‘Banana’ band Aggrolites unpeels meaning of ‘dirty reggae’
Written by COLE CHRISTENSEN Festival Program Writer   
Friday, 16 August 2013 10:22
The Aggrolites (Photo provided)
Fans of the Nickelodeon children’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba!” may well remember an orange-clad quintet rocking out a funky reggae tune called “Banana” on an early episode.
Littered with giant banana props and dancing extras, a video of the song has more than 1.6 million views on YouTube and has served as an introduction to classic reggae and ska music for young (and old) fans of the show.
While joining the guest cast of a kids television show was probably not on the “to do” list for The Aggrolites when they formed, taking reggae and ska music to the masses has long been on their agenda. With one foot in the roots of early Jamaican and British reggae, and another in the sounds of American soul, R&B and rock, The Aggrolites continue to blaze a trail across the reggae world honoring the traditions of their musical influences but finding their own sound.
Dubbed “dirty reggae”, a term coined by the band and often applied to other bands mimicking their style, The Aggrolites’ sound pays homage to the early days of Stax Records and Studio One.
Raw, pulsing, live and fun.
“We have always been inspired by early American soul music and reggae music from the late 60s and early 70s,” lead singer Jesse Wagner said in a recent telephone interview. “The way that it sounded to us was dirty, that gritty sound.”
“You hear that energy and the mistakes in the songs, sometimes the guitar player might be slightly out of tune or sometimes the drummer might be a little late ... that created character that couldn’t be redone,” he added.
In some respects The Aggrolites were a band born out of coincidence. They formed in 2002 as a live support band for Jamaican’ reggae legend Derrick Morgan, and later recorded an album with Morgan. While the album was never released, the experienced prompted the group to continue to perform together.
Drawing influence from European bands like The Specials that were influenced by early Jamaican reggae rhythms, but that defined their own sounds in the genre halfway across the world, The Aggrolites bring a dimension of punk and rock to the roots of reggae, ska and soul music that is a product of their American experiences.
“When we started as a band we wanted to get out of pigeonhole and we didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing at the time,” Wagner said. “It comes down to the fact that the Jamaicans did a particular way and we are American guys that grew up totally different and we could never do what the Jamaicans did, so we might as well come up with our own sound and call it dirty reggae.”
With five critically acclaimed studio albums under their belts, The Aggrolites have continue to be prolific live performers, touring across the country and conducting an annual European tour that included a stop in Russia earlier this summer.
Wagner noted that the influence of reggae music continues to expand globally, with fans springing up across the world.
“I have always known that reggae I worldwide, but it is shocking to see how big reggae is some parts of the world, Russia being one of them,” he said.
The live show has long been a foundation of the band’s music. The contagious beat, coupled with strong instrumental support and catchy lyrics have enabled The Aggrolites to build a growing army of fans. For the band, a growing fan base has also been an evolving fan base, starting with “rude boys and rude girls”, expanding to “punk rock kids” and continuing to expand to diverse audiences of all ages – even soccer moms as a result of their appearance on children’s TV according to Wagner.
For Black Swamp Arts Festival fans interested in getting a preview of the band’s live sound, a recently released album “Unleashed Live” provides a strong showcase, captured across two shows in Los Angeles and San Diego in 2012.
With sets on the Main Stage and the Youth Arts Stage at BSAF this year, there is a good chance “Banana” will be on the set list, both for the young and the young at heart.
“We have been told since we started that the live show is a lot different than the record and studio albums we have put out,” Wagner said. “It is an energetic and entertaining show, there is a lot of crowd moments. It is kind of like going to a punk rock show, but at the same time listening to soul and reggae music all combined.”

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 August 2013 07:02

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