âThereâs no beating the old-fashioned lure of a band who have built up a mighty following through sweaty, hard-gigging performances. This applies to the supremely danceable New Zealand 8-piece The Black Seeds whose record sales attest to their loyal fan baseâ¦ with charismatic vocalist Barnaby Weir at the helm thereâs an immediate appeal to their fresh Pacific groovesâ¦ The Black Seedsâ tunes are packed with funk, reggae, dub, and good time soulâ¦â
- The Metro, London The Lord of the Rings
put New Zealandâs beauty and creative spirit on the pop culture map. Flight of the Conchords revealed New Zealandâs unique wit. Now reggae/funk sensations The Black SeedsâConchord friends and former band matesâare ready to take listeners one step deeper into the Other Down Under, with infectious grooves, slamming brass, and booty shaking beats on the groupâs first North American release, Solid Ground
(Easy Star Records; Released exclusively on iTunes September 15; everywhere else September 29, 2009), and on their debut U.S. tour with John Brownâs Body.
The Black Seeds followed Solid Ground with the October 2010 release of Specials, featuring remixes and versions from the Solid Ground sessions; the band describes Specials as âan opportunity to present songs from our Solid Ground LP in a new light and encourage experimentation by giving a range of artists, producers, and MCâsâsome established, some up and coming, from New Zealand and around the worldâa chance to put their take on a âSeedsâ song.â
Down-and-dirty dancehall and the deep throb of dub may sound like a Kiwi novelty but New Zealandâs sparkling beaches and green, rolling hills proved the perfect place for transplanting Jamaican sounds. Reggae has been a passion for New Zealanders since the 1970s, marked by a pivotal Bob Marley concert in 1979 and the growing support and struggle for Maori cultural and political recognition in their native land of Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand.
The Maorisâ battle for their rights and their land was mirrored in classic reggaeâs socially conscious lyrics, and Rastafarianism resonated with young Maoris and European-heritage New Zealanders alikeâNew Zealand even boasts a Rastafarian MP, the Green Partyâs Nandor Tanczos. The music and lifestyle flourished in the laidback island vibe of Wellington, the countryâs small coastal metropolis with its village feel, vibrant arts scene, and penchant for jazz, dub, and hip hop.
âItâs all about the island sound,â laughs The Black Seedsâ guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Barnaby Weir. âSpeed ukulele, church choirs, the rhythm of the Samoan log drum. After all, if you live on the island, are you going to put on AC/DC?â
Departing from the keyboard-heavy underground scene of the 1980s, todayâs New Zealand reggae, thanks in part to bands like The Black Seeds, has dug into 1970âs-flavored funk and soul, and spawned popular reggae festivals, #1 hits, and multi-platinum album sales. âNew Zealand reggae is not strictly reggae. We have our own sounds. Itâs been a small but influential scene for a long time, and as a teen, I remember going to hear big sound systems,â Weir recalls. âWeâve been playing parties for something like fifteen years. But the scene now has hit a popular phase. Itâs almost a trend in a way. Being from an underground band, Iâve watched it really come into its own over the last five years.â
Coming into its own has also meant hitting the world stage, as audiences and critics across Australasia and Europe have embraced The Black Seedsâ brand of Aotearoa dub. Along with going double-platinum in New Zealand for previous releases and earning strong reviews worldwide for Solid Ground
, The Black Seeds regularly sell out shows in Europe and perform at major festivals such as Denmarkâs Roskilde, Londonâs Lovebox, Hollandâs Lowlands Festival, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as playing on popular television music shows like Franceâs Canal Plus. Now, North America, home to its own burgeoning home-grown reggae scene, will finally get a taste of New Zealandâs increasingly popular reggae vibes.
The Black Seeds have ridden this rising reggae tide, working out of a studio dubbed The Surgery that the band converted from a once condemned Wellington karate dojo. A maze of halls, rooms, and nooks, itâs practice space, recording studio, and funky spiritual home all in one. âThe Surgery is a fairly humble but well-used studio. Itâs our headquarters. Itâs not flash. But itâs f*ckinâ good!â Weir exclaims.
The Surgery has incubated a shifting sound over the years that the band, tight from months of touring when they recorded Solid Ground
, wryly calls âfuture-retro.â Strictly roots, molten bass and punchy brass collide with edgy funk beats (as on âRotten Appleâ) and what Weir calls the âspacey texturesâ of tracks like âSlingshot,â all with a gently optimistic Kiwi twang.
The new reggae rage in New Zealand rose from the grassroots, much like its counterpart scene in the U.S., as groups like The Black Seeds and John Brownâs Body spend years pounding the road with hardcore touring. Now with support of renegade label Easy Starâthe devious masterminds behind Dub Side of the Moon, Radiodread, and Easy Starâs Lonely Hearts Dub Bandâunconventional reggae groups like The Black Seeds and JBB are creating a new generation of devoted fans hungry for the music and the spirit reflected in the Seedsâ name: the legendary panacea of Black Seed Oil and the roots that remind humanity of our common origin.
âWe are all from the cradle of civilization in the Congo, and it all developed from there and migrated all the way to the islands of the South Pacific,â muses Weir. âWe made it down here. There are African rhythms in every music, and we believe you can find the journey of the rhythm all the way down to New Zealand.â