Ketchy Shuby spreads downtown soul throughout Miami
These days, soul music is a genre often stuck in the side aisle of the record store or passed off onto smoky cafés and '70s reunion shows. The originators of American soul music — Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and early James Brown — commandeered ears when they blasted onto the scene with this new style in the '50s and '60s. The movement has splintered into a number of subgenres worth exploring, including Detroit Motown soul, Stax Records Memphis soul, psychedelic soul, Philly soul, Chicago soul, and, now, downtown soul. That last category was invented by the local stone groovers of Ketchy Shuby in order to describe their band's sound.
Ketchy Shuby is made up of six members, all in their mid-20s, whose roots range from Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico to Broward and Dade counties. Formed in 2008, the outfit has quickly created a buzz on the live circuit by combining new sound with old soul to earn its "downtown" moniker. "It's jazz, it's '60s rock, Afrobeat, reggae, ska..." explains the group's 28-year-old lead vocalist and guitar player, Jason Joshua Hernandez-Rodriguez, AKA Jay.
Percussionist Danny Quinto adds, "Our music is Curtis Mayfield, Santana, Miles Davis, Fania All-Stars, mixed with MGMT, Kings of Leon, and the Budos Band, to name a few."
Many bands advertise their sets as a melting pot of influences — and then play to their singular strengths. But Ketchy's versatility is no joke. Bassist Mack Moore skanks to reggae rhythms while Camilo Parisi channels Latin fusion on the electric guitar. Drummer Sandor Davidson keeps proper pace for their musical time warp, and sax player Bob Smiley adds the bounce. "We started out playing more roots reggae and ska," Quinto says. "The group was first called Mad Anxiety and consisted of myself, Jay, and Camilo. We would jam all the time, but the band really started to grow when we added Mack and Sandor last year, and most recently our sax player, Bob."
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Jam sessions turn into recording fodder, and live shows morph into improvised extended cuts. At a Ketchy performance, each set is a different experience with the same common denominator. The group's name is taken from the chorus of the Peter Tosh track "Ketchy Shuby." ("Come make we play some ketchy shuby/And when me shuby, you feel ketchy.") Though it's unclear what Tosh's ketchy shuby is exactly — many listeners say the song is clearly an allusion to sex; others have claimed it's a play on catchy shubby, a variation of the game cricket — the song exemplifies the type of mellow but happy reggae-influenced grooves found on the band's debut four-song record, titled NOTIMETOHATE and coming this November.
"Some of the song ideas we had come up with originally as Mad Anxiety — like our first single, "Expand Your Soul," Jay says. "But all the tracks will combine the old with the new and have our Ketchy style stamped on it." On the single, Jay croons, "Look inside yourself and you will see/That the positive outdoes the negativity/Expand your soul/Open up them doors because they're meant to be open," over a driving reggae riddim that falls between Black Uhuru and the Wailers.
Each of the four songs will be accompanied by a matching video directed by talented local director Jess Weos, and the debut record will be available for free download at ketchyshuby.bandcamp.com, where you can also grab "Expand Your Soul" right now.
Ketchy is one of a handful of newer local bands championing the DIY ethic, but one of the first to put it on paper as a collective through the group's Tomorrows People imprint. "It promotes good music in general and allows us to mold our own sound under our own umbrella," Jay explains. "A lot of labels aren't concerned with the actual music, just the numbers. And that's not what we're about." So far, Tomorrows People has recruited a grip of funky locals and offshoots, including Fusik, the Morning Flesh Project, Animal Electric, Grandma's Organ, Redline Rhythm, and Buba Goes to Chaos. "These bands are all friends of ours and made up of young, talented musicians," Smiley adds. "Rock, funk, reggae... We all build off each other."
Add names such as Afrobeta, ¡Mayday!, Elastic Bond, ArtOfficial, and Spam Allstars and you have a potent lineup of local musicians that are pushing the tight-knit Miami scene. On any given night of the week, you can find a South Florida band that's playing original music — not Aerosmith or Sublime covers — and giving listeners their money's worth for the cover charge. Ketchy Shuby, Fusik, and ¡Mayday! have already shared the stage a few times, and each band has a member represented in the other's group. "We're all coming together, and the fans are coming out," Jay says. "There's some great music to be surrounded by. ¡Mayday! helped us out by bringing us under their wing, and it seems there are a lot of groups out there collaborating, sharing ideas, and releasing records. It's a fun time to be in Miami. As long as artists don't get up and leave the city, there will be opportunity for everyone."
In the past year or so, Ketchy Shuby has worked its way up from playing small-time gigs to headlining sets at notable live venues including Transit Lounge, Churchill's, Tobacco Road, and Cunningham's in Vero Beach. The band landed a slot at the recent Future Classic Festival and a live set on WDNA's Sound Theory radio show. And this Wednesday, the guys will rock with Fusik at the Electric Pickle for the Tomorrows People showcase at the weekly party Champion Sound. "We want to thank everyone for the love, but also give a heads-up about these open-mike parties going on. Promoters need to keep their word and take care of the bands," Jay says.
After NOTIMETOHATE drops this year, Ketchy Shuby has bigger plans, including a vinyl single, "Surrender," and a full album tentatively called Tiny Vices that'll be out in early 2010. Band members are also keeping busy with offshoots of their own: Quinto and some Fusik members are working on a Latin/Afro-funk project; Jay has a group called the Love Tones with Stella of the Heartbreakerz crew; and Smiley and Jay are collaborating on music with just horns and brass, resulting in a big-band Afrobeat sound.
On a humid night last week, some members of the Tomorrows People crew celebrated Fusik drummer Felix's birthday at a live show for indie singer-songwriter Rachel Goodrich at Churchill's. It's not the first place you'd think the collective would go for a birthday jam, but it further proves soul is a state of mind, and downtown is the place to be.
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