Without warning, Eyezon Soweto jumped on stage during Sky Country’s set at the Nacarubi Festival in Big Sur last summer. To listeners it felt as if he was pushed onto the stage by some divine entity: His voice added delicious soul-music texture to Sky Country’s tight blend of funk, experimental jazz and psych rock from Nico Georis (keys), Shaun Elley (drums), Matt Baldwin (guitar), Peter Arensdorf (bass) and Robin Macmillan and Brett Eastman (percussion).
It was the band’s first introduction to the South African hip-hop artist. It was also the beginning of something special.
“Later that night, we found ourselves around a campfire having an epic freestyle jam session with the dudes from Fishbone, Rushad [Eggleston], Mariee Sioux and everyone that performed over the weekend,” Georis says. “That was the way we really got to know [Eyezon].”
“It was great to see African music come together with California music,” Eyezon adds. “They’re actually very similar.”
Shortly after Nacarubi, Eyezon reached out to Georis thinking they had a new brand of music on their hands, “Afri-Cali,” a hearty cioppino of rock, blues, heavy rhythms and percussion of 1970s Ethiopian music, topped with coastal-psych seasoning. Eyezon also called to tell Georis he had booked a string of shows, without the band’s knowledge, for Sky Country.
“We all were thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’” Georis says. “But after playing a few shows together we really connected and it felt real good. At that point, we decided [Eyezon] should join the band.”
The addition of the man dubbed “the black Jim Morrison” by some has given new flavor to Sky Country’s vibe.
“We weren’t going to take our music in a completely different direction,” Georis says. “Eyezon’s stuff enhances and enriches the stuff we were already doing.”
Added to one of Georis’ defining songs, “Struggle (Go Go Go, Soldiers Come Home),” Eyezon’s original prose results in funked out bliss that melds political poetry, Marvin Gaye’s brand of R&B and the deep rhythmic jams of Galactic. On the song, Georis plays keyboards like a lead guitar and Eyezon uses his voice like a second lead instrument.
“It’s beautiful,” Eyezon says. “People have been really embracing the music.”
On Friday, Sky Country and its newest member headline at the Hidden Valley Music Center. Georis and his longtime buddy and former bandmate, electric cellist/force of nature Rushad Eggleston, have made a habit of hosting a night of music around the holidays.
“This thing was kind of born out of me and Rushad’s friendship,” Georis says. “It’s like a Christmas homecoming.”
The evening will feature Eggleston’s fiesty Tornado Rider and the kind of all-star jam that spawned Eyezon’s role with his new group.
“It’s a badass party,” Georis says, “in a cool environment that we can control ourselves.”
THE X-MAS BASH with TORNADO RIDER and SKY COUNTRY begins 7pm Friday, Dec. 23, at Hidden Valley Music Center, 88 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. $15/advance at Mundaka and www.nacarubi.com; $20/door. 659-3115.