Colorado's Jyemo Club Makes Global Music of Rebellion

Jyemo Club
Jyemo Club plays Cervantes' Other Side on November 17.
One of Jonny Jyemo's song titles, "No Miedo," translates to "No Fear." The sentiment fits with his approach to life.

The Missouri-born singer and multi-instrumentalist, whose given name is Jonny George, says he aspires to be a blend of his musical heroes: the late Bob Marley and international super-crooner Manu Chao. Unlike Chao, who sings in French, Italian, Arabic, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese and a few other languages, Jyemo speaks only English and Spanish. But that could change with his current global music act Jyemo Club.

"I hope to get to the point where we're playing stadiums in foreign countries," he says. "We're trying to bridge the gap between cultures. I want to communicate with as many people as possible. In most places in the world, people speak at least two different languages. I encourage people to open their minds and not be afraid to get into music that's outside of their native tongue."

Jyemo, who has loaned his drumming skills to a variety of local bands over the years, says he grew up in a white, conservative, rural setting in the Show Me state before moving to Boulder in 1997. After moving to Colorado, he launched the musically eclectic group Jyemo and the Extended Family, which toured mostly around the western part of the country for several years before losing creative steam and dissolving in 2004. He took the end of his first project as an opportunity to travel the world and regroup. Following the disbanding of the Extended Family, he began to refine his multicultural sound and penned a batch of songs that would eventually become Jyemo Club's first CD, So Near So Far, which was released in 2017.

"After my first band ended, I started to look for a new sound that could take in various musical styles," he says. "I wanted to blend the music from North and South America, including the Caribbean, with the Latin vibe and melodic sensibilities, and the rhythmic approaches from Cuba and Jamaica, as well as some Bolivian flavor. I was looking for something that would bring all these musics into one. It seemed appropriate for this country. We're a big melting pot, and we're all connected."

According to Jyemo, a case of "reverse engineering" gave life to his latest project. With the help of producer and longtime recording engineer Dr. Thundersmoke, aka Dik Darnell, he was able to record his 2017 CD and, afterward, go about assembling a group to reproduce the sound on the first album.

"Dr. Thundersmoke was my mentor, and he pushed me to keep writing and working it all into a style that didn't sound fake or appropriated, but authentic. He lives in Paonia, so I'd go there for a few days at a time when I could get away. It took a while to get it right, but I was happy with the result, and eventually I got the idea to pull together a band that could play the music."

Darnell, who has worked with the Denver group Kan'Nal and a variety of new-age and spiritual acts, logged time on staff at the legendary Caribou Ranch Studios during its heyday. Jyemo says the good doctor was instrumental in guiding him along the path to his current iteration.

"We've been super-tight ever since, recording [So Near So Far]," says Jyemo, who now makes his home in Longmont. "Dr. Thundersmoke helped me a lot in different ways. He taught me that you can't hurry art. The mission of the sound we created also ties into seeing what we can improve on as humans and what's keeping us down as a species. I try to to put that into a musical message that hopefully might spur people to action and even bliss."

Since its first show this past April at Cervantes' Other Side, the ten-piece Jyemo Club has performed at the Arise Music Festival, Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest in Fort Collins and opened up for the String Cheese Incident at Red Rocks.

"I didn't want this group to be a bar band," Jyemo explains. "We presented ourselves as more of a serious project that wanted to hit the ground running, and so far it's working out. We're keeping with the vibe of world rebel music. To pull it off, I had to find real musicians who could do it. We have percussionists from Mexico, and our lead singer, Whitney Hernandez, is from Havana, Cuba. There's also a kind of reggae heartbeat to our music. I had my feet in a lot of different music scenes, so when I was putting the band together, that really worked out. Now I pretty much just try to direct the chaos, bring us all together and keep it tight."

Jyemo Club, 9 p.m. Friday, November 17, Cervantes' Other Side, 2635 Welton Street, 303-297-1772.