One Love Brass Band blends Jamaican reggae and ska with New Orleans brass and rhythm. The group will celebrate the 70th birthday of the late reggae music star Bob Marley on Friday at the Little Gem Saloon with the first Marley Gras.
Reggae’s most revered artist, Marley was born Feb. 6, 1945. At Marley Gras, One Love Brass Band will play his 1973 album, “Burnin,’ ” and Daria and the Hip Drops will play the 1975 classic, “Natty Dread.”
Boyanna Trayanova, the group’s drummer, and Kyle Cripps, a saxophonist, formed One Love Brass Band in 2013. They named the band after Marley’s anthem, “One Love.”
“I wanted to do more reggae gigs in town,” Trayanova said last week following an afternoon Marley Gras rehearsal.
At first, the band concentrated on classic ska and reggae, including the music of The Skatalites. Like New Orleans’ great instrumental funk band, The Meters, The Skatalites backed singers in the studio and made their own classic recordings as well.
“We were initially inspired by The Skatalites and anything (Jamaican) from the 1960s and ’70s,” Cripps said.
The One Love Brass Band repertoire still includes Skatalites classics “Guns Of Navarone” and “Ringo Rides,” but they’ve evolved into a hybrid of Jamaican and New Orleans music.
“We realized that we had to put some New Orleans spin on it,” Cripps said.
One Love Brass Band stirs New Orleans music into Jamaican music and vice versa. The group reggae-fies and ska-tafies, for instance, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and “St. James Infirmary.”
“We’ll put a Caribbean groove on it,” Cripps said.
“We’ll do a one-drop (rhythm),” Trayanova said. “And then we’ll go into a double-time ska beat and then we’ll put a dancehall thing on it.”
During Marley Gras rehearsals, One Love Brass Band worked at integrating New Orleans’ second-line beat and Mardi Gras Indians grooves into Marley’s “Burnin’ ” songs.
“It doesn’t happen by itself,” Trayanova said. “But it’s so much fun that we don’t mind putting in the work.”
“The rhythms meld seamlessly,” Cripps said. “They’re the easy part. The melodies, the horn arrangements, that’s the hard part.”
The ease in blending New Orleans and Jamaican rhythms probably springs from a shared musical history. Caribbean influence streams through New Orleans music, especially in the brilliantly inventive music of singer-pianist Professor Longhair. And during the 1950s and ’60s, when Professor Longhair recorded many of his classics, rhythm-and-blues records by New Orleans artists were among the American sounds that touched Jamaica’s future ska and reggae musicians.
“They heard Fats Domino,” One Love Brass Band tenor and baritone saxophonist David Bode said. “He was a big influence on that early Jamaican music.”
“It’s come full circle,” Trayanova said. “We’re reincorporating Jamaican music into New Orleans music.”