Locals find musical outlet through Reggae rhythms

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New doors into the professional music world opened for Ras Cathe of Vidalia and New Orleans and Jack Kelly of Natchez when they joined the Baton Rouge band Henry Turner Jr. and Flavor.

The locals will show off their talents with their new partners on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, from 7 to 11 p.m. at Bobby J’s on Franklin Street — playing the distinctive reggae music for which Turner and his group have become known.

More gigs in bigger and more prominent venues also await the band in 2007 — an appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in early May and headlining in a New Orleans club on Mardi Gras day.

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The Turner band, organized in 1989, features Turner playing guitar; Jonathan Long, bass; and Ronnie Houston, drums. All three are lead and background vocalists.

Their music has been described as reggae with an infusion of funk, blues, gospel, world music, zydeco and pop.

Cathe and Kelly recently joined the band for a recording session in Baton Rouge.

“We’re making another CD,” Kelly said. “It’s an incredible experience, intimidating and intense, but it worked.”

Turner, speaking from his studio in Baton Rouge Tuesday, said the addition of the Natchez-area musicians has been positive for the band.

“It’s made a big difference for us,” he said.

“Having Jack with the washboard helps to bring in the famous Louisiana music and brings a lot of excitement,” Turner said.

Before organizing the band, he thought about ways to make a band stand apart from others.

“I wanted to create a hybrid, a band that would make people say, ‘I want to go see that band,’” Turner said. “I love seeing that happen.”

Both Cathe and Kelly have had a love for reggae-style music for 30 years. The rhythmic sounds of the music have their roots in African drum circles but have been honed by other musical influences.

Cathe plays a djembe, pronounced “JIM-bay,” a goblet-shaped drum played with the bare hands, with origins in West Africa.

“I came to this music through reading and through travel,” Cathe said. “I first saw the djembe in Jamaica in 1972.”

Cathe’s interest in reggae rhythms grew from there. Kelly had a similar experience.

“I got into reggae in 1977 when I got interested in island music,” she said.

While living in Connecticut, she saw the washboard used as an instrument by a zydeco band.

After moving to Natchez 10 years ago, Kelly continued to pursue her love for the reggae rhythms, looking for groups with which to play.

“My sister in Baton Rouge found Henry. I met him and started going along with his group as a troubador,” she said. “In 2005, right after (Hurricane) Katrina, I joined the band.”

Meanwhile, she had met Cathe and the two had worked to promote reggae in the Natchez area, looking for venues where they could spread the word and sounds.

“At the Under-the-Hill Saloon in April 2006 during the blues festival, Natchez busted wide open,” Kelly said, describing the enthusiasm of the crowd for the sounds of the band.

What Kelly likes as much as the music itself is what the sounds do to bring together ethnic groups.

“I’ve been a proponent for racial harmony in Natchez, and reggae helps to accomplish that,” she said.

Cathe agreed. “The music crosses everything — all the lines, all the colors. It’s infectious, contagious.”

The music is for all ages, as well, he said. “I used to ride my bicycle in New Orleans with reggae playing on the boom box,” he said. “Older people sitting outside, maybe even in wheelchairs, could feel the beat.”

Kelly continues to perfect her percussion talents, playing frottoir, cabasa, clave and tambourine.

“It’s the most wonderful experience,” she said. “I didn’t see this coming.”