by Bryan Rodgers, Cyber Media, NY NY
The sound of Juka Tribe could never be summed up in one song, but the band’s colorful creation “Rail Road Park,” with its lyrics about rebirth, coexistence, and “building a future from a segregated past,” is a fine representation of the band’s overall outlook. Juka Tribe was born in the basement of Birmingham, Alabama musician John Scalici. The band holds true to their humble origins, aspiring not for commercial success or the fruits of popularity. In keeping with the spirit of their wildly multicultural music, Scalici and the band endeavor only to spread their eclectic sounds to as many people as possible and spark interaction between bodies and minds on the dance floor. From the wide variety of people who will enjoy their music to the endless array of sounds and styles they employ when creating their art, everything about Juka Tribe is inclusionary and welcoming. Their music, which draws inspiration and influence from hip-hop, rock, African, and Middle Eastern music, is socially conscious but not forced or overtly political. Their message stems organically from their personal musical experiences and the inherent joy, pain, and artistic majesty of their influences, which range from world music masters like Mickey Hart and Fela Kuti to blues icons such as Howlin’ Wolf and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Purposely or not, the combination of ancient rhythmic techniques and modern technology also brings to mind club music stalwarts like Thievery Corporation and Beats Antique.
Juka Tribe’s genesis sprung from numerous Tuesday night jam sessions during which Scalici and fellow percussionist Cody McClain would practice and improvise upon a wide variety of exotic music. They first employed only live percussion, but gradually grew intrigued by the possibilities of technology. Eventually, Scalici – who is a devoted blues music lover – began incorporating samples of blues guitar riffs and lyrics into their mosaic of Middle Eastern, Brazilian, and West African rhythms. Before long, the duo actually reversed the process, building a collage of melodies and sounds first, and then enhancing their creation with percussion. With their musical possibilities now wide open, Scalici began inviting other soloists and even a spoken word artist into the increasingly inventive mix. The unique style of music that the group happened upon soon became too intense to be contained in a basement. Poet Shariff Simmons and bassist Jay Johnson soon became bona fide members of the band, and Juka Tribe was born, as was the sound of World Boogie. The quartet put their considerable combined experience to immediate use and began using Scalici’s songs as a base to create an incomparable mix of styles. Driven by an ethnic pulse and colored with the vibrant intellectualism of Simmons’ arresting proclamations, World Boogie is a sound that applies exclusively to Juka Tribe.
Juka Tribe’s songs, with their deep, hypnotic beats, are certainly tailored for the dance floor. In concert, the band takes audience immersion to spectacular levels, incorporating fire dancers to help bring the tribal roots of the music to life. They even hold drum circles before and after shows where everyone is invited to indulge in a spontaneous tribal gathering. But there’s also a conversational, thought-provoking element to the band’s menagerie of samples and melodic embellishments. The listener’s imagination will experience a world of inspired visuals facilitated by the contrast of historical elements, ancient rhythms, and computerized ingenuity. In the space of one song, the band can embark on an imagined aural journey from the rural south to the hardscrabble streets of the city to the deserts of the Middle East. In another, they might whisk the listener away to the teeming Brazilian jungle with the ultimate destination being western Africa. Beneath the koras, congas, and things-beat-upon that form the band’s distinctive world fusion runs a current of innovation as well. Along with the limitless options that sampling provides, Scalici utilizes his own recordings of bluesmen or other interesting characters he’s encountered over the years to great effect, and their proclamations lend a sort of homespun wisdom to Juka Tribe’s music. This extra helping of sociological creativity aids the cause of the band’s irresistible rhythm, helping to make the minds and hearts of listeners that much more receptive to the powerful beats and messages found within. The band has a way with earworms, too, as evidenced by the incredibly satisfying manner in which Juka Tribe’s music cements itself in the listener’s consciousness. Sure, there’s no mistaking the eerie Pink Floyd sample or the voice of Stevie Ray Vaughan that runs through the song “Shine.” But the chunky guitar funk and fat horn lines that make the tune “Mud Flap” tick are as catchy and irresistible as any classic sample, showing that the band can create with the best of their colleagues. Juka Tribe is one of the most unique bands in the nation, boasting a spirit that can’t be ignored. Through their thoughtful conscience, inimitable music, and engaging shows, they’re destined to reach a global audience.