The Cleverness of Groundation

22nd April 2020:

I have heard lots of Reggae during the years, some good, some mediocre and some just plain awful, but the band I have decided to feature today falls in the realm of exceptional. I have posted tracks from them occasionally, and today feels like another Groundation kind of day.

Harrison Stafford – Groundation’s Founder

Groundation has been around since 1998 and it was their 2002 album Hebron Gate that opened my eyes to the fact that Reggae and Jazz can be seamlessly fused; something I had never heard before. The band was formed by Harrison Stafford, a graduate of and lecturer at the Sonoma State University, who formed the label Young Tree Records to release the band’s debut album ‘Young Tree’ in 1999.

The band only uses analog instruments and recording equipment, shying away from digital. Stafford explained in a blunt and to-the-point statement. “No digital, we don’t work with synthesizers. Just like in the 1970s we stick to that format.”

The name “Groundation” comes from the Rasta term “Grounation”. Grounation Day is an important Rastafarian holy day celebrated April 21, which commemorates Haile Selassie’s first visit to Jamaica in 1966. Grounation Day is second in importance to Coronation Day, which is celebrated November 2, in honor of Haile Selassie’s Coronation in 1930

My opening choice is from their 3rd studio album and one that will always be a favorite of mine, Hebron’s Gate (2002). Here’s ‘Babylon Rule Dem’.

The unique take on reggae that the nine-piece Groundation created quickly sealed their success with fans globally. When describing their sound, ‘Reggaeday News’ kind of got it right with ‘a blend of Reggae and Jazz overlaid by Funk-inspired horns, Latin and African poly-rhythms, and soulful harmonies. Combine this with Harrison Stafford’s unusual voice and style of delivery and you have a musical experience second to none.

As a live act they stand out for their use of live improvisation and the highly energetic communion-type atmosphere they bring to the audience. In their twenty-two years as a band, they have released 14 albums, embarked on numerous worldwide tours, and played all of the major festivals.

The band doesn’t rely on outside producers for their albums and does everything themselves, immersing themselves into the music creation process further than just playing the song. This attention to detail is evident in every album.

The second song is from Groundation’s 2018 release ‘The New Generation’ (2018) The lyric of ‘Lion in Man’ and the thought-provoking video clip tells a strong story. This song has various levels of depth far removed from the reefer-tinged perception that many have about reggae.

Groundation’s founder Harrison Stafford remarked that “Groundation provides a musical vessel that allows me to create and perform the music that I hear in my head”. With early influences from his Father and Grandfather who were both Jazz performers, it is no wonder he has a love of jazz, listing Duke Ellington and Miles Davis as his earliest of heroes.

Here’s ‘Lion in Man’.

Groundation’s touring schedule over their 20-odd years makes some big names’ performance schedules look tame. To give you an idea, during Summer/Autumn 2009 they embarked on a world tour of epic proportions to support their sixth full-length studio album ‘Here I Am’.

50,000 miles and 100 shows had taken them to Switzerland, Israel, Germany, Italy, UK, Holland, and France before returning to the USA for a full coast-to-coast tour. The band undertook 14 such global tours before taking a 3-year hiatus in 2015. Not bad for an independent, non-mainstream band.

Groundation has seen many line-up changes over the years and the 2018 album ‘The Next Generation’ features some new members. Founder, Harrison Stafford, has brought together a fine ‘next generation of musicians to carry the music of his brainchild into the future.

‘ReggaeSound’ explains Groundation’s appeal on their website’s bio piece; ‘Whether on their masterfully self-produced studio albums or in the midst of their now-legendary live-performances, Groundation’s sound is both uncategorizable and yet somehow familiar. Whether a fan of Jazz improvisation, the deep grooves of Funk and Dub, or the challenging consciousness of Roots Reggae, Groundation offers whoever listens, an access point for connecting to the music.’

To end today’s mini-feature I have chosen a track from the 2012 album ‘Building an Ark’. The song is ‘Humility’ and (as you’ll see in the video) tells the story of a young prince who loses his home, the kingdom of his tyrant father, and wanders the land searching for a new home and kingdom. He is told by a wise old man that a magical key will unlock the door to this kingdom. He searches and searches without luck. We find him living a humble life, now an old man, as he reminisces over his life. A sudden spark of inspiration moves the prince to try the key one last time and in doing so is transformed into a king and his cottage into a castle where he rules over the land with compassion and kindness.

I hope Groundation fans have enjoyed this small selection from one of my favourites of the genre. Here’s ‘Humility’. Catch you soon.

The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that does more than just share a song.

The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.

Words © Andrew Knapp 2021

Published by Loving the Music

I am a music-lover who has been fortunate enough to live through six-decades of ever-changing musical styles and genres. Loving the Music is my eclectic collection of regular music-related mini-features and whatever else tickles my musical fancy. You can also find me on the Loving the Music Facebook group and page. Happy listening - Andrew Knapp

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