If you looked at the members of Black Alley, you might assume they only play go-go due to the band members’ ages and fashions.
And you’d be wrong.
Members call it “soul garage.” But don’t get caught up in the labels because these musicians confidently straddle various genres, revel in being outside of the box and appreciate a loyal and growing fan base they’ve carved out on the local music scene.
“They’re younger and are willing to be different, to experiment musically,” said local radio personality Salih “Bootsy Vegas” Williams, while sitting in House Studio D.C., as the group rehearsed one night last month.
“We call it soul garage music, which is a fusion of different styles and definitely go-go is a part of that. We’re from D.C. and not ashamed of that, but it’s not our only sound,” said founder/manager Omar Kashif.
The group has been nominated for a 2012 WAMMIE in the urban contemporary duo/group category. The Washington Area Music Association presents the awards to honor the best local musicians and this year’s celebration will be held Feb. 19.
In September, Black Alley won the Hfstival Big Break, a competition that kicks off a music festival held each year in either D.C., Northern Virginia or Baltimore. The event has attracted Eminem, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and legendary crooner Tony Bennett.
Lead vocalist Kacey Williams sang the national anthem at the Wizard games against the Bulls at the Verizon Center on January 30.
The up and coming group has played with or on the same stage with such artists as Raheem Devaughn, Dionne Farris, Angie Stone and Kindred the Family Soul. In mid-January, the group opened for Grammy Award-winning songstress Chrisette Michele at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium.
The band consists of lead guitarist Eric Champaloux; percussionist Walter “Bo Beedy” Clark; bass guitarist Josh “Josh on Bass” Hartzog; drummer Danny “Animal” Henderson; keyboardists Hope Udobi and Mack Tyson; and Williams.
Their musical influences span generations and styles, ranging from singers Tina Turner and Janis Joplin, bands such as N.E.R.D., Blink 182 and Earth Wind and Fire as well as artists such as Carlos Santana, jazz percussionist/composer Max Roach, rock star Eric Clapton and composer/pianist and big band leader Duke Ellington.
“I try to infuse everybody’s influences, their background and taste throughout the set,” Animal said, who doubles as the group’s musical director.
What makes them different, Animal said, is a willingness to try different beats such as Latin or soca versus riding a “solid pocket beat.”
“To me, it’s like in a garage— you have a mixture of old crates and boxes and instruments, different stuff,” said Josh on Bass, a member for two years. “A garage isn’t fancy. You can be yourself and express your feelings. What we try to share through our music is a bunch of feelings in one garage. “We try to play what may be in our hearts and hope the crowd will feed off that.”
Kashif, a Southeast D.C. native who attended Morgan State University, established the band eight years ago. The music and size of the group fluctuated until four years ago when Kacey Williams joined. Kashif, once a case manager for a nonprofit, said his vision was “to hear whatever I wanted to hear from one band.”
The name is a representation of “D.C. on the national music scene,” Kashif said. “We are this unknown entity that hasn’t got its just due.”
In the last few months, fans who flocked to Black Alley’s performances throughout the DMV tried to help expand the group’s reach.
They tweeted, sent texts and uploaded original videos to help their favorite local band rank among the top trending bands and regional finalists in a recent Grammy-related online contest.
“Between ‘Heavy Hitters’ and ‘Used’...there is nobody that can mess with #blackalley #stopsleepin,” tweeted VizMadScientist about some of the group’s popular songs, echoing the sentiment of other fans who voted repeatedly online to help the band garner the big-time gig.
Hundreds of fans of the D.C.-based group voted in the “From Your Garage to GRAMMY Live” contest sponsored by CBS. Almost Kings, of Marietta, Ga., won the contest and will perform during an online streaming event leading up to the 54th annual Grammy Awards Sunday on CBS.
“D.C. is home for many great musicians and a population used to listening to live music since they were teenagers,” said radio personality Salih “Bootsy Vegas” Williams, who appeared regularly on the now-defunct Donnie Simpson morning show on WPGC, and now hosts a radio show for GoGoradio.com. “It’s a place where you can learn and grow and develop your craft before it hits the national stage, but national artists know this place appreciates good music so that’s why they always come back and do shows.”
The group practices three nights a week barring scheduled performances. During a recent rehearsal, artist Demont “Peekaso” Pinder created a spontaneous colorful portrait of the group using his iPad 2. Art director for Raheem Devaughn, a three-time Grammy nominated R&B vocalist, Pinder often paints during the Maryland-raised singer’s shows. Pinder said he enjoys Black Alley’s energy and feels they represent what makes the region different and dynamic.
“I’m inspired by their music,” he said.
Lachelle Story of TWENTY28, a public relations/management/marketing firm that works with the band, said what distinguishes Black Alley from other groups in the greater D.C. area is its versatility.
“Their ability to not be pigeonholed or isolated in one musical genre,” Story said during a rehearsal earlier in the month. “They can go from rock to real deep soul and of course go-go all in one song effortlessly. They are one of the only bands I have ever witnessed where people become immediate fans after just one song.”
Black Alley’s debut album “Soul. Swagger. Rock. Sneakers” will be released in March, Kashif said.
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