Kala Ukulele & U•BASS® Debuted in Jamaica
Four Jamaican musicians gathered in Kingston’s historic Harry J Studio this month to record an original arrangement of “Redemption Song” on ukulele, U•BASS®, and cajon. Here’s why:
Thanks to Black History Month, February in the United States has become a time of vital reflection, celebration, and invigorating dialogue about the history and contributions of Black Americans.
Some might be unaware, however, that in Jamaica, February is also the official Reggae Month: a celebration of the now globally popular genre and art form that saw its inception in Kingston, Jamaica in the 1960’s. Reggae Month was first celebrated in 2008, with February chosen for its solidarity with Black History Month, as well as being the birth month of some of the genres most influential figures, including Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, and Spanner Banner.
The video you just watched above was an original arrangement performed entirely on Kala instruments in Harry J Studio, organized and captured by studio manager Tara Johnson.
“The legendary Harry J Recording Studio opened its doors in the 1970’s and became the benchmark for quality music production through the advanced technology that it utilized,” Tara shared, “During its heyday, the studio possessed one of five, 16 track recording boards in the world.”
Of its many accomplishments, Harry J Studio is perhaps most well known as the recording and engineering birthplace of the first five albums from Bob Marley & the Wailers.
Assembled under the banner of NYC-based indie label Easy Star Records, the four musicians featured include Hector Lewis on the Zebrawood Cajon, Jerome “Spangy” Small on the Journeyman U•BASS®, Nico Groskopf on the All Solid Flame Maple Tenor Ukulele, and Monty Savory on the Solid Acacia Tenor ukulele.
Tara and the line-up of performers selected Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” for its crucial importance to the Reggae story and its timeless relevance coming out of a historically difficult year for musicians.
“It is a song that has transcended geographical borders & is relatable to all people who have struggled or are struggling with oppression or challenging times,” Tara said. “It reminds us that no matter the gravity of the situation, ‘redemption’ will come. And we hope that in this current global crisis we could remind the world of that fact through ‘Redemption Song.’”
Despite how well the ukulele fits within the genre, the instrument was a late addition to Jamaica and represents new opportunities for musical expression, while paying homage to traditional instrument voicings.
“Tonally, the ukulele has a very close resemblance to the classical guitar and the percussiveness of a banjo, which were prominently used in early Jamican music such as Mento,” Monty Savory explained, “The ukulele is the instrument that really does bridge the gap between the ‘old time sound’ and the ‘modern sound.’'
Still, the U•BASS® represents an even newer addition to Jamaica. With the help of Harry J Studios, Easy Star Records, and artist manager Ryan Sullivan, Kala was able to get Jamaica’s first ever U•BASSES delivered to Kingston in December 2020. In the months since, influential session bassists like Danny Bassie, Jerome Spangy Small, Ziah Push, Adrian “Jerks” Henry have gravitated and began creating on the instrument.
One U•BASS® will also permanently live in Harry J Studio for all future recording artists to use.
Jerome Spangy Small, the bassist featured in the Reggae Month tribute, had picked up his U•BASS® just a few weeks before filming.
“Bass and low-end is so important and crucial for reggae music. I was really impressed with the pre-amps used on the U•BASS. They do a really amazing job cutting through the mix.” Jerome said. “More than anything, it was really fun to play.”
The pride and ingenuity with which the Jamaican artist community approaches writing, recording and performing music is all but unparalleled. Back in 2015, Kingston was designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Music, having been the birthplace of 6 distinct musical genres: Mento, Ska, Dub, Rocksteady, Reggae and Dancehall.
In Tara’s view, the official recognition and annual celebration of Reggae Month has been a meaningful badge of honor to the Jamaican identity.
“It has provided an avenue for locals and visitors to enjoy one of the most prolific products of Jamaica: our music.”
You can learn more about the history of Jamaica's Harry J Studio here and keep up with the latest in reggae at Easy Star Records here. The instruments featured in this performance are the Journeyman U•BASS®, Zebrawood Cajon, and the KA-SA-TE-C and KA-ASFM-T-C ukuleles.