THIS WEEKEND is the kind that Jamaican-born musician Errol "Honey Boy" Martin has been dreaming about since moving to Washington almost 10 years ago. Martin, the charismatic lead singer for the reggae band Unconquered People, will be featured at two major reggae events. Tomorrow, he will join Black Sheep, Lionhearts and Premiere International at Space II (15th and K streets, NE) in a special Caribbean celebration. On Sunday at noon, a lineup including Premiere International, Spliff, Pinto and the Mighty Invaders will launch Washington's first (and free) purely reggae festival at Malcolm X Park on 16th Street.
"Three years ago, it reggae was not much in Washington, D.C.," Martin says in the thick patois. "It has started to pick up. It's a fight in America because American people just think differently; musically wise, there are some fantastic musicians, but I think they lock themselves in one type of thing -- 'freak me out, baby, funk me down, get down,' you know what I mean? Hey, that's good, but we with the reggae, we talking about Jah God , rastafari.
"Some people shy because we talk about Jah, politics, politicians, wicked people; we talk Babylon. Most people don't know what we talking about . . . Babylon? We talkin' about the system, what's happening around the world today because the world is so messed up -- with the politicians, war, all different kinds of bad things -- that we have to think about that instead of trying to unite and get ourselves together and listen to one another. With the reggae, people go home and listen to the lyrics and the lyrics are saying something. It's unity. Our music, you can either live with the people or turn them around, and the way it is is to turn them right, bring them the right way.
"Reggae music is for the sufferation of the world. When you play reggae music, come as you are. Our music is freedom music, rastafarian music, African music, black people music."
Martin has a unique perspective on the growth of reggae: Along with Jackie Mittee, he was a founder in the late '50s of the Ska-ta-lites, a Jamaican unit that moved the music past its more primitive blue beat and rock-steady stages.
He also worked in Jamaica with Sonny Bradshaw and Des Drummond before moving in the early '60s to Toronto, which boasts a large Caribbean community. There Martin formed a band called Family Reunion, which worked all over Canada and the northeastern United States, and which eventually made its way to Washington.
"I see the place, and it felt nice," Martin says. He came back again to visit friends and finally settled here. "I wasn't even thinking of making a band, I just come down to really rest for a while and cool out."
Martin worked a variety of jobs and halfheartedly put together a band that broke up, reformed, broke up, etc. By this time, Bob Marley was beginning to have an international impact and a local one, as well. Martin opened a record store, the E&E One Stop on upper Georgia Avenue, specializing in the music of Jamaica and the West Indies. The store is cluttered with the latest reggae and dub recordings, while the walls sport autographed pictures of many better-known performers.
"Two years before his death, Bob Marley come to visit and stayed with me. He was the one who gave me back this inspiration; I had stopped singing and playing, covered up my instruments."
Since then, a surprising number of bands have sprung up in Washington and Baltimore, and the region has become very supportive of the music (though not as much as Martin would like to see).
"It's a reflection of what the people know and what they want to hear," Martin insists. "You can't fool the people anymore about an R&B band coming in and playing reggae. They know the difference; reggae is the heart, you got to burn with the thing."