Original Rasta Punks

It was reggae king Bob Marley who first recognized and verbalized the relationship between reggae and punk in his 1977 b-side “Punky Reggae Party.” “Rejected by society, Treated with impunity, Protected by my dignity….New Wave, New Craze!” Perhaps no band epitomizes this reggae/punk relationship more than Washington, D.C.’s Bad Brains. The new documentary Bad Brains: Band In D.C. recently premiered at Austin’s South By Southwest Festival and is planned for release earlier this summer.

In the late seventies and early eighties, this gang of four Rastafarians redefine the boundaries of the emerging reggae, punk and post-punk genres.  While they are widely regarded  today as the pioneers of hardcore punk, the Bad Brains object to their music being restricted to one genre, and rightly so.  Followers of the Rastafari movement, their music blends the styles of punk, reggae, dub, funk, and soul to give what can only be described as a “punk/reggae/funk explosion.”  The only band to ever be banned from performing in their hometown of Washington, D.C., their raucous live shows earn a reputation for being aggressive, loud, and unforgiving. Yet everyone you speak with that attended one of their shows says that it was the best live show they’ve ever seen.

Formed by jazz fusion guitarist Dr. Know in 1979, Bad Brains is inspired by the meld of reggae and punk in the U.K. at the time.  Dr. Know, vocalist H.R. (Human Rights), bassist Daryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson immediately invade the east coast of the U.S. like a “nor’easter”, bringing a brand new fusion of reggae, punk, and funk to the massive.  Their live shows become stuff of legend.  They release popular underground albums like “Rock For Light”, “I Against I”, and “Quickness”, which includes the band’s first radio hit, the roots reggae tune “The Prophet’s Eye.”  Throughout the 1990’s their music moves into a more dread-heavy roots of reggae direction with “Rise” and “I and I Survived.”  Their most recent release, 2007’s “Build A Nation”, is produced by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and signifies a return to the hardcore style of their earlier recordings.

Bad Brains: A Band in D.C. is a new documentary on the Rasta punks that premiered recently in Austin, Texas at the South By Southwest Festival.  According to critics, the film is “compelling, deeply informative and expertly edited.” Using a mix of contemporary interviews, archival footage and comic book-style animated segments to tell the band’s back-story, it uses historical footage and footage from their 2007 reunion tour to tell a most interesting story about a very important band.

Featured image by comic artist Rita Lux


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