When I think of Humboldt County, three things come to mind: dank weed, redwood forests and reggae music.
Since my earliest days becoming familiar with cannabis culture over three decades ago, the northern California county always held a hallowed mystique for its proclivity for cultivating high quality ganja. More recently, Humboldt inadvertently caught some slack as the focal point of Murder Mountain, the Netflix series which documented the impact that the reformation of cannabis laws have had on the region, including a series of missing persons and murders that sadly transpired. Nevertheless, even with Colorado emerging as a leader in the industry and more and more states progressing toward legalization, Humboldt will always be known as the Mecca of marijuana.
A heavily wooded, mountainous territory, Humboldt County contains far more trees than people. Known for its giant Sequoias – the rural region boasts 110 miles of coastline, more than any other California county, and harbors over 40 percent of all old-growth coastal Redwood forests. Few areas of the country can boast this kind of beautiful geography.
My first taste of Humboldt came at the age of 19 when two friends and I drove across the United States in an old Dodge van, a journey that would serve as the basis for my novel, The Cosmic Burrito. After spending a few days windsurfing in Hood River, Oregon, we headed south for San Francisco, taking a more circuitous route through Humboldt so that we could drive along the Redwood Highway to enjoy the breathtaking views where the mountains meet the sea.
I would return to Humboldt a couple of times during my 20s to attend its legendary music festival, Reggae on the River. I’m sure it has changed in the years since I last attended, but I have the fondest memories of floating half-submerged down the Eel River in a leaky raft, the cool water offering relief from the blazing summer sun, reggae music thumping all around me as I smoked a fat spliff of some of Humboldt’s finest. (Perhaps a precursor to Humboldt’s Finest?)
Despite its seclusion, Humboldt County has long been a hub for reggae music, a fact exemplified by this signature event. Reggae on the River dates all the way back to 1984, when the people of Humboldt created the festival as a way to raise funds to rebuild the Mateel Community Center, which perished at the hands of an arsonist. 35 years ago, reggae music held much less popularity than it does now. It would be decades until California Roots, Reggae Rise Up and One Love festivals would exist, and for years it stood as the premiere event for reggae fans in the U.S., attracting people from far and wide.
Humboldt County continues to embrace reggae music today with an array of reggae practitioners that call it home. One such entity is the artist/record label known as Dub Propulsion.
I first came across the sounds of this righteous outfit with their 2020 release, Jahzilla vs. The Dub Serpent, which lured me in with deep lumbering bass that rattled the walls, melodica providing that old school texture and some trippy, haunting synth lurking underneath it all.
This prompted me to check out other releases and when I next heard “Roots Sound System” with top shelf toasting by one of my favorite voices in reggae, Ranking Joe, I was hooked. Besides the killer riddim and wicked flow, songs that celebrate the power and glory of reggae get me fired up!
Dub Propulsion launched last year and has released a new song every other month. They aptly describe themselves as “Sound System music” that produce “Digi, Steppers, Roots, Reggae and Heavy Dub.” While their music does contain a distinctly digital feel, according to Dub Propulsion’s founder, owner and producer, Tanasa Daniel, they use live instrumentation in the studio, including the aforementioned melodica, flutes, violins and all the typical hardware.
Wanting to learn more about the story, talent and vision behind Dub Propulsion and the fabric of the current Humboldt reggae scene, I spoke with Daniel about his project and community.
RF: Can you tell me a little bit about your background as it pertains to reggae music? When/where/how were you first introduced to reggae? What/who were the biggest influences i.e. geographic location, mentors, etc
Tanasa: I have been a lifelong fan and student of reggae music. I was first introduced to reggae music through my mother. She took me to my first reggae show, The Killer Bees, in Shreveport, Louisiana, at age 3. I was instantly hooked and told her I was running away with the band to become a reggae musician. I started drumming and learning reggae ever since then. My earliest reggae influences were The Killer Bees, Bob, Peter, Bunny, Burning Spear, Toots, Mutabaruka, Gladiators, U-Roy, Congos, LKJ, Ini Kamoze, King Tubby, Scientist, Mad Professor, Black Uhuru, Local Hero and any roots I could find. It was not easy to find reggae growing up in the south and it was a constant mission to get my hands on any new things I hadn’t heard.
RF: I believe you are a player as well as a producer? Can you speak to the bands or artists that you have worked with as a musician, and what ultimately prompted you to get behind the console as Dub Propulsion? Can you describe the studio/facilities that you use?
Tanasa: I have played drums for my entire life. I have played with many bands over the years since age 10. Some of the bands I have been a part of include Uprite Dub Orchestra, 4- Word, Woven Roots, Collective Elements, Earth Force, Marty Dread, Warsaw Poland Bros, Hyacinth House, Freesound, Jah Sun, and Guidance Band. I have recorded with U-Roy, KRS-One, Talib Kwali, Sabina Jade, Fred Wesley, Burro Banton, Ranking Joe, Anthony Red Rose, Earl 16 and tons of artists from all genres. I have opened for and toured with hundreds of bands as well.
I have always wanted to put out as much music as possible, so I created a studio in Humboldt County. I wanted a chance to collaborate with long-time friends and artists that I respect. We do all the production and arrangements in-house. We use a digital console with Ableton and Studio One with lots of different keyboards, live guitar, bass, drums and a multitude of MIDI. We have many people involved with production at the label including myself, Joey Incorvaia, Ryan Kaptain Bley, DJ Lobsta, Serg Mihaylo, Clay Adams, Rich Tobin, Sarge Onewise, DUBROBOT and Kris Kemist. DUBROBOT does all of the mixing and mastering for the releases.
RF: How do you select the vocalists that you work with? Who are some singers or deejays that you would like to collaborate with?
Tanasa: I love to work with friends I have played live and toured with over the years. I also love to work with and give respect to foundation artist that have inspired me as well.
As far as my dream list for collaborations, I would say Clinton Fearon, Bunny Wailer, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Half Pint, Bernard Collins, Hempress Sativa, Barrington Levy, Dezarie, Horace Andy, Jonny GoFigure, Lila Ike, Linval Thompson and so many more. You may see one or two of those in the future. We have some good surprises up our sleeves for upcoming projects.
RF: I have been to Reggae on the River a few times, but not recently. What is the local Humboldt reggae community like these days? Are artists, venues, studios and sound systems prevalent? How does the Humboldt reggae fan get their fix on a regular basis?
Tanasa: We are beyond blessed by reggae in Humboldt County and have been for years. We get to see major headlining acts constantly in small venues. Everyone you can imagine has played here: Burning Spear, Kabaka Pyramid, Toots, Steel Pulse, Taurres Riley, Midnite, Israel Vibration, Stephen and Damien Marley, the list is endless. I don’t think there are many headlining reggae artists that haven’t played in Humboldt. In the 2000s, there were three or four reggae shows a week. Pre-COVID, it was at least twice a month with DJs every week.
We have a vibrant DJ culture up here which I am also a part of (Akaboom Sound) with lots of great DJs such as One Wise Sound, Dub Cowboy, Rude Lion, Nobal Toble, G Davis, Just One, DJ Run Dat, Gabe Pressure, DJ Real Youth, Rhizea and many more. It spans all forms of reggae — dancehall, roots, digi, ska, etc. There is a good sound system culture here too, which I helped start: Bass Craft Sound System, which is a heavyweight sound. We have lots of great local reggae bands and singers such as Stevie Culture, Jah Sun, Ishi Dube, Woven Roots, Dubbadubs, Kyla Rose, Seed N Soil, Ju Drum, Mykal Somer, Lion Issachar, Xedous, C-Baker, Curlylocks, Rebel Tree and many more. Humboldt, for its size, has the most amazing music scene I have seen anywhere in the U.S.. Hopefully, soon all our great venues will be open and the music can thrive again.
RF: For one of your recent releases, Jahzilla vs. the Dub Serpent, you had created a comic book to accompany purchases of the EP. How did that come about?
Tanasa: Jahzilla vs. The Dub Serpent was our last release for 2020 from so we wanted to create something very special for it. In these digital days, we feel it is important to have something physical people could hold and enjoy. We are blessed to be friends with many creative artists, so we wanted to team up with our friend David Morgan to create a story and comic to go with the soundtrack. The name of the track came first, so that lent itself to the idea as well. Joey and myself were very excited to make it happen. We only printed 100 copies, which include the three-song soundtrack, and we sell them on Bandcamp. There are only about 20 left for sale and they won’t be printed again – so act quick!
RF: To date, all of the Dub Propulsion releases have artwork in a similar style created by an artist named The Chopperman. Can you speak a bit about the choice to present consistent artwork, as well as the artist?
Tanasa: I was first introduced to our cover artist Collin, The Chopperman, from fellow musicians. I kept seeing all these amazing musician character drawings he did and I was hooked. I started to support his art and buy pieces from him. After dealing with him and seeing how professional and proficient he was, I knew he would be a valuable member of the team. He was into the idea of doing art with us and we decided after the first one to use him as our full-time artist.
I like having a cohesive image that links all the different covers and releases. I have always tried to support artists and musicians throughout my entire life.
He does great custom work so follow him and support on Instagram at @TheChopperman. We have a great art, logo and design team so support them all: Jaymorg, David Morgan, Loren Meltzer, Massive Designs and Pamela Johnson.
RF: Can you provide a little info on the other frequent contributors to the label, i.e. Joey Incorvaia and DubRobot?
Joey has a degree in music from Humboldt State University. He is an amazing pro drummer, MIDI expert, song writer, producer, and can basically play it all. We met when he was the drummer for a Humboldt based reggae band called the Dubbadubs. He is now currently the drummer for a great funk band called Diggin Dirt. We also have a new reggae band called the Kyla Rose Band where I play drums and he plays keys. He is the musician that makes it to the studio and contributes the most to the label.
DUBROBOT is a master of Dub! He is an amazing engineer, producer, saxophonist, epic musician and all-around magic maker. Check out his bio at www.DUBROBOT.com and it will blow you away. He has a time transport machine and dubs across space and time throughout the galaxy. He handles all the mixing and mastering for the label. He also makes amazing remixes for us as well. He made the epic “Jahzilla vs the Dub Serpent” video on our YouTube page so check that out and subscribe!
RF: In March, you had released a hip-hop/reggae fusion single titled “Ancient,” which featured a cool video of the singer roaming the woods of Humboldt. What can you tell me about Xedous?
Xedous grew up in Denver and moved to Humboldt ten years ago. He is a 30 year-old married father of three and a Rastafarian. He started out writing poetry and singing in church and began writing songs and recording in high school. His father was one of the first people I met when I moved to Humboldt and he introduced us for the first time. After seeing him perform and shining his talents, I knew we would link up for sure. It is a blessing to work with him and always a good time when we link up. We shot the video in the ancient Redwood Forest in Humboldt County. We have many more songs to come on the label. He is also releasing his album and more projects so stay tuned to his movements and works.
RF: On a slight tangent, I want to ask about the film, “Murder Mountain.” In your opinion, is it legit, or does it provide an inaccurate portrayal of Humboldt County?
Tanasa: Humboldt County is a rural area full of a diverse make-up of individuals. It is very community-oriented and people care and look out for each other. In any place, there are characters you have to steer clear of and watch yourself around. Humboldt county has always been an independent outlaw community of farmers. A lot of people think they can move here and strike it rich and don’t know what they are getting into or who they are mixing up with. In any place you go you have to be smart and know how to steer clear of danger.
As for the movie it was about valid cases and scenarios but over-dramatized a bit for TV for sure. It is a beautiful place full of amazing artists, musicians, farmers, tradesmen, teachers, students, crafters, professionals, hippies, rednecks and about every kind of person you can think of, but we all come together in one community and live in peace for the most part. The Redwoods, ocean and rivers are truly a joy to be around and live in.
RF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Tanasa: I would love to thank you for having us for this article and all you do to push reggae music to the world. Massive respects to everyone who helps with Dub Propulsion Records. Big respects also to everyone that buys, shares, listens, plays, deejays, and loves our music. Look out for much more music and vibes from us www.dubpropulsion.com We love y’all!!
RF DONATE & MAILCHIMP
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