DubSkin Fights for Justice With Reggae

Fort Collins-based DubSkin uses reggae to protest injustice.
Fort Collins-based DubSkin uses reggae to protest injustice. David Novin
“Most people think all reggae sounds the same,” says DubSkin drummer Cory Eberhard.

The genre usually conjures images of an open ocean, warm weather and a relaxed lifestyle — but Eberhard’s band has followed its own route within reggae, creating its own sound and political brand right here in the Mountain West.

Eberhard, who co-founded the band with vocalist Jamal Skinner in Fort Collins in 2006, says that DubSkin’s sound is a hybrid of genres.

“We are firmly rooted in the style of reggae, but you can hear things like classic rock, grunge, funk, hip-hop, electronica and other things that sort of bleed into our sound,” he explains. “Also, we don’t live an island or beach life, so we have more of an urgent, upbeat city vibe.”

When reggae and Rasta culture flourished in Jamaica during the 1960s, lyrics were often about the African diaspora and freedom from slavery, and much of the music served as a form of protest. Eberhard and Skinner were drawn to reggae and inspired by Bob Marley as well as other artists such as Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine. They also felt compelled to create music that reflected their beliefs, both political and personal.

DubSkin started out when George W. Bush was president and the United States was embroiled in his administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bandmembers took umbrage with U.S. politics at the time, and their frustration found its way into their music. They continued their political commentary through Barack Obama’s two terms, and in today’s divisive political climate, they feel an even greater responsibility to speak out. Eberhard hopes their music encourages both individuals and society to be better.
click to enlarge DubSkin - DAVID NOVIN
David Novin
“I think when you sing about things like injustice, inequality, corruption or suppression and you are against those things, you are inherently encouraging people to do better and be better,” Eberhard says. “And not just ‘people,’ but society as a whole, even ourselves. By no means are we perfect or trying to preach or talk down to people and tell them how to live. We all make mistakes...but the goal is to try to be better and grow as a human.”

Eberhard notes that when dealing with injustice and struggle, it’s important to recognize that there are some circumstances beyond our control as human beings.

“It’s a balance when you’re living on Earth, trying to make Earth and the way we live the best that we can,” he says. “But also that balance on a spiritual side. [The government system] isn’t the be-all, end-all; it doesn’t control us.”

The song “Just Be Now,” off of DubSkin’s new album, Light the Dark, which the band will release at the Bluebird Theater on January 26, touches on this idea of impermanence coupled with a call to action. Its lyrics address the glaring injustices and inequalities that make up the news every day: “History repeats itself/It is no coincidence,” and “Don’t be fooled by how they rule/Them evil laws they want to implement.”

But there’s more to life than injustice, Eberhard points out: “You know, most everyone wants the same things in life. You want enough abundance to live and take care of yourself and your family. You want safety for yourself and your family. You want health and things like clean water and food and just to be able to live your life and enjoy and experience life and try to answer the big questions. And that’s hard enough, even if all of us were given even starting points. But with the imbalance of power and greed getting in the way, many people don’t have those things or even the opportunity, in many instances. So when you see things like that, it’s not uncommon to think, ‘Hey, something isn’t right here.’ That’s why I think [those themes make their] way into our music and many others’ music.”

The band, he says, takes inspiration from something Nina Simone once said: “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.”
click to enlarge DubSkin - DAVID NOVIN
David Novin
“When you look around at leaders or systems around the world and in this country that are corrupt or unjust, then you call it out and try to correct it, the same way you would try to do with bad behavior you find in yourself,” Eberhard says. “A lot of what we sing about is just a mirror of what we see around us and our opinion of it, whether it’s politics, society, others or ourselves.”

The new album’s title, Light the Dark, refers to the yin and yang that exists in all things. “The positive to the negative, the right to the wrong, the truth to the lies,” Eberhard says.

The bandmembers collaborated on the album’s recording and production while living in different cities and shouldering career and family obligations. Instead of striving for money or fame, they created the album simply because they want to make music they like.

“I believe money and fame are two of the biggest illusions, especially in music,” Eberhard says. “I’ve seen it affect people. Those two things, if that’s your driving force, then you could be making some interesting art decisions. We obviously don’t do it for money or fame, because we don’t have either one of those things.”
Although money and fame are not focal points for the band, they do hope to spread their music and message through Colorado and beyond.

“If you’re at a concert of something like that, that has some meaning behind it. I’ve seen it, and I’ve felt it, and it’s like a powerful force,” Eberhard says. “If it was just a guy giving a speech, it wouldn’t be as powerful. I think music is a great way to disperse ideas, sometimes teach — but a lot of times, you may not change someone’s mind completely. You may just gather people who agree with you already. But even if you’re just doing that, you’re gathering like-minded people to a certain place, [whether] it’s a concert or online, and different fans will resonate with each other.”

Eberhard recognizes music’s powerful ability to unite people for a common cause. He hopes DubSkin’s music will reaffirm someone’s beliefs.

“Music has the power to make a baby dance that has never been taught that it’s supposed to dance to music,” he says. “It’s innate in us; it’s mysterious, and we’re not sure why. These sound-wave vibrations when in harmony are pleasing to us, and I’m not sure we are fully aware yet how deep that all goes.”

DubSkin album release
9 p.m. Friday, January 26, Bluebird Theater, 3177 East Colfax Avenue, 303-377-1666, $5.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Riley Cowing has been writing with Westword since July 2016. She is originally from Kansas City and graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She enjoys connecting with local artists, drinking all types of espresso and loves any excuse to watch The Devil Wears Prada.
Contact: Riley Cowing