Gracie Bassie Is Disrupting Old-School Reggae

Gracie BassieEXPAND
Gracie Bassie
Elana Tough
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Singer and instrumentalist Gracie Bassie has taken time finding her voice. Originally from Durango, she grew up listening to reggae mixtapes from her parents and acts like Ziggy Marley and Mighty Diamonds that radio DJ Rasta Stevie brought to town.

After picking up the bass at eighteen, Bassie began touring, and pulled together a band in time to play Reggae on the River in California. From there, she got a call from reggae artist Anthony B. to play bass for his band in Kingston, Jamaica. For her, this was a dream come true, as she had always loved the country and the artists who came from it.

After four years, Bassie's returned to Denver, to start sharing the solo music she made while away. The latest of her singles is "Be Yourself," released on January 22. Westword spoke with Bassie ahead of her February 26 performance at Cervantes' with reggae legends Sly & Robbie.

Gracie BassieEXPAND
Gracie Bassie
Justine Henderson

Westword: Can you talk a little about the three singles you have released this year?

Gracie Bassie: “Be Yourself” I released on my Dad’s birthday, because him and my mom, they pretty much wrote the song with the teachings they gave me. They were always supportive of me finding me instead of trying to fit me into some box. I feel blessed for that.

The sequence of the three singles I have out — the first one is called "People Pleaser." I had a long journey of people pleasing and living for other people, and I think that’s easy to do these days, because there’s a lot of things that cause fear in every day.

The next journey is “Love Yourself,” which I really think is a worldwide epidemic in people. So many people are looking outward, especially nowadays with all the virtual distractions...there’s a lot of pressure. I think in men and women — it’s not just about women, but the pressure to fit in, the pressure to be perfect and beautiful.

I was searching outward for so long, and I didn’t find what I was really looking for until I took a U-turn and went inward.

What do you find yourself often writing about?

I feel these songs all speak the same message in a different way. Beginning of April, I’m releasing a ganja song. I support the ganj, but it’s not everything. It’s just a little element.

How did you transition from being a backing musician to creating your own songs?

I got more into the studio recording [in Jamaica]. As I was backing the artists, I was writing songs, and it was slowly accumulating. But I was having a hard time getting in the studio; that’s when I joined the university of YouTube, as I call it, and studied how to record vocals, how to mix, and I had help from friends, too. But I just pieced it together.

With my singing, it’s been a journey of peeling back these layers of myself to find my voice. I couldn’t sing certain notes when I hadn’t processed certain shit that had been brushed under the rug.

The bass is such a powerful instrument. I had no clue I would be a singing bass player. I don’t think of myself as a crazy bassist or a crazy singer, but it comes natural. So I’m going with it because I love it.

Gracie Bassie Is Disrupting Old-School ReggaeEXPAND
Justine Henderson

What drew you to reggae?

I fell in love with it, and it seems odd, because I’m this white blond girl. I totally stand out. I bought a bass when I was eighteen, and that same week I met Lincoln Jarrett, who became my mentor — my Mr. Miyagi of reggae, I call him. He took me under his wing, and I always gravitated toward the bass, because if you hear a concert, even if you hear music in the apartment building, you hear the bass. That’s what comes through.

What’s been your experience with your identity in a genre that originated in Jamaica?

I thrive because I feel it inside me, and to me there are different types of reggae. There’s Cali surf reggae, which is more classified as “white reggae,” but I don’t classify myself in that genre. I’m so rooted in the real Jamaican African music, which is weird, because I’m in this capsule, but I was immersed with some real, heavy foundation artists, and then I lived in Jamaica.

That was my dream since I was a kid, and it ties itself into my songs, because people can do way more than they think they can.

What are some barriers you’ve had being a female in reggae?

My experience in Jamaica was really interesting, because I come from a place where I feel confident in myself, and I have always felt like I’ve been one of the guys. I am a tomboy and have gone the extra mile, even as a kid, to be as good as the boys. But in Jamaica, women definitely don’t have the same opportunities or freedom.

There are a lot of expected responsibilities; it’s almost like it was in the 1950s. I felt like that with the men and women down there, but now there are more female musicians coming out of Jamaica.

As someone who clearly loves reggae and loves Jamaica, how do you reconcile with the [fact] that the genre came out of a society that is still highly unequal for men and women?

That’s the catch-22 for me. I had my heart broken because I was idolizing a lot of the culture and Rastafari, and I still admire a lot of the teachings about that, but for me, it’s a crucial time, because I want to support it, but I want to expose the fuckery, [as] they call it.

I have some songs coming up that are ready to burn some fire. I want to speak up for people and women, especially those that don’t have that outlet. I’m tired of it. I don’t like seeing anyone mistreated.

I think it stems from people not loving themselves. That’s why it’s a worldwide epidemic. If you’re raised in an environment where you’re talked down to, abused...there’s a lot of fucked-up things that can happen when you’re young, and you can either repeat the cycle or change the cycle, and it’s worldwide, but I saw a heavy concentration of it in Jamaica.

A lot of reggae music sings about oppression and outward struggles, but I’m wanting to go inward and get to the root of the problems as to why people are acting the way they are acting.

Sly & Robbie and the Taxi Gang, Bitty McLean, Cherine Anderson, Peter G & the Reggae Angels with Judge Roughneck, Gracie Bassie, The Groove Thief, Tuesday, 7:15 p.m. February 26, Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, 2637 Welton Street, $22.

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