Tuesday, August 02, 2016
Music as Medicine: Summit Dub Squad celebrates 11 years of healing through hip hop infused reggae
Each morning you turn on the tech with one eye open, the other closed, as if the day's reported disasters may be a bomb about to explode. The stress of the summer season's news has been overwhelming of late. But then you click on a Youtube.com video by Flagstaff, Arizona's own Summit Dub Squad, and you are brought back to the idea that there's nothing funny about peace, love and understanding. It's a video of a show at the Flagstaff Brewing Company and the band is playing. The song opens to the sound of sirens. So yeah, it seems relevant to the times: Panic in the streets! Panic in the streets! The reggae and hip/hop tune, listed as "Hopiland Winter," is quite democratic. The band and the crowd are one. Hopi reggae artist Casper Lomayesva is the guest MC, and then the band finishes off the tune with a heartbeat rhythm, bouncing bass and chinking guitar that flashes into blazes of effects. Everyone in the foreground is dancing, sharing drinks, waving their hands in the air. This is a real good act. There is hope. There is peace out there, freedom, fun. And after more than a decade, Summit Dub Squad is still around: something you can count on.
"That's definitely a big part of the reason we play music, the healing nature of the music," says lead singer B Dub, one of the founding members of the Summit Dub Squad, which has been providing regular dub therapy to Flagstaff music fans for 11 years. "It's the positive vibration, even if it only lasts as long as the show."
The core of the band started out as hip hop fans who were hanging out at a house in the Southside area of Flagstaff, until they had to abandon gathering at the place after it was damaged in an electrical fire. The hip hop crew moved on to playing at a house on Summit Avenue. Hence, The Summit Dub Squad was formed. That core group includes B Dub (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, melodica), Hunter E. RedDay (vocals, flutes and electric guitar), Dub Docta Paul (bass), and dj SOE (turntables, keys, drums, general percussion). At any given time, they may draw any number of musicians into their communal mix.
Says dj SOE (Andrew Baker), "We have a show coming up at the park, and we have some extra percussion instruments so kids can come play with us. We can be just the four of us, but we've had as many as 10 people on stage."
RedDay describes it as a collective.
"We were established in 2005 and it was a four-piece coming off multiple projects," he says. "It was more of a hip hop collective in the beginning. Our connection as friends goes back further than the band itself. We've kept a hardcore four and we have had numerous people come and go, and now it's evolved into this full-fledged group of people from the community who play with us."
The band's description at Reverbnation.com pretty much says: "SDS stands for human rights and environmental justice in a time of insane corporate greed, utilizing roots reggae and positive hiphop music as the channel to chant down babylon!" According to RedDay, who was born in Tuba City, but then traveled around the country and became a fan of any kind of music "with a good beat and a message," their music has a strong connection to "the Hopiland."
"The message of the music is local, but it's also very global," he says.
The Summit Dub Squad presents a very good example of what people like to do in mountain towns. They are looking for social interactions that connect with the land, the sky and the shared resistance against the horrors of urban civilization (Babylon, aka Phoenix) and the persecution of oppressed peoples. SDS updates the traditional reggae of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Burning Spear, and B Dub sites the influence of KRS-1 and especially Public Enemy, a group which he saw at one of his first live shows in Phoenix in the early 1990s.
"I believe, and the rest of the band really believes, music has a very healing quality to it, but people really undervalue that quality in music," B Dub says. "We put a lot of intention in peace, love, unity and respect."
The title track to their latest of four self-produced albums on iTunes, "Rootsman Journey," features a snaking bass far more pumped up for the urgency of the times, and there is a forceful energy in the way the lead guitar races past the usual chinking of the style. The dub lyrics, as well, move quickly through the ears at a racing hip hop pace.
"It's a high-elevation sound flavor, that's what we play," says dj SOE, another original "core" member of the band. "It's a lot of heavy bass and drums on a lot of songs. It's really influenced by the dub versions of Jamaican reggae, where you strip back the vocals, putting the bass and the drums and the effects up front."
They play around 20 to 30 shows a year, performing at least once a month in Flagstaff, and have played on short tours across the Southwest. They have opened for Israel Vibration and Lee Scratch Perry, who B Dub called the "Godfather of dub reggae."
The band has a real advantage that has helped them out in terms of productivity: they have their own studio on the fringes of town, in the Pinedale community.
"I can't imagine what the cost to produce our albums would be without it, the way we do it," B Dub says. "Considering the amount of time we spend on things, it's a huge advantage. We can produce an entire album over the course of a year, and it creates a momentum for us where we can really celebrate our album release parties."
The eleventh year of the band finds each of the "core four" celebrating how long they have lasted as a group, and how big of a community of musicians they represent. All healing is local, the members say, and no one in the band mentioned anything about getting signed to a major label, or other types of future, fame or glory. They are performing a necessary service in Flagstaff, offering good vibrations. There are few reggae bands in Flagstaff right now, and that includes the Yotis, and dj SOE plays in both of them. So that service is kind of rare.
"The more the world has reggae music, the better the world is going to be," he says.
As RedDay says, "We aren't trying to take over. We just ride the wave. We're still here. We are needed."
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