These days, soul music is a genre often stuck in the side aisle of the record store or passed off into smoky cafés and '70s reunion shows. The originators of American soul music — Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and early James Brown — commandeered ears when they blasted on the scene with this new style in the 1950s and '60s, but over the years, the sound has become familiar to listeners and therefore less-talked-about. That's too bad, because people are missing out on some captivating tunes. The movement has splintered into a number of subgenres worth exploring, including Detroit Motown soul, Stax Records Memphis soul, psychedelic soul, Philly soul, Chicago soul... and now, downtown soul. That last category was invented by local stone groovers Ketchy Shuby to describe their sound.
Ketchy Shuby is made up of six members, all in their mid-20s, whose roots range from Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico to Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Formed in 2008, the outfit has quickly created a buzz on the live circuit, combining a new sound with old soul to earn their "downtown" moniker. "It's jazz, it's '60s rock, Afrobeat, reggae, ska...," explains the group's 26-year-old lead vocalist and guitar player, Jason Joshua Hernandez-Rodriguez, AKA "Jay."
Percussionist Danny Quinto adds, "Our music is Curtis Mayfield, Santana, Miles Davis, Fania All Stars, mixed with MGMT, Kings of Leon, and the Budos Band, to name a few."
Zillions of bands advertise their sets as a "melting pot of influences" — and then go on to play to their singular strengths. But Ketchy's versatility is no joke. Bassist Mack Moore skanks to reggae rhythms while Camilo Parisi channels Latin fusion on the electric guitar. Drummer Sandor Davidson keeps proper pace for their musical time warp, and sax player Bob Smiley adds the bounce. "We started out playing more roots reggae and ska," says Quinto. "The group was first called Mad Anxiety and consisted of myself, Jay, and Camilo. We would jam all the time, but the band really started to grow when we added Mack and Sandor last year and most recently our sax player, Bob."
Jam sessions turn into recording fodder and live shows morph into improvised extended cuts. At a Ketchy performance, each set is a different experience with the same common denominator. The group's name is taken from the Peter Tosh track "Ketchy Shuby." ("Come make we play some ketchy shuby/And when me shuby, you feel ketchy.") Though it's unclear what Tosh's "Ketchy Shuby" is about exactly — many people say the song's clearly an allusion to sex; others have claimed it's a play on catchy shubby, a variation of the game cricket — the song exemplifies the type of mellow but happy reggae-influenced grooves that'll be found on the band's debut four-song record, titled NOTIMETOHATE and coming this November.
"Some of the song ideas, we had come up with originally as Mad Anxiety — like our first single, 'Expand Your Soul,' " Hernandez-Rodriguez says. "But all the tracks will combine the old with the new and have our Ketchy style stamped on it." On the single, Hernandez-Rodriguez croons "Look inside yourself and you will see/that the positive outdoes the negativity/Expand your soul/Open up them doors because they're meant to be open" over a driving reggae riddim that falls between Black Uhuru and the Wailers.
Each of the four songs will be accompanied by a matching video directed by talented local director Jess Weos, and the debut record will be available for free download at ketchyshuby.bandcamp.com, where you can also grab "Expand Your Soul" right now.
Ketchy is one of a handful of newer local bands championing the DIY ethic but one of the first to put it on paper as a collective through its Tomorrow's People imprint. "It promotes good music in general and allows us to mold our own sound under our own umbrella," explains Hernandez-Rodriguez. "A lot of labels aren't concerned with the actual music, just the numbers. And that's not what we're about." So far, Tomorrow's People has recruited a grip of funky locals and offshoots including Fusik, the Morning Flesh Project, Animal Electric, Grandma's Organ, Redline Rhythm, and Buba Goes to Chaos. "These bands are all friends of ours and made up of young, talented musicians," adds sax player Bob Smiley. "Rock, funk, reggae... We all build off each other."
Add names like Afrobeta, Mayday, Elastic Bond, ArtOfficial, Spam Allstars and you've got a potent lineup of local musicians who are pushing the tight-knit South Florida scene. On any given night, you can find a local band playing original music — not Aerosmith or Sublime covers — and giving listeners their money's worth for the cover charge. Ketchy Shuby, Fusik, and Mayday have already shared the stage a handful of times, and each has a band member represented in the other's group. "We're all coming together, and the fans are coming out," Hernandez-Rodriguez says. "There's some great music to be surrounded by. Mayday helped us out by bringing us under their wing, and it seems there are a lot of groups out there collaborating, sharing ideas, and releasing records. It's a fun time to be in Miami. As long as artists don't get up and leave the city, there will be opportunity for everyone."
In the past year or so, Ketchy Shuby has worked its way up from unpaid gigs to headlining sets at notable live venues including Transit Lounge, Churchill's, Tobacco Road, and Cunningham's in Vero Beach. The band landed a slot at the recent Future Classic Festival and a live set on WDNA's Sound Theory radio show. The guys will also rock this Wednesday with Fusik at the Electric Pickle for the Tomorrow's People showcase at the weekly Champion Sound party. "We want to thank everyone for the love but also give a heads up about these open-mic parties going on. Promoters need to keep their word and take care of the bands," says Hernandez-Rodriguez, hinting that he's been burned a few times and is happy to have graduated to the next league in the local music circuit.
After NOTIMETOHATE drops this year, Ketchy Shuby has bigger plans, including a vinyl single, "Surrender," and a full album tentatively called Tiny Vices that'll be out in early 2010. Band members are also keeping busy with offshoots of their own, as Quinto and some of the members of Fusik are working on a Latin Afro-funk project; Hernandez-Rodriguez has a group called the Love Tomes with Stella of the Heartbreakerz crew; and Smiley and Hernandez-Rodriguez are collaborating on music with just horns and brass, resulting in a big-band Afrobeat sound.
On a humid night last week, some of the Tomorrow's People crew were celebrating the birthday of Felix, the drummer for Fusik, at a live show by indie singer/songwriter Rachel Goodrich. Not the first place you'd think of for a birthday jam for the collective, but it goes further to prove that soul is a state of mind, and downtown is the place to be.