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San Diego reggae takes over the national – and worldwide - festival circuit

“It’s rooted in our love for the lifestyle we live here”

Boostive: a diverse bunch united by the power of the music.
Boostive: a diverse bunch united by the power of the music.

Why is San Diego suddenly the main source for island and reggae music at so many music festivals, both nationwide and worldwide? “I’d say San Diego has had reggae roots for a long time now,” suggests local reggae artist KBong, who’s appearing twice — under his own name with Johnny Cosmic, and as part of the Stick Figure band — at this weekend’s Cali Fest, happening in Long Beach February 16-18. (They’ll be joined by five other San Diego acts.) “With the American reggae scene becoming more popular, it’s only right that San Diego is part of the conversation.”

Bassist/producer Seiji Komo from local band Boostive, also playing Cali Fest, takes a broader perspective. “Southern California in general has always had a pretty big interest. Reggae music, particularly dub-reggae, laid a foundation for so many genres, from hip-hop to EDM. They each took sensibilities and techniques from the reggae genre.” The style, according to Komo, “makes you feel good and has a positive message. I think that is the main reason why the genre is so loved down here. Also, a bunch of artists from the islands moved out to San Diego and Southern California, so that is definitely a huge part of it. The Polynesian community shows mad support for the reggae scene.”

Stick Figure rep KBong resembles that remark. “I grew up in Hawaii and moved to San Diego in 2004. I’ve lived in San Diego longer than anywhere else at this point. It’s home, and I love it.”

Boostive sprouted closer to home: founding members Komo, Dylan Webber, and Nathan Kocivar grew up in Ocean Beach, sparking up music at Correia Middle School. Komo recalls that “Dylan, Nathan and I, we would surf in the morning, eat Nico’s California Burritos, and then go to Spotless Studio in Ocean Beach. The uncle of a friend of ours owned it, and would let us go into the practice rooms and bang on stuff. I can remember DJ Green T banging on a paint bucket for percussion when the drums weren’t available.”

On the subject of influences: KBong heard plenty of punk and hip-hop as a kid. He also absorbed SD-area bands such as Blink 182, Unwritten Law, and Buck-O-Nine. But reggae won out in the end. “I was drawn to the rhythm, the vocal melodies, the bass lines, and let’s be honest, Bob Marley. Once I discovered his music, everything changed. The first Bob Marley song I ever heard was a live version of ‘No Woman, No Cry.’ After that I was hooked.”

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Back to Boostive: “Honestly, I did not think I’d ever be the lead singer of a reggae band,” recalls Boostive singer Divina Jasso, who grew up on Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliott, Sade, Lauryn Hill, and Aaliyah. “But I absolutely love it. To me, reggae is such a blend of soul and jazz, as well as a movement that goes hand-in-hand with every genre I’ve ever loved.”

“San Diego’s reggae scene has always been super dynamic, and has had lots of great talent over the years,” relates KBong. “Before I started playing, I was going to see bands like The Devastators, Elijah Emanuel, and Stranger. We’d sometimes adventure to Tijuana for reggae shows. There’s a lot of culture and authenticity in the artists that represent SD. Slightly Stoopid, Tribal Seeds and Stick Figure” — all appearing at Cali Fest — “are some great bands currently putting San Diego on the map. I see a lot of support between the bands. Honestly, you just have to. There’s no other way. Our scene is homegrown and laid back. It’s rooted in our love for the lifestyle we live here.”

Adds Divina Jasso, “To me, I feel like everyone big ups and really shows up for each other. Feels like we all just wanna be a part of each other’s shit and do shit together.”

It’s true that lot of local reggae comes from white males; that’s simply statistics. But Boostive brass player Wesley Etienne notes, “Our band currently has members of Chilean, African, Japanese, Haitian, Aztec, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Korean, and European descent. As a unit, we’ve learned that despite our physical differences, reggae music has the power to unite and bring communities together. Reggae music has never been about being black or white, but about coming together as a community to overcome struggles.”

“I don’t hear any musical differences in bands because of ethnicity,” muses KBong. “I hear differences related to lyrical themes, vocal tones, personalities of the players, and more. I try to be as authentic as possible when creating music. I believe that’s what reggae is. It’s freedom to be yourself. It’s happiness.”

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Boostive: a diverse bunch united by the power of the music.
Boostive: a diverse bunch united by the power of the music.

Why is San Diego suddenly the main source for island and reggae music at so many music festivals, both nationwide and worldwide? “I’d say San Diego has had reggae roots for a long time now,” suggests local reggae artist KBong, who’s appearing twice — under his own name with Johnny Cosmic, and as part of the Stick Figure band — at this weekend’s Cali Fest, happening in Long Beach February 16-18. (They’ll be joined by five other San Diego acts.) “With the American reggae scene becoming more popular, it’s only right that San Diego is part of the conversation.”

Bassist/producer Seiji Komo from local band Boostive, also playing Cali Fest, takes a broader perspective. “Southern California in general has always had a pretty big interest. Reggae music, particularly dub-reggae, laid a foundation for so many genres, from hip-hop to EDM. They each took sensibilities and techniques from the reggae genre.” The style, according to Komo, “makes you feel good and has a positive message. I think that is the main reason why the genre is so loved down here. Also, a bunch of artists from the islands moved out to San Diego and Southern California, so that is definitely a huge part of it. The Polynesian community shows mad support for the reggae scene.”

Stick Figure rep KBong resembles that remark. “I grew up in Hawaii and moved to San Diego in 2004. I’ve lived in San Diego longer than anywhere else at this point. It’s home, and I love it.”

Boostive sprouted closer to home: founding members Komo, Dylan Webber, and Nathan Kocivar grew up in Ocean Beach, sparking up music at Correia Middle School. Komo recalls that “Dylan, Nathan and I, we would surf in the morning, eat Nico’s California Burritos, and then go to Spotless Studio in Ocean Beach. The uncle of a friend of ours owned it, and would let us go into the practice rooms and bang on stuff. I can remember DJ Green T banging on a paint bucket for percussion when the drums weren’t available.”

On the subject of influences: KBong heard plenty of punk and hip-hop as a kid. He also absorbed SD-area bands such as Blink 182, Unwritten Law, and Buck-O-Nine. But reggae won out in the end. “I was drawn to the rhythm, the vocal melodies, the bass lines, and let’s be honest, Bob Marley. Once I discovered his music, everything changed. The first Bob Marley song I ever heard was a live version of ‘No Woman, No Cry.’ After that I was hooked.”

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Back to Boostive: “Honestly, I did not think I’d ever be the lead singer of a reggae band,” recalls Boostive singer Divina Jasso, who grew up on Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliott, Sade, Lauryn Hill, and Aaliyah. “But I absolutely love it. To me, reggae is such a blend of soul and jazz, as well as a movement that goes hand-in-hand with every genre I’ve ever loved.”

“San Diego’s reggae scene has always been super dynamic, and has had lots of great talent over the years,” relates KBong. “Before I started playing, I was going to see bands like The Devastators, Elijah Emanuel, and Stranger. We’d sometimes adventure to Tijuana for reggae shows. There’s a lot of culture and authenticity in the artists that represent SD. Slightly Stoopid, Tribal Seeds and Stick Figure” — all appearing at Cali Fest — “are some great bands currently putting San Diego on the map. I see a lot of support between the bands. Honestly, you just have to. There’s no other way. Our scene is homegrown and laid back. It’s rooted in our love for the lifestyle we live here.”

Adds Divina Jasso, “To me, I feel like everyone big ups and really shows up for each other. Feels like we all just wanna be a part of each other’s shit and do shit together.”

It’s true that lot of local reggae comes from white males; that’s simply statistics. But Boostive brass player Wesley Etienne notes, “Our band currently has members of Chilean, African, Japanese, Haitian, Aztec, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Korean, and European descent. As a unit, we’ve learned that despite our physical differences, reggae music has the power to unite and bring communities together. Reggae music has never been about being black or white, but about coming together as a community to overcome struggles.”

“I don’t hear any musical differences in bands because of ethnicity,” muses KBong. “I hear differences related to lyrical themes, vocal tones, personalities of the players, and more. I try to be as authentic as possible when creating music. I believe that’s what reggae is. It’s freedom to be yourself. It’s happiness.”

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