, about one love and people coming together, and a lot of dancehall just doesn’t convey that. It’s not music that brings people together. Even the reggae parties where they play popular dancehall, it’s not even a party setting like it used to be, with people dancing together. The music is more geared toward people just standing around. That’s why there’s a resurgence in roots music right now, with even some of the dancehall artists coming back to some of these old rhythms.

“Of all the venues that I know in the city, Mad Planet is the most conducive to this type of event,” Shabaka adds. “It really has the old dancehall club type of feel: It’s dark, with a great sound system, huge speakers and lots of room to dance.”

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