Savor the Sounds of the Islands
Friday, June 20, 2008
A recent Friday night at a packed Bukom Cafe in Adams Morgan felt like a college party: People were jammed around the bar, dancing with drinks in their hands, a woman at a table was swaying and clapping, a man in a baseball cap was looking skyward as he sang along to the reggae covers that Image Band was playing from the bandstand at the front of the restaurant.
Then Image started to play Bob Marley. "Believe it or not," says keyboard player Loughton "Sarge" Sargeant, "those [Marley cover sets] are not rehearsed. Those are off the cuff, and we feed off the audience." That night, Sargeant introduced the set with a slow organ intro as lead singer Timmy Hamm (who performs under his first name) began "One Drop." As the crowd started to sing along and sway in time with the music, the band members began "War," changed their minds and switched to "No More Trouble," before returning to "War." When drummer Kwako Darko crashed at the end of the set, everyone cheered.
Image Band turns 30 this year, and June is Caribbean-American Heritage Month, so the group is celebrating by headlining the "Reggae Night" concert tonight at Carter Barron Amphitheatre. Also on tonight's program are S.T.O.R.M., a dynamic reggae dance band, and Inspiration, a new D.C. roots reggae band founded by former (and still occasional) Image Band bassist Ekow Quaye.
Only one original member is still with the band: trumpeter and Virgin Islander Claude Richards. But Sargeant, Hamm and trombone player Peter Aimable have been playing together since high school in St. Croix. The band maintains its island feel with 10 other full-time or occasional band members, who include a trumpeter from St. Thomas, a guitarist and a bassist from Grenada, a backup vocalist from Antigua, a drummer and a percussionist from Ghana, a rapper from Jamaica and a saxophonist from what Sargeant calls "the island of Kentucky."
When the group is not playing covers, much of Image Band's original music is in a style called soca, a form of sped-up calypso from Trinidad that is popular in dance halls across the Caribbean. One of Image Band's fans is Von Martin, a legendary local calypso radio host and Trinidad native. Image performs the theme song for Martin's show on WPFW (89.3 FM), "Sweet Caribbeana."
Martin, who has been playing Caribbean music on WPFW for more than 30 years, says of the band, "I think Image has been able to master it [soca] better than many of the other bands around here." They won't be playing much soca at Reggae Night, but they'll play some, Sargeant says, because "reggae's Caribbean, so we try to mix it up a little."
In its 30 years, Image Band has released more than a dozen albums, but its releases are not widely available because of problems with the group's Web site. Tonight, however, CDs will be for sale.
The band will perform many of the songs they play for smaller reggae audiences, but the bigger venue of Carter Barron allows the group to have a full band and provide a much fuller sound. "We're gonna do a couple covers of Bob Marley stuff, then we're gonna do some up-to-date stuff that's hitting right now," Aimable says. "For everyone, young and old, we're gonna give them something so they can feel fulfilled that night.
"Whoever's in the audience, expect to have a great time. So bring a smile and your dancing shoes."