Twinkle Brothers, Alpha Blondy and Culture headline massive two-day Monterey Bay Reggaefest.
Thursday, September 1, 2005
Years before reggae music became a global phenomenon with the release of the 1972 movie The Harder They Come, starring Jimmy Cliff, and Bob Marley’s 1973 album Catch a Fire, brothers Norman and Ralston Grant were making music as the Twinkle Brothers. After being introduced to music at their church in their native town of Falmouth, the Grants embarked on their career by entering national singing competitions in the early ‘60s. Competing against other reggae greats like Toots & the Maytals and The Itals, the Twinkle Brothers eventually took home a first place prize.
Despite this, Ralston, says, until the ‘70s he and his brother were so poor that they could not afford to purchase their own instruments. Speaking by phone from his current home in Emeryville, California, Ralston recalls crafting guitars out of boards, sardine tins and fishing line. “We made drums from little pans and cans,” he says. “It sound good.”
Even though the Twinkle Brothers could not afford guitars and drums, the Grants were recording records. “There was no band,” Ralston says of his group back then. “We were just a singing group.
“It was different from now. In those days, you would have to be singing—real singing in key.”
In the ‘70s, the Twinkle Brothers cut classic albums like 1975’s Rasta Pon Top. In addition, the brothers created their own record label, Twinkle Music, so they could avoid the shady dealings of the Jamaican music business.
“We are country people,” Ralston says of the impetus for establishing their own record label. “When we go to the city and see how they do business in Kingston, we didn’t like it.”
Not including a short period of time when Norman joined reggae group Inner Circle—famous for the Cops television theme song “Bad Boys”—the Twinkle Brothers have been steadily releasing albums since forming their record company. One of their most interesting releases has to be Twinkle Inna Poland Style, where Norman and the group’s bassist traveled to Poland to record with a folk group called the Trebunia Family.
Personally, Ralston’s life changed when the Twinkle Brothers played a show in San Francisco during a 1982 tour. During the performance, he met a lady dressed in yellow in the audience. After the show, the two hit it off and for the next three years Ralston visited her every time he toured the states.
In 1985, Ralston moved to the East Bay and married the woman, who is named Della. Today Della is a popular performer on the reggae festival circuit herself, and she uses the Twinkle Brothers as her backing band. Though Ralston says that Della’s music and that of the Twinkle Brothers have the same vibe, some of Della’s songs have a slower, more contemporary R&B sound.
These days, touring is truly a family affair for Ralston. At practically every show, Ralston gets to play a set with his brother as the Twinkle Brothers and another one backing his wife.
Despite the fact that Norman lives a continent away in England, Ralston says that the music-making brothers are still very close. “We talk every day now,” he says.
Despite a wide range of musicians from danceable local performer Tony Miles to the Latin-funk-soul-reggae songs of Northern California’s Luna Angel, most headliners at this year’s reggae festival play the sort of classic reggae that would make Bob Marley proud.
Some things to see:
• Hailing from the Ivory Coast of Africa, Alpha Blondy makes reggae music that rails against social injustices and calls for global unity while delivering lyrics in Dioula, English, French, Arabic and Hebrew. Probably Africa’s biggest reggae export, Alpha Blondy is known for releases like 1986’s Jerusalem.
• Like the Twinkle Brothers, the spiritual vocal group the Abyssinians have been making reggae since the music’s early years in the ‘60s. In 1971, they recorded the widely influential single “Satta Massa Gana.”
• Midnite is a newer outfit from the Caribbean island of St. Croix that is becoming popular for playing reggae like it was done during the late ‘60s and ‘70s. The popular new band has just released two new CDs: Ainshant Maps and Scheme A Things.
• Formed over 25 years ago, Culture is a reggae vocal trio led by singer Joseph Hill. The group’s 1977 debut album, Two Sevens Clash, is a reggae classic.
• Deviating from vintage roots reggae, the Monterey Bay Reggaefest’s Reggaeton Showcase features artists like Noreiega, Guanabanas and Willie Nagron performing this hybrid of dancehall reggae, hip-hop and Latin music. Recently the subject of an article in the New York Times, reggaeton is—to use their own slang—a fuego.
THE MONTEREY BAY REGGAEFEST TAKES OVER THE MONTEREY
COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS, 2004 FAIRGROUNDS RD. IN MONTEREY, SATURDAY
FROM 10AM TO 11PM AND SUNDAY FROM 10AM TO 10PM. $70/ADVANCE
TWO-DAY TICKET; $40/ADVANCE SINGLE DAY TICKET; $45/AT THE GATE
DAILY PASS; $10/12 AND UNDER; FREE/UNDER 3. FOR MORE
INFORMATION, GO TO WWW.MBAYREGGAEFEST.NET
OR CALL 394-6534.