In the late eighties and early nineties, if you wanted reggae music, it was probably coming from RAS Records, straight out of Washington D.C. They had a mail order catalog (pre-internet) and were the publisher for a lot of the famous acts coming out of Jamaica at the time. Also in D.C., you had the major booking agency, Fast Lane Entertainment, and a slew of top notch musicians, ready to back the Jamaican artists as they came through town.
From that community hails Amani Smith out of Southeast D.C. He was at the center of this scene, playing guitar for his own band, doing recording sessions and supporting iconic Jamaican artists as they toured, while spreading the message of equal rights and unity.
I recently sat down with him and asked him about his musical journey.
RF: Can you tell me a bit about your backstory and how you came into music?
Amani Smith: I was born into music right from the start. My grandmother, Mary Senobia Smith, was the church organist for 30 years until she retired from playing, and my uncle, Fred Wolfe Smith, was back up guitarist for Chuck Berry.
Another uncle played organ and piano and a whole slew of cousins played drums, bass or guitar as well, so it was kind of natural for me to pick up the guitar when I turned 15. I was just trying to be like them & loved it.
RF: What are some of your early influences that inspired you?
Amani Smith: My influences were my Uncle Fred Smith, guitarist, cousin Rickey Smith, guitarist, Mike Hampton and Eddie Hazel, guitarists from Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Ernie Isley, guitarist from The Isley Brothers, and Dr. Know, guitarist from Bad Brains.
Amani Smith: I got into reggae for the message that the originators of the music was putting out: Black liberation, Black self-reliance and Pan-Africanism, which I could definitely identify with, being a child born during racial segregation in America, seeing and remembering the firsthand experiences of injustices & mistreatment of black people growing up in Washington DC.
RF: What was the name of your first band and other early projects you were a part of?
Amani Smith: My first two bands were called The Bomb Squad, a funk band, Soul Defender Posse, reggae music. All others I have recorded with or performed in include Chance Band, go-go music, Eddie Hazel of Parliament-Funkadelic, Physical Wonders, go-go music, H.R. (Human Rights,) reggae music, Shai, 90’s r&b group, 112, 90’s r&b group, The Itals, Jamaican roots reggae vocal trio, Bob Marley’s sons Julian Marley and Kymani Marley, Michael Jackson, the late king of pop, Ras Pidow, Jamaican roots artist, Edge Michael, nephew of Peter Tosh, Culture, Jamaican roots reggae group, Signal Fire, reggae music and Martinez, reggae music.
RF: Talk a little about what drives you to devote such a big part of your energy towards recording, making albums, and traveling around playing this music for people?
Amani Smith: What drives me to continue to do this is what drove me from the first days of me picking up the guitar — is the true love for the instrument & belief that music can change people’s lives through songs with a message.
RF: Who are some of the artists you have helped produce?
Amani Smith: Currently writing, recording & producing the second album, Amani Smith & the Give Thanks Band, reggae music.
RF: What is your message to the people and younger bands inspired by reggae?
Amani Smith: My message I would like to leave is any artist wanting to do reggae music — never forget where reggae music comes from & the history of it.