Reggae run aground

Too many cooks in the kitchen? Luckily, they make music, not food.

Groundation 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Groundation 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel is better known for its tasty falafel and fierce military action than for its reggae. All that could change when the Legends of Roots reggae tour brings its freewheeling island sounds to Tel Aviv's Barby this week. Headed by Sonoma, California's Groundation and sponsored by the Israel's foremost, well only, reggae web-portal,, the two-day festival spotlights classic roots reggae bands such as Max Romeo and Perfect. As for Groundation, the festival's headlining act, the concert could hit a low-point with the band's nouveau grooves. Boasting a combination of "classic roots reggae" and "transcendental Dub," Groundation weaves breathy tapestries of reverberating drums and keyboards straight into the listener's ear. Formed in 1998 by key members Harrison Stafford, Marcus Urani and Ryan Newman, the band now sports a hefty nine members and records under the label they founded in 1999 - Young Tree Records. One can't shake the feeling, though, that the band sounds frighteningly like upper-class white folks who've invoked Bob Marley's spirit from within an overcrowded isle at Target. The vocals are contrived and forced, coming across more like the prissy whining of a third grader who craves a Popsicle from the local ice-cream man. Mmm…Popsicle. While the music itself feels relatively authentic, it's nothing that can't be found on a true '70s reggae record. Groundation takes the road well-traveled, rehashing tired universal political issues like suffering, oppression, and freedom. And this isn't odd considering that founding member Stafford taught the first course on The History of Reggae Music at Sonoma State University. Moreover, the band's saxophonist, Jason Robinson, heads the jazz program at UC-San Diego. Politics, liberal education and cliché stoner references aside, I was set to conduct a penetrative interview with the band. But, due to what seemed like ego and negligence, Groundation never replied. I was hoping to ask them about the Israeli reggae scene and what it means to this festival, but Dice Marketing, the concert's promoters, let the proverbial ball drop. The band, it seems, was too busy fighting for freedom from oppression and anguish. Consequently, Groundation's web site ( will have to suffice. There appears the following gem, "In their search of hope and prosperity the individual must make the journey across the bridge leading them to an unknown future." Don't know they're saying? Neither do I. Furthermore, in the band's 2004 track "We Free Again," the whimpering singer exclaims from behind an oppressive echo effect, "They come, higher than the mountainside. With illusions, faster than the wind them fly. Them covet thy laws of Zion. Treating them like a slave and soldier man." Again, huh? The lyrics and tunes, much like a burger at McDonald's, are over processed and fall flat. While they do have the mechanics and tone correct, they lack the spirit. Groundation has been studying their predecessors, like Toots and the Maytals and Black Uhuru. It should be noted that Groundation is playing only one set a night. In the interim, fans can look forward to classic artists like the abovementioned Perfect and roots harmony trio, The Abyssinians. These groups just can't be missed, especially on their first tour to the Holy Land, a place often sung about but rarely visited. Legends of Roots grooves to the Barby (52 Kibbutz Galuyot St., Tel Aviv, (03) 518-8123) stage on August 17 and 18. Doors open at 9 p.m. with tickets an appropriate NIS 160-180.