High Desert Reggae
With a debut CD and a growing list of sold-out gigs, Root Skankadelic dishes funk and peace to the masses.
Story and photos by Donna Clayton Lawder
On a perfect, warm spring evening in Silver City, at the unique conjunction of the Gila River Festival and MainStreet Project's Celebration of Spring, the progressive reggae band Root Skankadelic is getting ready to take the town on a magical mystery tour of sorts, an evening of high-energy reggae-based dance music with potent messages. The days of playing Marley covers are past, says Rick Davis, aka "Kaleo Saleh."
"We haven't played covers in a long time," he says of the two-year-old group. "We definitely have our own message to bring, and that's what we are writing and saying and singing and playing."
Reggae standards like "Jammin' in the Name of the Lord" and "No Woman, No Cry" have made way for Skankadelic's original songs about the impact of violence, the blessings and burdens of Mother Earth, the wonder of true relatedness, peace and spiritual union.
Under the canopy in Morning Star's parking lot, Jazz Orgy, a popular band from Wisconsin that regularly plays sold-out gigs in the Silver City area, is accepting the roar from a well-pleased dance crowd and packing up their instruments. The members of Root Skankadelic, having milled through the crowd, enjoying the party atmosphere, are now setting up for their main-billing portion of this street-dance gig.
The stage area is crowded with instruments—several of the band members play two or three—and seven very energetic musicians, several individuals sporting more hair than some entire bands.
Davis, in an electric-blue Hawaiian shirt, bestows yet another of his famous hugs on a fan, then grabs his microphone. The bass line throbs heavily, leading the way, and the keyboard comes to life with those familiar chords of island-inspired feel-good music.
"All right, Silver Cit-tee!" Davis shouts and begins to jump up and down in time to the throbbing beat.
The crowd whoops enthusiastically in response. Billed as an "all-ages event," the open-air dance has drawn families and fans of all ages. A grouping of little girls in sun-dresses plays with Hula-Hoops, one hoop easily five feet in diameter. The Celebration of Spring feels like a perfect summer party, the smells of something wonderful on the grill wafting over from the Silver City Brewing Company just across the street. A couple hundred fans raise their arms, shake their hips and begin to throb and bounce to the bass line in free-form dance. Some of the audience sing along.
Davis describes the band as a group effort, and all contribute to the songwriting and most do vocals as well as play multiple instruments. But the vocalist who is known to sing while doing jumping jacks is the undeniable, irrepressible frontman.
Sami Padre, who plays keyboard, melodica and guitar for the group, as well as providing back-up vocals, evidently believes in what the band is doing with its music— indeed, in the power and importance of music.
"Music is the very voice of the Most High," he says, "so listen up!"
The funk reggae jam-band was created in spring 2004 "out of spiritual and revolutionary necessity," according to their Web site. The band's name, Davis explains, came from the "roots" aspect of their music; the "ska" in "Skankadelic" refers to that branch of reggae. That morphed into "skank," with "adelic" bringing in the funk aspect, you know—"psychedelic"—the trip the music can take the listener on.
Like the kind of lifestyle they promote, the band grew organically, as jam-bands will, from a group of friends hanging out and playing. Audiences kept growing and the band started getting semi-regular gigs at Silver City's watering holes, essentially facilitating all-night parties centered around peace, love and having a good time.
After playing sold-out venues in Silver City—including the Buffalo Bar and Dancehall, where they'll again perform on June 24—Root Skankadelic performed in Las Cruces for the first time in September 2005 at El Patio's Psychedelithon. They've also played at the Bob Marley Birthday Bash at the Starlight Lounge in Terlingua, Texas. That gig drew reggae fans from far and wide, including a loyal following from Big Bend and Alpine. And on June 24 they'll play at Lucky Devils in El Paso.
In addition to their repeat street dance performance for the Gila River Festival, this year co-sponsored by Silver City MainStreet Project's Celebration of Spring, the eco-loving boys have also played benefits for the Wildwood Hot Springs Retreat at the Gila Wilderness Area with the Funk Farmers, another local band known to draw a granola-crunching, peace-loving, tree-hugging crowd. Multi-instrumentalist Cody Williams, who plays mandolin and percussion as well as providing vocals for Skankadelic, also plays bass with the Funk Farmers.
The group has also played double billings with Radio La Chusma, a latin/reggae roots/rock band from El Paso.
On Valentine's Day, Root Skankadelic celebrated the release of its first five-song studio-recorded CD, Root Skankadelic EP. Made up of all original tunes, the disk has had several covers and subtitles, including Viva Terlingua (for the town in Texas where they played the Marley Birthday Bash) and The Vibe. The CD was recorded in Joe Victor's Gang of Hair studio in the Mimbres.
The CD table tonight has sold just a couple of copies. Perhaps tonight the boys are playing to the choir, so to speak.
Politically conscious with heavy soul and bass, Root Skankadelic describes its music as "booty-shakin' conscious party music. . . . (It) brings a vibe that definitely defies traditional confines. . . ranging from roots to dancehall and love."
They cite a wide range of musical influences, including reggae, ska, dancehall, funk, punk, rock and African and Caribbean music, as well as spoken word.
Poetry is big with Roland Salvatore, who provides vocals and percussion. He writes poetry and quotes e.e. cummings on his blog.
Josh White, the bass man of the group since its inception, says the band's musical style gives him more opportunity to be creative and shine musically. "As a bass player, you don't often get to be up front musically," he says, "but with this band, with what we play, I do. And that's very, very cool."
Hailing from Silver City and Gila, Root Skankadelic are simple dudes living close to Mama Gaia. Two of the band members—vocalist Jamie Smith, who also plays flute and saxophone, and drummer Daniel Eady—work in landscaping. Yes, they all still have day jobs. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sami Padre is an herbalist.
The complete Root Skankadelic lineup is: Cody Williams on vocals, mandolin, percussion; Daniel Eady on drum kit; Jamie Smith on vocals, flute, saxophone; Josh White on bass and vocals; Rick Davis ("Kaleo Selah") on vocals and percussion; Roland Salvatore on vocals, djembe and percussion; and Sami Padre on vocals, keyboard, melodica and guitar.
If you are the ride-giving type, you may have offered a ride to one of these guys hitching into Silver for work, as many do not own cars or television sets, dressing and living simply—living "lightly on the planet," they might say. Certainly their music and energy seem to come from somewhere other than earth.
The audience tonight has been transported to another—most funky—place.
To make sure their fans get transported home safely, the band encourages the audience to take advantage of Corre Caminos public transportation, mentioning it on their Web site, in gig announcements and from the stage. Funded by the DWI Taskforce, Corre Caminos has initiated a special program called "Corre Cantinos," a clever little play on words. It is the first program of its kind, according to a spokeswoman at Corre Caminos. Concert-goers can bop and party all night, then simply call the bus company for a ride, on demand.
A cooling breeze blows in and the audience murmurs with appreciation. Having retired their Hula-Hoops, the kids now mingle and dance with the teens and adults on the crowded parking-lot dance floor.
"How are you doing out there?" Davis calls. Another whoop of response. "Okay, we're celebrating now. The buzzards are here with us." A flock of about two-dozen big, black birds circles overhead, looking for their roosts for the night.
The audience looking happily tired, the band is done with encores and begins packing up equipment. A couple of fans step in and offer their help.
But the night is not yet ending for Root Skankadelic. The guys aren't heading to their respective homes, but down to the Buffalo Bar to play at a Taurus birthday party, one of the astrologically themed group celebrations becoming popular in Silver City.
After nearly two hours of crowd-pleasing music—accompanied by Davis' high-energy theatrics—Root Skankadelic just wants to take the party up the street and continue the celebration.
Root Skankadelic's CD is available for sale at Alotta Gelato, Tune Town and Dan & John's Rejuvenations Coffeehouse, all on Bullard Street in downtown Silver City, and at Gallery 400 on Arizona Street, also in Silver City. For more information and upcoming gigs, check the band's Web site at www.rootskankadelic.com.
Donna Clayton Lawder is a music fan and
senior editor of Desert Exposure.