What happens when you introduce a Cuban basketball star to weed, percussion, and the Marley family? You get Johnny Dread, a Rasta music ambassador since 1987, when he began playing drums in the band Copacetic with lead singer Julian Marley.
Their album Ghetto Rock hit number seven on Billboard's reggae charts. But soon Dread left the band to start his solo career, taking a spiritual journey through I Self and Jamaica before producing his debut record in 1994.
Now, after 25 years in reggae, Johnny Dread will help count down to Tobacco Road's 100th anniversary with a special show that'll rock Miami to its roots, make it wave the Rasta flag, and leave the club at 3 a.m. in a thick purple cloud.
Johnny Dread: 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 30, at Tobacco Road, 626 S. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-374-1198; tobacco-road.com. Admission costs $5. Ages 21 and up.
New Times: How long have you been playing at Tobacco Road?
Johnny Dread: Well, I've been playin' Miami for 25 years, and I first played Tobacco Road about 20 years ago. It's a great venue and I respect it. It's a good place in Miami. I'm there every year for the medical marijuana festival.
How'd you get into the drums?
I used to play basketball for Columbus High School. I had me a hoop career. I went to FIU in, I think, '87. I started to play drums just on my own. I got introduced to the Marley family and I was in this band Copacetic. We just started playing out.
Then you went into being a lead singer?
I would say I'm el cubanito that brought reggae music to Miami, bro. It was all Caribbean and Jamaican people. But everybody was doing cover songs. Every time we went to reggae venues on Ocean Drive, they were doing other people's shit. It bored me. So I started a band. But I didn't look for outstanding musicians. I was a novice myself. I went and got some revolutionary soldiers. I was seeking Rasta and not reggae. Reggae is a music. But Rasta is a reality. De pinga.
So you make Rasta music.
Everyone has their little story. But there can only be one big story, and it begins in Ethiopia 'cause that's the Garden of Eden. The first bones of humans were found there. It's the only country that has its original name from the Bible. Nobody ever conquered it. Nobody ever colonized it. The Italians tried, but they were unsuccessful — twice.
You grew up as a Cuban Catholic. What do your parents think about the whole thing?
They love me, so they always supported me. But they didn't overstand it when I started. And with regard and respect, I never pushed it on them. I changed my name to Johnny Dread. My family never asked for their little basketball star to become a Rastafarian. They thought it was a fad or a stage. But it's a reality, for many years. And in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.
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Don't let them control you with the slavery they try to put on your mind. When they give you that lobotomy, you're done, brother. White Jesus, Santa Claus, all that crap they lie to you with to make money. Jesus is a corporation.
So what's a person to do?
If everyone just chilled, relaxed, and smoked a fatty together under one roof, then nobody would get wet. Coño tremendo, bro. I hope you wrote that down. Right now, everyone gets wet. Rasta is the roof to cover everybody. Come out to the show at Tobacco Road, and Johnny Dread got the umbrella.