A Spiritual Journey
The inevitable evolution of music has lead to spurs in new directions and genre makeovers, constantly building from the musicians that came before. Jazz to rock and rock to pop stand out as genre branches, while Johnny Cash to Taylor Swift show that genre makeovers inevitably happen with time. Jumping forward is not always the only choice. Now that music has progressed as far as it has, taking it back to the roots becomes an active effort for some.
Enter Sean Joseph, aka DJ Rock-A-Dread.
Sean Joseph, a reggae fanatic, grew up in the “Marley” era here in New Orleans, thriving from listening to classic reggae music with the likes of Steel Pulse, Third World, and Bob Marley booming off the walls of the local houses. He watched the genre evolve from these artists over the next thirty years in Nola. It was not until being turned on by the artist Eek-A-Mouse that Joseph realized there was more than what the radio was playing every Sunday morning in regards to reggae music. He started digging his teeth into whatever he could find, expanding his views and ultimately building up his future without even knowing it.
Although portrayed here as a DJ, Joseph has a lot more to offer. He might host private backyard events with the likes of Ambush and The Revealers, but Joseph is also a father and special needs teacher. DJ’ing is like moonlighting to him; his passion.
Despite the common perception of being the home to Jazz, New Orleans had also become a small mecca for reggae, according to Joseph. With New Orleans being a large importer of bananas from Jamaica, it brought many Jamaican workers traveling by these ships, bringing local New Orleans music back to Jamaica, which influenced the Jamaican sound. From here the Jazz influence traveled back to Jamaica to influence the reggae sound there, creating a constant influx of unprecedented sound. Many of todays JA artists moved from traditional Roots and Dancehall to a western-influenced sound, but western reggae artists emulated Roots music and often topped the charts.
“Reggae was always here. Always. Even from when I was a kid..”
Regressing back to reggae roots is not necessarily as easy as it sounds with so many listeners accustomed to the
modern take on the genre and expecting to hear the updated version when they go out to party.
Joseph describes this as a slow trickle when he is leading the show, playing the dance hall rhythms to start and slowly dropping in more of the conscious classic tracks as the night goes on. From here it is all about reading the crowd, seeing if they are swaying to his choices, hopefully making people realize that “this is food for my soul, versus just strictly dancing.”
He explains how westernized modern reggae artists that are topping the charts are straying away from the core, jumping into a mindless dance hall vibe versus the more conscious 70’s form he had grown up with.
“Modern reggae has started to become super mainstream in the form of what they think the western people out here would like to hear, instead of focusing on what brought us to reggae in general. The Bob Marley, the one drop, hardcore roots beats, singing for a purpose or a cause, you know the music that really gets you consciously involved,” Joseph explained.
The drive to see an enlightened crowd enjoying pure reggae is what inspired Joseph to create the Iron Lion Family, along with co-founder Ras Lee. Joseph could not have picked a more befitting founder for a reggae-inspired production company than Lee, who was a personal chef for the Marley family at the time. The two met when the Marley family tour stopped in New Orleans, LA. Joseph’s cousin brought Lee to the local reggae venue on Rampart St. where Joseph was spinning a show. Instantly Lee bonded with roots inspired music claiming, “Man, the way you’re spinning reminds me of how they’re spinning in yard, you from Jamaica?”
Only a few weeks later, Lee and Joseph met up again at a family event, where the wheels were set in motion to their ultimate collaboration. Joseph was putting together a small music festival, and Lee offered to provide food for the event. Lee who specialized in Ital Cuisine as a former personal chef for the Marley family brought the second most important aspect to the festival: proper food. Everything from jerk chicken, cabbage, rice & peas, etc. was served, completing what was to be the first of many festivals.
When you heard an Iron Lion festival was happening you knew two things: you were going to get some real feel good music, and you were going to get ‘Food for their soul'”.
These festivals were not meant to bring out big names like many modern festivals rely on, but rather give the lesser known artists the chance to shine. Joseph had offers from larger groups such as Egyptian, but turned them down in order to bring more local talents. This paved the way for DJ Rock-A-Dread to become more than just a DJ (a selector as Joseph calls it), and become a promoter, producer and fully fledged artist. Currently in the works to release his first full album in the next month that contains an astonishing 17 different artists, Joseph wanted to include both local and international collaborations. His goal, much like that of the festivals, was to help the people who had “hit the glass ceiling” for some reason and help them break through it. The legendary Viceroys, Ken Serious, Chrisinti, Ian Sweetness, BAS360, Al Pancho, Kool Johnny Kool, Ben Hunter, and co-producer Oba Simba are just a few of the names that will shine a light on this album. Not only is the album dropping with a wide arrange of famous artists, it is being mastered by the world renowned Anchor Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, who have helped over hundreds of different independent artists.
Allegedly this new album will also be introducing a new reggae rhythm that will add to the many other classic roots rhythms (one drop, etc.) that are in circulation. Joseph did not want to comment explicitly, but did mention that it would hopefully start waves. Although the first project is about to drop, he already has five songs ready to be finished for the planned second album. Unfortunately, Lee could not be available for the interview due to recent crackdown on “immigrants,” but Joseph assured that he would be back soon and would not affect the release of his album.
“I Feel it” (feat. Al Pancho, Jah Jah Bless, & BAS360 ) exclusive video peek below:
Most importantly, Joseph wanted to clarify that the bottom line with reggae is, it is not about trying to be at the top of the game, we humbly play for Jah Rastafari King Selassie I and we make sure to build up a family vibe. That everyone is in this together and his goal is “to bring New Orleans reggae to the forefront. If it’s the Iron Lion Family that does it, fine. If it’s someone else that does it, then we stand behind them. We’ve got olive branches.”
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By Chris Krauss