Music

Local reggae band headed to Jamaica

Dub Kartel spending 10 days in Kingston to perform and record with local legends

Jhamiela Smith Dunn performing with Dub Kartel at the Marquee Ballroom in January   Mathew Kahansky

What does it mean to explore the source of an art? For the Halifax-based reggae band Dub Kartel, it means going right to the genre’s roots: Kingston, Jamaica.

That’s why they’re leaving this week for a 10-day trip to the city. The band will be recording an EP, playing shows and meeting local musicians.

Teddy Skiffington, Dub Kartel’s drummer, says “it’s a cultural goal more than anything, to go down and become immersed in local Kingston reggae culture.”

“We want to try meet the people who have been involved in developing the genre, to see where we stack up,” he says.

The seven-piece group has been performing and touring together for roughly five years, recording EPs and an album along the way. They’ve gathered a loyal following in Halifax and have connections to other reggae markets and festivals in places like Toronto, Montreal and even Maine.

But some of the band has yet to explore the origins of their music, which they hope to accomplish with their visit to Kingston in February — a calendar month dedicated to celebrating reggae in Jamaica, centred around Bob Marley’s birthday on Feb. 6.

To that end, the band has enlisted the aid of a friend and frequent collaborator, Jhamiela Smith Dunn. When Smith Dunn moved from Jamaica to be with family in Halifax in the summer of 2016, Dub Kartel welcomed her to the music scene.

“These guys have adopted me; they’re my big brothers,” she says. “I want to do the same for them in my country.”

Not only has she supported the band in shows (video below) and on recordings, Smith Dunn is also their connection to Jamaica’s reggae roots.

She is the daughter of legendary reggae guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, who has played on over 500 albums with household names like Bob Marley, Lauryn Hill and Dennis Brown.

Her connection to reggae doesn’t end with her family. Smith Dunn’s first tour was with the Wailers when she was 22, and she has been performing as a solo artist and in collaboration with others ever since.

Smith Dunn will also be travelling to Jamaica to facilitate the trip, and to visit her home. She predicts the band will grow musically during their travels.

“For them to do reggae but not having traveled to where it’s from, there’s a slight disconnect there,” Smith Dunn says. She adds that Dub Kartel is going “to not only pay homage, but to also learn more, so what they create is more guided and legitimate.”

Reggae music was born as a sound of defiance, Smith Dunn explains — a defiance that’s still needed today.

“Reggae is a social outcry and we’re living in that time,” she says. “They want to go and understand that history.”

Dub Kartel will be recording an EP at Anchor Studios while in Kingston, and have enlisted the help of local reggae experts to make it happen.

Skiffington mentions that the band will be staying with producer Debo Ras during their trip. Ras’ previous work includes production on Raging Fyah’s Grammy-nominated album Everlasting, but his home is a draw for the group as well — the house has a jam space where Skiffington hopes local musicians will “come hang out and join tracks.”

Earl Smith’s world-famous collective Inna de Yard, a pilgrimage-like daily gathering of inspired musicians on his porch, will also welcome Dub Kartel’s members.

The band plans on playing a few shows later in their stay, to continue building connections with local artists.

“Our quality will be so much greater based on the knowledge of the people we’re working with, and how well they know the genre,” Skiffington points out.

Skiffington never seems nervous about bringing Dub Kartel’s sound to Kingston.

“Our conviction as a band is to try and create our version of what we consider to be Jamaican-style reggae,” he says. “We shoot for there and end up somewhere in the middle.”

For him, the idea of bringing Canadian reggae to Jamaica is exciting: understandably, the reggae scene in Nova Scotia isn’t as vibrant as Jamaica’s.

“It’s hard to have a direct comparison coming from Halifax,” Skiffington says. “It’ll be very interesting to go to this place where the majority of people already listen, like and understand what (we’re) trying to do.”

The expenses of Dub Kartel’s trip to the Caribbean don’t dissuade the band: Skiffington calls the price tag a small one in exchange for “focus, inspiration and quality.”

If anything, they might even save money in some ways, he adds. “The weed is real cheap!”

Dub Kartel’s visit to Kingston begins Feb. 15. Updates on the band’s trip and their eventual EP can be found on social media, including their Facebook page.