Elevator Music

Leave it to a reggae musician to calm a rowdy concert crowd -- even a decidedly non-reggae crowd. For six years the six-and-a-half-foot-tall, dreadlocked, surname-less Kevens was frontman for the peace-loving reggae band Le Coup. But in 1997, while playing the role of emcee at ZenFest, an annual Central Florida electronic-music festival, he suddenly found himself switching musical gears out of necessity.

"There were a lot of uneasy vibes going through the place because of the police presence," Kevens (rhymes with Stevens) recalls. "I went up there to say a few peaceful words to the masses. As I was doing that, DJ Monk [a member of the Florida electronic outfit Rabbit in the Moon] was spinning some heavy dubs with jungle in the background. So I decided to rap to one of these tracks, and to my surprise the crowd caught on fire."

Kevens wasn't accustomed to such a response. As a member of Le Coup, he'd composed and performed ska-injected reggae tunes throughout South Florida and opened for luminaries such as Jimmy Cliff and Third World. The band even played Jamaica's renowned Sunsplash reggae festival. But disappointed with what he considered a lackluster support of reggae in South Florida, Kevens quit the band and was pursuing a career in acting when the ZenFest gig popped up.

Since then he's been developing a Rasta-fied, techno-and-rap sound that's heavily influenced by the likes of L.T.J Bukem, the Prodigy, Rabbit in the Moon, and Roni Size. Aiding Kevens in his latest project is his new band, Amalgamation, which, as the name suggests, features an eclectic mix of performers: two drummers, three keyboardists, a guitarist, a bassist, backup singers, and dancers.

"In the rave and techno industries, I haven't personally found an MC who sings or raps about consciousness," Kevens says. "It took me by surprise to see that people were actually listening to me at a deeper level than they did with my previous work. I don't understand it, but that's what's happening."

Kevens and Amalgamation will perform at the Sundance Music Festival, an Fort Lauderdale show, and one of the songs audiences will be able to inspect closely is "Cannabis Hemp," which is available as a single and will be featured on a full-length CD this fall. Kevens' rap on the song proves that reggae is still a driving force in his life. "I'm not a smoker, I'm a tea drinker," he sings, "A salad maker/...Don't take the white stuff/Because it mashes up the brain/But the green stuff can take care of your pain/Asthma, glaucoma, nausea, anorexia, stress, migraine, tension, depression/Tell the DEA I have a bloody solution/Cannabis."

Should anyone assume that Kevens' sole interest in reggae lies with ganja, think again. In fact, he considers electronica a legitimate outlet for reggae's messages of harmony, spirituality, and personal improvement. "As Bob Marley said, 'One thing about this music is that it's going to get bigger, and bigger, and bigger. As long as you are a reggae person in your foundation, you can never change,'" Kevens explains. "I have elevated not from one level to another but within myself. So I didn't depart from reggae, I just grew within myself."

-- Larry Boytano

Kevens and Amalgamation will perform at the Sundance Music Festival with Robbie Hardkiss, Trip Theory, Subliminal, and many other acts Saturday, July 10, at Atlantis, 219 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Doors open at 9 p.m.; tickets cost $25. Call 954-779-2544. To contact Kevens call 305-538-4068.

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Larry Boytano