This year, SNWMF brings to our shores, for the first time, Kingston Rudieska.
The nine-piece Korean ska band Kingston Rudieska filter and fuse ska, jazz, reggae, dub and nyahbinghi through the Korean experience. The group has drawn rave and explosive responses from fans across Asia. Through their 100+ performances each year, including a handful of large headlining slots, they won "The Largest Attraction" award at KT&G Sang Sang Ma Dang.
Although South Korea is about as far from Jamaica as a country could be, that hasn't prevented authentic Jamaican music, namely ska and reggae, from reaching her shores. Korea's first traditional ska band, Kingston Rudieska, has been paying respect to the roots since they began in 2004. The nine- piece band blends bluebeat, ska, jazz, reggae, dub, and nyahbinghi chanting into a final product that is uniquely Korean; something the band has dubbed "Feast Ska." Their shows mix foot-stomping instrumentals, accompanied by a four-piece horn section, with warm, soulful vocals sung by "Sugar" Seok Yul Lee. Their performances are punctuated with a jammy, improvisational vibe as many of the members are trained jazz musicians. The music pays enormous respect to ska pioneers, The Skatalites. It's not uncommon, during a set, to hear an impromptu Skatalites cover kick off an improvisational jam to the delight of the crowd.
Over the past fourteen years, they've come a long way from playing dingy basement clubs to appearing on some of the nation's biggest stages, fostering a love of Jamaican rhythms to a nation still newly discovering the genre. They've appeared at nearly all of Korea's major music festivals, including Jisan Valley Rock Festival, Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival, Busan Rock Festival, Seoul Jazz Festival, Rainbow Island Music Festival, and Grand Mint Festival. Additionally, Kingston Rudieska has appeared on numerous televised music programs in Korea.
Kingston Rudieska has had the privilege of performing with many other talented musicians and bands. They've shared the stage with Japanese bands such as Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Eskargot Miles, and Cool Wise Men, North American groups the Slackers and Chris Murray Combo, as well as Babylove and the van Dangos (Denmark), T-bone (Thailand), Babylon Circus(France), Dr. Ring Ding Ska Vaganza (Germany), and Skazz (Australia). Most recently, they recorded an EP with Jamaican music legend Dr. Ring Ding (Germany).
They recorded their first single in 2006, and since then they've released three full-length albums, not to mention one EP and a couple digital singles, and contributed a track to the United Colors of Ska 4.0 compilation on Pork Pie Records (Germany).
Kingston Rudieska have taken their next giant leap towards world ska domination with their 2016 double CD release, Everyday People. As evidenced by their previous albums, the band's musicality and devotion to Jamaican styles has never been in doubt. But Everyday People shows a more mature group intent on bringing new concepts to a classic genre. Undoubtedly, the most exciting aspect of this album is the production efforts of Brian Dixon, formerly of the Aggrolites. His old-school studio techniques and Gestalt approach to music has tapped into the sounds of classic Jamaican recordings and, somehow, old Korean psychedelic rock cuts as well. The result is a soulful, warm vibe. Everyday People is an example of how the right producer can elevate a band to a better version of themselves.
Beginning with their previous full length release, 3rd Kind, it seems Kingston Rudieska has been exploring different genres and ideas. Everyday People continues in that vein. The first track, "Walking, Talking, Thinking", is a wonderful mashup of rocksteady, dub and jam, and it sets the mood for the rest of the album. The majority of the album sounds 100% like classic Kingston Rudieska with that aforementioned Brian Dixon dynamic. The instruments, especially the organ, blend beautifully with one another, and much of the song writing recalls their early days of ska jazz, a la the Skatalites, but without the baggage of trying too hard to sound "authentic."
The one track that best exhibits this maturation is "East & West". It's a jammy instrumental featuring Choe Hwi Seon on the Yanggeum, a traditional Korean folk instrument similar to a dulcimer, that shows off their ska chops and celebrates their Korean roots. "Never, No More" features guest saxophone Tommy Tornado. The arrangement is just gorgeous and the chorus gets stuck in your head whether you want it there or not. Kim Dae Min (drums) and Son Hyung Sick (bass) groove hard throughout the album but their shine is especially bright on this track. A common genre visited throughout the album is lover's rock, that old romantic reggae sound from the 70's. Vocalist Sugar Suk Yuel croons tenderly over the exquisite strings of Kim Violin on "On the Beach" and his broken heart transcends the language barrier on "The Way You Are". He even conjures up the old Wailers sound on "Gimme Some Love" with the suggestive refrain and reverb soaked backing harmonies. Another love song, "You Are the One", is sung with confidence and finesse by longtime saxophone player Sung Nock Won, whose smooth tenor blends well with the Motown soul feel of the verses. Hopefully his vocal abilities will be featured more in the future as it is clear he is up to the task.
Disc 1 of the album goes out the way it came in: with a grooving rootsy jam. The solos on "Sir Rico" go to guitarist, Seo Jae Ha, and Yim Chae Sun on keys. They handily prove they are masters of more than just rhythm. The pocket is deep and the horn section lays down a hook that leaves the listener wanting more. Luckily, there is more, in the form of a second disc of casual jams and dubs with Brian Dixon. In their past releases, attention to detail and a desire for perfection showed through with three LP's of squeaky clean polished ska music. But the recording methods used by Dixon on Everyday People focused less on getting it right and more on group togetherness and, in his own words, "grit." The second disc is a testament to the success of this strategy. The first three tracks were all cut on the last day of recording with just one or two takes. "Sailor's Chant" is a variation on an old Korean folk song; "Love Lake Session" is the result of a simple chord progression thrown up on a white board and "Boom Boom's Arirang" is a deep hypnotic reggae tune based on another folk song. Finally, Dixon mixed dub versions of two disc one tracks to close out the album.
Bands with long careers can often stagnate from album to album. Perhaps they find some success with their first sound and never really grow beyond that. Or the opposite can happen and one offering sounds so different from the previous one that fans can be left disappointed. Their 2016 release is proof that Kingston Rudieska continue to grow and focus new inspiration even after ten years since they first stepped onstage. This is one of those rare albums where every track is a winner; the compulsion to press "play" one more time waits for you at the end of every listen.
Now, in 2018, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival would like you to help celebrate Kingston Rudieska performing in the United States for the very first time this June, and they look forward to sharing their version of original ska with our audience. As with all the bands we have hosted from Korea, we are confident they will make a mark for themselves, and their performance will be talked