BY MARK WEBER
There is something almost instantly uplifting about the sunlit reggae sounds of two-time Western Canadian Music Award winners and Canadian reggae pioneers Souljah Fyah.
The acclaimed band will be performing in Red Deer on March 11th.
Presented by the Central Music Society, the concert, which starts at 8 p.m., will be held at the Elks Lodge.
“I had travelled to the Caribbean and taught down there, and had played in a band while I was there as well,”explains singer Waymatea ‘Sista J’ Ellis, who also covers lead vox and bass.
Upon her return to Edmonton, she wanted to launch a band. She ran an ad in a local entertainment paper, and that’s when the partnerships with the guys started to take shape.
“We just kept asking around in the community who would be available, and who would want to join us,” she explained of those early days. And since the band was initially formed back in 2002, there’s been only one change in the membership.
Rounding out the band today are Doctor Paul Joosse (bass, keys, vox), Stormin’ Norm Frizzell (keys, megaphone) and the Original Tribesman (percussion).“It’s been pretty steady all the way through. April 1st will mark 15 years for us.”
A self-titled debut CD was released in 2004. Truth Will Reveal came next in 2008, followed by 2010’s I Wish and and last summer’s The Long Walk.
Her experiences abroad have certainly helped stir up the inspiration over the years.
“The cultures of music bringing people together is really what I’ve always wanted,” she said, reflecting on those times.
“We achieved that so early – and the reason why we achieved that was because of a few key people who spread the word like wildfire.
“Through all of the years that we have been together, we have always been so blessed and gifted by the support that we’ve had with venues, promoters and audiences, and people that have considered themselves fans. We consider them friends – after 15 years you get to know people. That was my vision. And I think that vision is what we are living,” she added. “The music makes people feel joyful.
“I also feel that we can be agents of change with music to help people feel joyful. What better way – nobody is insisting that anybody believe anything – except let’s take a look at the fact that we are all in this together.
“That’s what inspires me – let’s all be engaged in the world together.”
Ellis was born in Edmonton and raised in surrounding communities, and through the years, music was front and centre in the home.
Her dad was a high school music teacher, and was also part of the team that started the first steel band in Edmonton back in the early 80’s.
“So I’ve been travelling in bands and playing classical piano since I can remember,” she explained. “We always had instruments in the house. Dad was also self-taught on every instrument in his job as a band teacher.”
She recalls being out into the wee hours at a number of cultural events with her family, too. “And the music that was playing there was from Jamaica and Trinidad. Everybody would be dancing and socializing – that’s how I remember growing up.”
Meanwhile, The Long Walk overflows with first-rate compositions such as the compelling disc opener All is Still, the engaging clip of Bigger Than Me and the thought-provoking sensibilities of Old Program.
Circle is also a call to unity against a mesmerizing musical backdrop as is Loving Life.
One More Chance featuring Mojo Herb also grabs the listener from essentially the get-go.
It’s no surprise that it’s virtually impossible to sit still while listening to pretty much anything these very talented folks produce. And really, there couldn’t be a better lead singer than the supremely expressive Sista J. She said the goal with the CD was to really capture the energy that the band exudes onstage.
The band also travelled to Jamaica for much of the recording process, which added a whole new and exciting dimension of colour, joy and expression to the tremendous project. It marked the first time the band had ventured there to record, so it was a very special experience.
The aforementioned Mojo Herb was instrumental in helping to make The Long Walk exactly what it is. Not only that, they also made a huge mark on the locals who not surprisingly took a real shine to their music which resonates with a rare and striking authenticity as well.
Ultimately, the entire recording process was really affirming for the band as well.
“We found that we actually have this thing that we’ve already been seeking and searching for, and wanting to achieve. It already exists within ourselves. So all of us came away with this huge amount of gratitude for having had that (experience).”
As the years have gone by, the accolades have been piling up as well. They are the 2011 Western Canadian Music Award winners for Urban Recording of the Year, 2009 Juno nominees, 2008 WCMA winners, and were also twice declared the best reggae band in Canada by the Canadian Reggae Music Awards and the Reggae Music Achievement Awards.
But Ellis is quick to point to their loyal fan base as being key to the band’s overall success as well.
“We are spoiled,” she added with a laugh. “At the venue where we had our last release party, there were all of these familiar faces really representing over a decade and a half of support.
“We had such a great time, and we are very lucky.”
For ticket information, check out http://www.centralmusicfest.com.