Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Indie Reggae: The Greg Ward Project

The local indie reggae band, entitled The Greg Ward Project, played a show during a college party located on University Court in Charlottesville on September 11, 2009. Though some friends were hosting the party, I was additionally interested in attending, as I saw the band play at a bar called Coupe Deville on the Corner on Tuesday evenings this past summer. The GWP is especially intriguing because the band is a good illustration of crossing the racial divide within music.

The Greg Ward Project consists of three or four members at a time. The band is unique in its construction, as Greg Ward is the one constant member. He performs guitar and vocals. As the leader and creator of the group, he chooses other musicians to perform with him from time to time. Having seen the bad four or five times, it is accurate to note that band never consists of less than three members or more than four members. In addition to Greg’s guitar and vocals, there is usually a drummer, a bassist, and/or a more non-common instrument, such as a cowbell, or even a washboard-like instrument played with a stick. Such instrumentation is canonical for Reggae style music. Additionally, it is significant to note that though the Greg Ward Project plays covers at local bars and parties, they may not only play covers. At the party I attended, however, they did solely cover songs by Bob Marley and other recognizable Reggae musicians.

Reggae is frequently associated with black performers, as reggae music originated in Jamaica in the 1960s. But Greg Ward, along with all the other members of the band that I have observed, are of Caucasian descent. The musicality and lyrics of the sound that the Greg Ward Project exhibits are associated with the “musical encoding of blackness” (Shank, 262). In his article, “From Rice to Ice,” Barry Shank deciphers the characteristics of African –American musical elements – “cries…polyrhythms…blue notes…hums, moans, grunts…” (Shank, 262). In general, the genre of Reggae music displays many of the musical elements that Shank associates with African-American music.

Since black individuals typically sing the lyrics of the covers that the Greg Ward Project performed, so it is a little different to hear a Caucasian person singing them. This seems like a social construction within itself, and brings to mind Eminem breaking into the typically African-American rapping scene. Some of the Bob Marley lyrics that the Greg Ward Project sang included, “I shot the sheriff, but I didn't shoot no deputy, ooh, ooh, oo-ooh. Yeah! All around in my home town, they're tryin' to track me down; they say they want to bring me in guilty for the killing of a deputy” (http://www.elyrics.net/read/b/bob-marley-lyrics/i-shot-the-sheriff-lyrics.html). These lyrics are similar to the themes that are sung in “Cop Killer” surrounding the controversy of the Los Angeles riots (Shank, 269).

The instrumentation, musicality, and lyrics that the Greg Ward Project performs in their Reggae music covers directly relates to historic blackface minstrelsy. Firstly, the concept of white men performing the songs of the culture of black men is similar to the performance of blackface minstrelsy. Even the demographics of the concert support this similarity, as almost the entire audience at the concert was white, and mostly male, just like the audience of blackface minstrelsy performances. Finally, the idea of both love and theft discussed in class are present in the Greg Ward Project’s music, as the band lovingly performed the music “stolen” from black reggae artists. The performance by the Greg Ward Project brought up a great deal of complex ideas about music and racialization.

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