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‘Desert Reggae’

Evolving In Phoenix

The Hourglass Cats
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Jason Sessler of Valley Love. Refer image features The Hourglass Cats: Chaz Fertal, saxophone; Cori Rios, guitar and vocals; Karl Maier, drums; and Bryan Holland, bass. Images by Jeff Moses.
Though Related To Traditional Forms Found In The Caribbean, Local Bands Are Carving Their Own Niche In The Valley Of The Sun


By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

June 19, 2012 — The Valley of the Sun puts its own stamp on everything from politics with legislators like Russell Pearce and Ron Gould, to law enforcement with America’s toughest sheriff Joe Arpaio, all the way to Reggae music.

“This isn’t Island Reggae, this is Desert Reggae,” said Jordan Hall lyricist for Valley Love. Hall and Valley Love aren’t the only band playing this particular brand of reggae.

“We call it Desert Reggae too,” said Ryan Stilwell lead singer of The Black Bottom Lighters.

“Desert Reggae has more of an edge to it, more punk rock influenced,” Said Bryan Zach lead singer of Synrgy. “Desert Reggae is more cactusy, you know spinier, more ska influence and heavier guitars.”

Reggae typically has people thinking about the tropics, but Desert Reggae yearns for the shores and celebrates the water of the Southwest.

“It’s like we long for a beach so bad because we live in the desert. Desert Reggae gives off a pool vibe,” Hall said. “(It) has a lot of songs about surfing and the beach, but we also sing about pool parties or going to a lake.”

But as Reggae grows ever more popular, it draws from everywhere throughout the globe where it morphs into a regional sound.

“I didn’t start playing in a (reggae) band until I saw Synrgy when I was in college,” said Cori Rios lead singer of The Hourglass Cats. “The reggae wave is coming in right now.”

“Reggae is synonymous with world beat, and world beat is synonymous with unity consciences,” said Roger Clyne of Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. “I wanted that to be in our music so I started to figure out how to make rock and roll integrate with reggae like The Clash did and like The Police did.”

“I feel like RAC was one of the first tastes of Desert Reggae,” said Stilwell who recently attended a RAC show at Rockbar in Scottsdale. RAC has been making “Desert Reggae” together for eight years and on May 27 celebrated the sixth anniversary of their first album Lost in Paradise.

Reggae isn’t a new thing in the Valley of the Sun; Walt Richardson has been performing his more traditional reggae sounds for decades.  More recently, bands like RAC, RCPM and Captain Squeegee are going on almost 10 years together. Valley Love has been together for about four years according to Hall, The Black Bottom Lighters have been together for two years, and The Hourglass Cats, or THC, has been making funky desert reggae for about 18 months.

“Reggae is getting bigger,” said Rios and his comrades in dub are backing up his bold words.

The Black Bottom Lighters recently opened for Irish Punk gods Flogging Molly.

“It was pretty weird playing with all those alternative and rock bands, but our sound is a mix of reggae, rock and hip-hop,” said Stilwell.

RAC is preparing to record their third album, THC, is preparing for a late summer tour of California, and Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers are getting ready to headline their annual festival in Rocky Point Circus Mexicus June 8 to 10

“Reggae music literally expands your consciousness,” said Rios.

“Reggae is oppression driven music. It’s rebel music, that’s why punk and reggae go together naturally,” Jordan Hall said. “We come from a state that has struggled so much with discrimination, but with reggae the Valley has love to give.”

Jeff Moses is a freelance writer and photographer from Teaneck, N.J. and is currently living in Mesa, Ariz. He has been published in The Mesa Legend, and The Highway Herald. Contact him by calling 727-385-0624.
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