Words by John Powell
Photo by iLa Mawana
An Interview with iLa Mawana
Boston-based reggae octet iLa Mawana recently played with Burlington’s Bearquarium at Higher Ground on Saturday, April, 3rd. After that, a U.S. tour takes them to Florida and California.
Blending roots reggae with contemporary melodies, iLa Mawana fits perfectly into the popular northeast reggae scene, alongside John Brown’s Body, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, and even Afrobeat artists like Rubblebucket Orchestra.
The group is comprised of horn section Trevor Bernatchez, Sara Honeywell, and Nancy Loedy, drummer Sammy Wags, Organist Jason Moore, Bassist Ryan Hinchey, Guitarist Dave Rosen, and Gian Paolo Blower on vocals. Their songs are political, utopian, and generally invested in the wellbeing of society.
Taking a break from finishing up their full-length debut, guitarist Rosen took time to answer some questions regarding the band’s beginning.
Be sure to check them out at UVM’s Spring fest on April 24th, 2010.
Q: How did the band meet and what prompted forming a group? A: Some of us have been friends for a long time. Ryan, the bass player, and I grew up in the same town. We met up with the rest of the group after college, but what brought us together was our love for reggae and dub music.
Q: What does the name iLa Mawana mean? Where’d it come from? A: iLa Mawana is our way of putting a name to the vibe of our music. You could say it’s an imaginary place where you are when you connect with our tunes, and in a lot of our artwork we try to paint the image of that place with the use of nature or an island. It’s all about positivity [sic] and breaking through the stresses of life to enjoy the moment…then you’ll be in iLa Mawana
Q: Our generation greatly leans towards Indie Folk Rock like Fleet Foxes and Iron and Wine, but you chose to play Roots Reggae. Where did this passion come from? A: It’s hard to say exactly why we chose to play reggae, especially since everyone in the group takes influence from many different genres of music. Whether or not it’s considered one of the more popular genres for our generation to play, I definitely think that reggae has been a growing culture in this country since groups like Sublime and JBB (John Brown’s Body) became popular over a decade ago. But for every one of us reggae has played a huge role in our lives so the passion to play reggae kind of just came naturally.
Q: Who are some of your favorite past and present reggae artists? A: Marley, Burning Spear, Lee Perry, Culture, JBB, Groundation, Giant Panda, and the list goes on and on.
Q: Reggae is music with a message. What’s yours? A: Our message has a lot to do with breaking through the pre-defined expectations for how people should live their lives. The track “40 Hours” is all about sending the message that you should be a part of what makes you happy. Our society instills the notion in people that they need to get a 40/hr a week job working for someone else, but if you’re passionate about something you should take a risk; life is short. That’s where the lyrics “give me back my 40 hours” comes from. The overall message of our music is positive and is about enjoying the present moment. We speak about life, love, & exploration of the mind.
Q: Many newer bands realize they can’t rely on record sales. Touring is seemingly the only was to eek a living. You are doing a great job of scoring opening gigs for groups like Toubab Krewe. How has touring been for you so far? A: So far we’ve only been playing shows in the Northeast and it’s treated us very well. We’ve been fortunate enough to play with groups like Toubab Krewe & Burning Spear and have met a lot of really great people on the road. For us it’s all about expanding and touring. We want to be on the road as much and for as long as possible and are looking forward to the tours to come.
Q: What’s your take on music and the internet? Clearly it’s a double-edged sword because everyone can hear your music, but no one’s forced to buy it. A: For us it’s all about fan support. If people download our music for free and like it, then we consider it a gain. In the end, the more people that support you the greater your success will be on the road; the rest will fall into place. Our take is just to make our music available. We’ll sell CD’s at shows but also offer the songs for free on websites like The Pier. We just hope the people listen.
Q: Being an Indie band in a world of free music, what would you ask of your fans in regards to supporting you? A: Come out to shows!
Q: A full-length album is in the works? When is it coming out, and will you be touring behind it? A: The new album comes out May 15th at Harper’s Ferry in Boston. After the release we’ll be heading out on a national tour that will include mostly shows down in Florida and in California, but then we’ll be returning to the Northeast and will be playing shows in the area until the Fall.
Q: I respect any new Reggae band that holds onto the roots vibe while integrating new modes of singing and songwriting. The Reggae touring family is tight and friendly. Do you think, overall, masters like Marley, Tosh, and Culture’s Joseph Hill would be happy with the continuing of their message? A: Yes. In general, I would say that the masters like Marley & Culture would be happy that reggae music is expanding, and new generations of songwriters that take influence from them are continuing along the same path. The message that reggae sends is positive, but there are a lot of topics that the greats like Marley sang about that just don’t apply to us, so we try to hold onto the roots vibe while keeping things real.