Rub-a-dub Souljah catching on Fyah

Edmonton band gets set to take the stage for this year’s ReggaeFest

Their recent Western Canada Music Awards nomination for Best Urban Recording could not have come at a better time for Souljah Fyah. As they prepare for their appearance at this year’s ReggaeFest this kind of recognition can only help the Edmonton-based outfit and perhaps even increase reggae’s visibility in Alberta in the process.

To Souljah Fyah’s Jenaya Ellis (a.k.a. Sista J) the Western Canadian Music Award nomination for "Truth Will Reveal" means that western Canada and Alberta in particular may just be ready for reggae on a much larger scale as the provincial scene seems stalled in an infant stage. "We’re still considered a novelty in a way" says Ellis "but the movement is coming. There’s a lot of talented people [in Alberta] who are just waiting for this little [popularity] surge."

While waiting for the surge Ellis says the band’s performances in front of audiences across the province are proof of reggae’s broad charm. "When we play in live venues" says Ellis "it’s fabulous to see the people who come. We don’t appeal to one certain group. There are people who didn’t even know they liked reggae and there are people who grew up with reggae. There are people from Rwanda and Somalia who are thankful for what they can experience when they come to the show."

Many see reggae’s appeal as its ability to combine infectious rhythms with a sense of positivity or spirituality and a social message. This social aspect is not lost on Souljah Fyah. In fact for Ellis it’s her songwriting mandate as evidenced in songs like "Rwanda" and "Truth Will Reveal."

"It’s paramount" she says of the importance of writing about social inequalities and injustices. "We need to shine a spotlight where people are afraid to see the truth. Reggae music not only does that it not only highlights struggles but it also provides an outlet and a thread of hope like no other music. A lot of people who listen to reggae and maybe don’t listen to the lyrics may say ‘This is such uplifting music.’ And even though you’re championing a fight for someone and shining a light on a system that is holding people down it offers this thing — this uplifting powerful meaningful thing."

Souljah Fyah’s commitment to raising awareness of social issues goes beyond writing songs. On a local level they’re active in fundraising efforts for such organizations like Edmonton’s food bank and STARS air ambulance. They’ve expressed frustration as well that in a province with deep pockets there continues to be a blind eye turned towards the dire implications of gentrification in cities like Edmonton and Calgary.

"What I find really obscene" says Ellis "is the encroachment of these large developments that then push people out of their homes. Where they go doesn’t seem to be anybody’s problem. My cousin in Calgary told me she was walking downtown two years ago and she happened to see a man and a woman and a baby in a stroller — they were people you would see at the grocery store y’know? And they were homeless. It’s so easy to write off someone who seems to have fallen from the confines of what we think is acceptable societal behaviour and say ‘They’re homeless.’ But now we are faced with people who resemble us and we have to address the fact that we are all one person one paycheque or one bad move away from that.

"There’s nothing wrong with wealth don’t get me wrong. But we have to have programs in place to share it because it doesn’t take much to lift someone up. And most people with a leg up will take it and run."

Who to watch

Dubbed “The Best of the Fest” ReggaeFest 5 is a milestone for its organizers and consequently its roster of acts reflect this. Old and new local and international this year’s event brings back some of the memorable bands of past festivals for an encore performance (such as Souljah Fyah) while still scouring the globe for artists that have the ability to impress.

Here are a just few of the highlights to watch for at ReggaeFest according to festival organizer Leo Cripps:

• Jason Wilson — Canada’s foremost reggae ambassador who began playing with Messenjah at age 14.

• La Comuna — a great reggae band that has never toured before outside of their homeland of Mexico.

• Lynn Olagundoye Guerrilla Funk Allstars — “Though not necessarily reggae” says Cripps "they’re local artists who share the same ideologies that we have."