On a grey, cold November weekend, the inside of a local Moline club stirred with the warm and righteous melodies of Roots Rock Reggae. The alluring bass and drum rhythms so unique to this genre of music seemed to bounce off the sound studio walls, soothing my ears with a classic sound rarely performed live these days.
Gregory Brooks, the father of three members in the band, warmly greeted me at the door. Mr. Brooks is a practicing Rastafarian and is passionate about his faith, family, and the message which reggae music brings forth. With long dreadlocks cascading down his shoulders, Mr. Brooks looked on with pride in his eyes seeing this project begin to set its foundation down as the group prepares to record.
The Quad Cities has had a drop-off in reggae acts over the years that once were standard in the area. It is a hope of many that this unique unit will bring a renaissance to those fans who no longer get to enjoy live reggae music outside of traveling to the Chicago area.
The Brooks family were diligently producing the classical sound of reggae in full swing on this day. Much of the modern reggae music of today has had the tendency to stray away from the conventional source and sounds of the original reggae brought forth by Rastafarian musicians such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Winston Rodney of Burning Spear and Joseph Hill of Culture, to name a few.
The Brooks family, on the other hand, is dedicated to keeping reggae in its pure form where the message of Rastafarianism shines out the brightest. This group of young musical siblings were recording six tracks for an upcoming demo CD. The demo is a mix of rare Ska and old Roots Rock Reggae styles along with instrumental variations of covers from legendary Ansel Cridland’s band, The Meditations. The Brooks family just opened up for The Meditations this past month for the second time at the famous reggae venue of Chicago, The Wild Hare.
Directing the music is 21-year-old Zebedee Brooks on drums along with his 25-year-old brother Ishmael Brooks on bass and 27-year-old sister Maya Brooks on keyboards. The Brooks family have an amazing, close-knit connection, and as siblings, appear to communicate inherently with a simple glance or gesture when the music shifts. This time around, the family is bringing two other members from outside the family to create the newly formed reggae band they have named Well Charge.
Well Charge seems an appropriate title labeling this group, as I felt I was being charged up listening to the uplifting musical vibrations. One of the newest members is 21-year-old Nate Lane, a talented guitarist who has ran sound for many different bands in the QC and has worked with engineering at the prestigious Daytrotter recording studio in Davenport, Iowa. Mr. Lane says he became involved with music, computers, and mics at a young age.
As a youth, Lane was inspired by Ska and punk bands like Green Day and Blink 182. Lane answered the band’s ad they placed on craigslist seeking a guitarist. Mr. Lane has always liked recording, using mics and computers, and performing, but now is evolving into producing and engineering where he brings an added attribute to Well Charge with his technical abilities. Between playing rhythm guitar, Mr. Lane jumps over amps and wires to simultaneously record with an actual analogue two-tape deck which he says captures the traditional reggae sound better than digital.
A young man from Columbia off to the side wearing a Brazilian soccer jersey and sporting short dreadlocks named “Matias” is on board as another new addition. Matias belts out upbeat, melodic, and hypnotizing notes as he plays both lead guitar and saxophone intermitted. Matias is in the United States for a year and answered the craigslist ad as well, which the band made to seek out a saxophonist to accompany the traditional roots sound. Horns capture a bygone sort of sound so rarely heard in today’s standard of reggae performed.
As I sat listening to the tracks being recorded, the melodies and fusion of this newly formed partnership seemed to be fluid and flowing as they were recording the very first takes to get the essence of the live experience venue promoters want to hear on the demo CD.
Zebedee starts out a beat, and then like a firefight in war with Babylon, his arms move, energy pulsates, Maya fantastically dances across two keyboards getting that “bubble” roots sound going, Ishmael’s bass lays out the mood, and then that classic reggae rift by Nate on the strings gets strummed and then . . . pure reggae magic!
I was able to sit down with Ishmael and Zebedee during a short break and ask a few questions on how this project developed and what they hoped to see for the future as a collective unit.
“Currently we are wanting to set up a solid foundation, as far as the band goes,” Zebedeee Brooks said. “Reggae music, since Rasta came into reggae music, has to remain Rasta music and everything that goes into it must be Rasta orientated,” he added with dire importance.
Originally from Cedar Rapids, the siblings were around reggae at an early age as their parents brought in various reggae acts to play there as well as when they lived in Iowa City. Being around music so much, their parents introduced the kids to various instruments and as they got older, they became more serious with mastering various instruments. Remarkably, with no standard musical education, they all eventually became self-taught.
“We were born into the music; no one taught us, we just wanted to play so our dad got us instruments and said ‘here you go, play,’” Ishmael said with a laugh.
Before they were Well Charge, they first seriously started off playing as a band together several times at a place called, “The News Room” in Kansas City. When the family moved from Kansas City to Rock Island, they became even busier with music and began playing at various venues around town such as Mojo’s Café, The River Music Experience, The Redstone Room, the farmer’s market in Davenport, a cultural fest at Schwiebert Park in downtown Rock Island, and even at the IMAX theatre.
Ishmael recalls a humorous memory where they performed at Mix Tapes (a club traditionally headlining metal and punk bands). When they began playing their style of reggae, though, the audience was very receptive and enjoyed it by “moshing” to the music.
While they had a good reception in the QC, things began to slow down a bit. The band was very eager to play but there seemed to be a waning or winding down of interest in traditional reggae. Even the Rock Island District’s “Ya Makka My Weekend” was beginning to go from a three day festival down to one day.
The family wanted to be true to the music, as Ishmael says, and “just wanted to play,” even if that meant they would be compensated with simple food tickets at Ya Makka. They wanted pure reggae to be experienced for the fans.
Zebedee went on to say that a whole year passed and they weren’t doing any more shows due to venues not interested in booking reggae. But in 2017, with all the passion for the music pumping in their veins, they decided to keep going despite the prior year’s obstacles. All of the siblings were still for it and Zebedee said they thought of “bring[ing] in some new musicians [for a new experience] which was a good thing [and] lead[ing] up [to the] present moment.”
Maya, Ishmael, and Zebedee, as children, were fortunate to have met and listened to many pioneering reggae giants their parents would bring to town, like Joesph Hynes, Burning Spear, Culture, The Meditations, The Itals, The Abyssinians and Lucky Dube. When I asked who has inspired them most, Zebedee said “it is hard to say, but for me it has to be Dennis Brown.”
For Ishmael, it is Burning Spear, and for Maya, it is Culture. One can see the many influences this talented, kind-hearted and intelligent family displays and it is refreshing and exciting to see this positive endeavor and all of their hard work beginning to take root and bear fruit. They all agree that the new additions to the musical family are beginning to flow and is “getting there.”
Another huge inspiration and guiding light for them is the reggae band they opened for recently and whose tracks they are playing variations of in the demo CD – The Meditations.
Opening for this legendary group was “a crazy experience” Zebedee said.
“Last year we opened up for them and [getting] encouragement from Ansel (the leader of The Meditations), wanted us to open up again this year. When we got there the sound check went good but then [during the performance] one of Maya’s keyboards went out and then Matias couldn’t hear himself so it didn’t go how we had planned but there were no major screw ups.”
Zebedee went on to say that “no matter how good [the music goes] you can always push it and make it better.”
The dedication and musical discipline which emulates from this group seems to be the foundational stone which will make this band a serious contender with their message and seriousness to keep the music clean, pure, and true to its roots.
When I asked about their vision of their music and the way they want to promote their music, Zeb mentioned that in the “new century, internet killed a lot of tradition- with that you notice a decline in turnouts. Now you use the internet as a way to promote shows instead of the old ways, using flyers which would pack the house. Now online promoting doesn’t even get half [the turnout] so there are more cons than pros with technology.” Well Charge wants to connect to the people and bring forth an older tradition but with a fresh perspective and vitality.
“That is why we are recording on tape [to] return back the WARMTH with it,” said Zeb.
I asked about how they came up with their new name and they said it was a bit “accidental,” and came from seeing an old Channel One imprint. They needed a new name before the show in Chicago and when they proposed it to Ansel of The Meditations, he liked it and said there was no need to look for another name, gave the band his blessings, and Well Charge was born!
Zebedee is currently working on designing a logo for the band and Ishmael remarks that “Zeb has an eye for it.”
As well as music, Zeb is interested in filmmaking and producing documentaries about reggae and Rastafari. He recently interviewed Ansel and is now editing, putting up things online for others, and investing time in developing a team for shooting and production.
“The best way to do it is to jump into it and see what happens” Zebedee said.
In closing, I asked what they hoped for in the future and what they all aspired to regarding the music and the principles of their faith through reggae music. They all agreed about the importance of the universal message which Rasta shines forth through the medium of reggae music.
Zebedee ended with a profound statement which sums up their mission: “somewhere, somehow, ya know, we [want to] make a mark, and set something for the present time and the future . . . because it’s like this . . . you have to preserve the past for the present in order to move forward to the future. You can’t forget the old [ways and you] have to keep tradition, most importantly. They always talk about, ‘you have to move with the time. . .’ who says you have to move with the times? You gotta do what’s right instead of following the crowd.”
Well Charge is well on the way with presenting a message which can change people’s consciousness through the positive message of reggae music. In a day where war, poverty, disease and strife cover the headlines, Well Charge is on a healing mission to shed some of God’s light in doing what’s right by bringing forward this form of music to a whole new generation and making their family and Jah Rastafari proud of this journey they are embarking upon in the Quad Cities.
I am sure the fans of reggae music will be excited to hear this band play live.
Coming soon to a stage near you!