Boulder's Roots Revolt takes an unusual approach to songwriting. "For our first show at the Fox Theatre, we still didn't really know what we were doing," concedes percussionist Grant, who, like his bandmates, feels that one name is plenty. "Since our songs were basically improvisational, we had to play back tapes from parties we'd performed at, write down the lyrics, and then try and learn them all over again."
This composing-in-reverse process may seem a bit unconventional, but it has served well the eight musicians in this reggae hybrid (Grant, vocalists Wailer and Henry, bassist Mike, guitarists Kit and Patch, drummer Hector and soundman Cahalan). Even though they can now recognize approximately twenty original pieces without the crutch of audio-visual aids, their concerts remain models of spontaneity. "Our shows are always different," Grant says. "They're never the same twice--even the songs. The chanting and rapping are often freestyle, because we like the sound to be fresh and creative."
Roots Revolt began as an impromptu act formed during a party at Grant's Coal Creek Canyon house last December. "When our original drummer didn't show up, we invited Hector to play at the party," Cahalan remembers. "He was visiting from New York, but afterwards, we convinced him to move to Boulder." Like Hector, Henry (who had been living in Tucson, Arizona) was only in Boulder for a vacation, but he, too, was coerced into relocating. Adds Cahalan, "We've been roommates ever since." The final piece of the octet's puzzle was Wailer, a native of St. Thomas who'd been in Boulder for the past four years.
Thanks to the varied backgrounds and influences present in Roots Revolt, the group's music is an amalgam. The bass, percussion and rhythmic chanting that characterizes Wailer's vocals recall the classic sounds of traditional Jamaican reggae. "Many of his lyrics are derived from the Book of Revelation," Grant notes. "Wailer sings biblical Rasta prayers that represent the trials in his life." As for Henry's rapping, it's characterized by an upbeat, hip-hop edge that lends a dancehall flavor to many of the combo's tunes.
"We're founded in roots, but the drums have a harder edge--so we can't realistically be classified as strictly roots reggae," Grant points out. "We're trying to blend universal cultures and styles, but that's difficult sometimes, even for members of the band. I don't know how to describe our music exactly. It's a melting-pot kind of sound, where a lot of things are brought together and rooted in reggae. Really, I think that it's captured in our name."
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A plan to add a DJ and a horn section to the Roots Revolt assembly will likely raise more eyebrows even as it makes pigeonholing more difficult than it already is. Nonetheless, local audiences don't seem at all confused. The good word about the band spread so rapidly that when the performers played their first-ever gig (on January 31, opening for Zulu Spear), over 300 listeners were eagerly waiting to hear them. "That was the launching point for us," Grant attests. "We were really excited that so many people would show up to see a band that had only played at parties so far."
The implications of this out-of-the-box popularity wasn't lost on promoters; Roots Revolt has since opened for virtually every big-name reggae artist to come to Boulder this year. And in its first headlining show, the act sold out the Fox even though the University of Colorado's graduation the preceding week had emptied the community of a large chunk of its concert-going population.
Having won over local reggae fans, the players hope to continue their success on an upcoming trip to Hawaii. "We opened up for Dread Ashanti [a Hawaiian reggae band] back in February," Grant explains. "We have the same kind of mixed-ethnic background as they do, and they invited us down to Hawaii to play with them again. They're putting on a combination Haile Selassie birthday festival and hemp festival on July 20th on the island of Oahu. We're all planning to go down there for three weeks. We've got a small tour of ten dates that were set up by the members of Dread Ashanti. The tour will cover two islands and about eight venues, so we're really looking forward to that."
Upon its return to the mainland, Roots Revolt will release its first CD, His Foundation Is in the Holy Mountains (Live Blend). According to Grant, "A live disc is the only way to go for us. We even threw in a bonus track from my party.