Six years ago, Mike Franklin wasn't looking forward to
bringing his newly formed reggae band Tribal Nation to
San Angelo isn't exactly the epicenter of reggae culture.
Somehow the Rastafarian culture never made it this far
west. But Franklin had to come. In an innocent game of
one-on-one basketball, Franklin made a bet with a
"If I lost, I had to come play his set for him in San
Angelo," he said. Franklin lost. "I don't want to talk
about the score," he said, laughing.
Though somewhat unwilling participants in their first
San Angelo appearance, Tribal Nation now makes San
Angelo a regular stop on their reggae circuit. Tribal
will make another stop in town Friday, performing at
10 p.m. at Steel Penny Pub. "They're our
longest-running reggae act," Steel Penny owner Russ
Steele said. " . . . They are a solid band.
They're not old-school reggae. They're not traditional,
but they're really danceable."
Conceived in Jamaica and birthed upon the world through
the lips of Bob Marley and the Wailers, traditional
reggae isn't exactly mainstream in Austin, where the
band formed. Perhaps because of this, Tribal Nation is
not a purist's reggae band. Their music is infused with
as many American influences, jazz, funk and hip-hop,
as it is with Jamaican sounds. Tribal's four-song
demo (available from the band's Web site
www.tribalnationmusic.com) illustrates as much.
"Lap of Luxury," the demo's opening track is
what is typically thought of as reggae music. Strong
drumming from Hoppy Hopson and Franklin's keyboard
dominate the track, with a few Jamaican-accented
"Lord have mercy" proclamations thrown in
for good measure.
"I Love You," the second track, gives the horn
section a turn in the spotlight, creating a jazzy,
easy-listening sound. The track also is perhaps the most
vocal-reliant on the demo. Almost everyone in the band
without a horn in their mouths contributes vocals on the
"Playing It Cool," though, is probably the
band's best and most commercial track. Tribal completely
abandons reggae on the track, opting for the kind of
lyrically melodic hip-hop sound that bands like the
Roots strive for and sometimes find.
The musical schizophrenia wasn't Tribal's original plan.
Franklin, guitarist Jay Williams, bassist Dwayne Jackson
and saxophonist Melvin Wilburn formed Tribal six years
ago from several bands with separate, unique sounds.
Reggae was their earliest intention, but Franklin said
they were forced to change their style out of necessity.
After several additions, band roles switched, and almost
all its members ended up playing an instrument other
than what they began with. Only Wilburn has stuck with
his original instrument.
The band grew from four members to nine, and Tribal's
sound slowly underwent a metamorphosis to what Franklin
calls "tropical funk" as band roles
flip-flopped. Franklin said the changes were for the
betterment of the band, and they've finally found a sound
they're content with playing for the long run.
"We definitely have a style established,"
Franklin said. "We know what we're doing with our
musicians. We've established a style, and it's a
journey we've enjoyed making."
Friday's show will be a homecoming of sorts for Tribal's
baritone saxophonist Mark Wilson. Wilson grew up in
San Angelo and got his start in music with the Lee Junior
High School Band. Wilson said former Lee band director
Paul Horn is still one of the best music teachers he had.
Wilson left San Angelo for Sam Houston State University
in 1979. It was there he would be introduced to reggae
by playing the B-sides of albums received by a friend
who was a deejay at a local radio station.
Like most of Tribal's members, Wilson bounced from band
to band in Austin's heralded music scene for several
years after college. "It's a catch-22 in Austin,"
Wilson said. "It's a great place to live and work,
but it's hard to make a living as a musician because
there are so many bands." Wilson said he found
the Tribal Nation a good fit for his style when he
joined the band in 2001. "Tribal Nation is real,
original, reggae funk," Wilson said. "They
are a really easy band to play with."