Musical Notes of the English Department — Part 2

Irie masterApart from being involved in The Eggplant Heroes, Dr. Joel Pace has also had a hand in the genre-crossing band Irie Sol. As I learned from my interview with Joel, knowing the vision and purpose of Irie Sol is central to understanding the music it expresses. With this in mind, Joel explained the roots of the band with a very intertextual approach that wove his own passions and paradigms in with the development of the band. Remarkably, these two threads have followed very close paths in Dr. Pace’s experience.

For Joel, it all began during his initial arrival at Eau Claire, when fellow professor David Shih gave him a book that changed his understanding of how the expressions of different cultures interact with each other. This book was The Black Atlantic, by Paul Gilroy, who fused his musical and scholarly interests to focus on how culture crosses national, racial, and ethnic boundaries. Joel mentioned numerous times how huge this book has been in influencing his own understanding. After becoming fascinated with the ideas of this author, Joel had a fateful meeting with a man originally from Jamaica, at an Italian restaurant where he was performing for the evening. It turns out that this man had attended Bob Marley’s funeral (Marley has been a huge influence on Irie Sol), then moved to Joel’s hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, before settling in Eau Claire. After this man, Junior Williams, heard Dr. Pace playing trumpet, he asked Joel if he would be interested in joining a band that didn’t yet exist. It was here that the vision for Irie Sol was born.

What Williams and Pace wanted to do was “bring music together that had been separated among racial lines and in popular conception,” Joel said. The band was meant to be genre-crossing, to “examine the poly-rhythmic tradition of the Atlantic Rim, and interplay African American, European, and Caribbean traditions musically..and to create a music that would cross those boundaries.”

The importance of this music goes beyond just redefining the interactions of culture; it also speaks to how people interact with each other and how they choose to define one another. Joel spoke of musical shows that used to segregate their audiences between white and black, and mentioned that there were musicians that protested this by boycotting those venues. He says that this segregation of music has left a heritage that is still present today through the attempts of modern radio stations “to conceive of and construct the identities of listeners (to genres such as hip pop and country) along mutually exclusive lines.” For Joel, the expression of music and the idea of cross-cultural interaction seem to be intertwined in the recognition that boundaries are neither discrete nor uncrossable.

Irie Sol boasts quite a few members, including some amazing multi-ethnicity like Iranian-American guitarist Yusef Kazemzadeh, Brazilian bassist Altamir Coelho, and of course lead vocalist and percussionist Junior Williams himself, who is Jamaican. As far as style goes, Irie Sol incorporates anything from reggae, dancehall, dub, jazz, hip pop, and even classical elements, holding true to their idea of genre-crossing. In addition, Joel mentioned that “we try to each bring a distinct set of influences into the mix that is the music, and it is an honor to be part of the group…we’ve enjoyed making music and we continue to do so.”

The band has had a single featured on the website of Grammy-Award winner Pharrell Williams and an album that they recorded in Nashville on a national label. They continue to do live shows around the area. Catch them at 7th St. Entry on April 27th, headlining the official After-Party for Steven Marley, Bob Marley’s son, who will be playing earlier in the same building at First Avenue. Be sure to check out their music on iTunes and at the Volume One Local Store. For more information on the band and to listen to a track, go to www.mtv.com/artists/irie-sol/.