Image Band rocks festive vibe
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, June 22, 2012
It’s fitting that Image Band, which plays a loping Jamaican style, is the headliner at Reggae Night, the Going Out Guide Weekend concert tonight at Carter Barron Amphitheater. But the group is not actually a reggae outfit.
“We’re a Caribbean band. We play high-energy Caribbean music,” says keyboardist and bandleader Loughton “Sarge” Sargeant. “But we can be a reggae band. We can be a soca band. Whatever it calls for, we can be.”
Soca, the energized modern version of calypso, is Image Band’s primary style. That music is rooted in Trinidad and Tobago, but the nine-member group began several atolls to the north in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“We started a band, Young Image, back in high school in St. Croix in 1976,” Sargeant recalls. “Three of the members of this band are actually members of that band. After we graduated from high school, three of us ended up here in Washington. That’s when Image Band was formed.”
The group’s name was chosen, Sargeant says, “to project a positive image through music. The way we carry ourselves. The kind of music we perform. If you follow our performances to this day, that’s what we reflect.”
Singer Timmy Hamm, whose powerful voice Sargeant boasts “can blow the roof off,” was the first to arrive in Washington, in the early ’80s. After earning a degree in electrical engineering, Sargeant followed, getting a gig in 1984 at what was then the Rural Electrification Administration. He still works in that field, as does trombone player Peter Aimable, the other musician who has been with the group since the Young Image days.
“We all have day jobs,” Sargeant says, “but music is what keeps us together. It’s our passion.”
Most of the other members, including singer Marjorie Lawrence, trumpeter John Georges, guitarist Willie Eugene and rapper/DJ Luke Stewart, also hail from the Caribbean. But the rhythm players, drummer Kwako Darko and bassist Ekow Quaye, are from Ghana.
African music, of course, underlies all Caribbean styles. But an echo of Denmark, the former colonial overseer of the Virgin Islands, also can be heard in some Image Band songs.
“There’s an indigenous sound called quelbe” in the Virgin Islands, Sargeant says. “That music incorporates the African influence, but there’s also a Danish side. It’s from an old traditional Danish dance, for line dancing. Quelbe is not dominant in our sound, but over the years we have recorded that style. And one of our biggest-selling songs to date is one called ‘Our Culture,’ which actually is quelbe. It’s a song that captures the history of the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
Image Band’s ties to St. Croix remain strong. The group has traveled there every December for more than 15 years to play what Sargeant calls “one of the largest New Year’s Eve events in the Virgin Islands.”
Hamm and Sargeant, who write the bulk of the group’s songs, sometimes address political and social issues. “We keep up with what’s happening in the community and draw on that element,” Sargeant says. “But in most of the music, we try to stay away from that, and focus on the party type of atmosphere.”
That festive quality, he adds, is why Caribbean sounds are popular worldwide. “It’s happy music,” Sargeant says. “If you’re down, it lifts you up. If it’s blue, it makes it bright. It has a kind of energy that makes it uplifting. It never fails; it make people get up. There’s never a dull moment at a Caribbean party.”
That’s clear from the band’s exuberant rhythms and swaggering horn arrangements. The lyrics, however, sometimes require interpretation. Take, for example, one of the group’s liveliest songs, “Wine Yo Boomsee.”
“That’s Caribbean,” Sargeant says. “The word ‘boomsee’ means your rear end. In every different island, you have a different word for that. There’s a hundred different names out there for it. But the word ‘wine’ is universal in the Caribbean. It means ‘gyrate.’ ”
So the Image Band’s goal is to make people shake their tailfeathers?
Sargeant laughs. “Exactly!”