Black Square
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Black Square

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"The Shack Waikiki"

The ska, roots and reggae show with Chris Murray Combo, Black Square and Go Jimmy Go was a major happening down in Waikiki. By the time Go Jimmy Go came on, it was wall to wall people, so warm and packed in the room that you were lucky to have already found a chair, spot of floor or wall to stake out for your own.

The crowd was wide-eyed and enthusiastic in the early hours; by the end it was a mixed bag of surfers, ska-lovers, locals, and tourists.

It’s lucky that we walked in early, when Black Square was going off, with its party-time horn section and in your face attitude, because the opening band hit just the right combination of good music and welcoming crowd. Members of the band kept the energy high when they would break off and skank their way through the crowd. Josh 86, singer and bandleader, was in fine form, smiling his way through a set that lasted nearly an hour.

Chris Murray has been an independent flag-bearer for rock steady, ska and reggae music for at least 10 years now. He has a solid discography, including two albums out in the past three years, one solo album and one with his Chris Murray Combo. The harmonies from his Combo were nowhere in evidence Friday night, but he confidently sang his way through a smooth set of uplifting, classic music.

The band started out early with Murray’s “Rocksteady,” and that pretty much set the tone for the night — easygoing and entertaining..

Murray was part of a combo on Thursday night, with a bass player and drummer. Thursday night’s show was the first in three for Oahu: Thursday night in Waikiki, Friday night at Anna’s in Moiiliili, and Saturday night at Breaker’s in Haleiwa.

Go Jimmy Go has been killling it for years now, and Friday night was no exception. The bar was packed from front to back for their exuberant set.

Get the details on Chris Murray’s appearances on Friday, Sept. 18 and Saturday, Sept. 19 in our Nightclubs calendar at www.staradvertiser.com/tgif. - Star Advertiser


"Black Square Killing It!"

The pure musical and songwriting talent of Black Square was abundantly evident at a September 21st gig at Anna Banana’s. The night felt more like a party with 300 of Black Square’s closest friends than an actual show. The room was stifling hot as people, dripping in sweat, crowded together shoulder to shoulder at the foot of the stage, just to be that much closer to the music. There wasn’t a static person in the place. Every person was dancing, jumping, or bobbing, moved by the upbeat sounds of this power reggae group.

Kalei Kam, a graduate student at HPU who attended the show exclaimed “I loved their sound, and the instruments being used. The band members were so interactive with the crowd and the crowd reacted so awesomely! My favorite part was when two of the band members came into the audience still playing their instruments and dancing with the audience; the audience went absolutely wild! Love them!”

Not many bands can captivate an audience the way Black Square can. Josh86, the band’s lead singer, attributes that energy to the band “just having fun,” their love for their art, and most importantly, their love for people who turn out to see them. Decidedly humble despite the band’s growing popularity, Josh86 says that Black Square’s burgeoning success is due largely to other local bands, and that they have a “very strong love and appreciation for the local music scene, and all the bands who are a part of it.” He adds “we wouldn’t have the foundation that we do if it weren’t for those bands.”

While their performances are lively and fun, the message in their music is usually rather serious. You won’t hear any sappy sonnets, or songs of unrequited love from Black Square. This band writes songs that reflect their perspective on current issues such as racism, war, the situation in Iraq, and capitalism. Black Square feels a steadfast responsibility to sing about truly important issues to encourage people to talk about our social climate. The lyrics they write express their feelings on the topics, then these local boys, who hail from all over the island, set those lyrics to music that blends traditional genres like rock and reggae, with newer ones like punk rock and ska.

Listing Minor Threat, Bob Marley, and The Clash as among their many musical influences, Black Square has a truly unique sound. Just as unique is how they chose their name. Inspired by Kazimir Malevich’s infamous Black Square painting, which challenged people to consider art differently and more objectively, the band’s moniker reflects their dispute with society’s traditional notion of art. In the same way that they don’t define art as any one particular medium, they don’t define their music as any one particular style.

The members of Black Square, include lead singer Josh86, 25; drummer Little Brian Kim, 28; bassist Nick Danger, 24; alto saxophonist TR, 26; trombone player G-Bone, 20; and tenor saxophonist Babyface, who’s just 17 years old. Their last album, One Glass of Water, sold over 1,000 copies in less than six months, despite limited promotion and no local radio play. They have toured the mainland twice, and have opened for the nationally popular, but locally-grown, Pepper.
Black Square lights up the local music scene with their energy, their passion, and their message. You can check them out and find their next performance at www.myspace.com/blacksquare. Pick up their latest CD at Jelly’s, Hungry Ear, Sure Shock Café, or online at www.cdbaby.com. You can also buy their music on iTunes. Be on the look out for their next album, tentatively scheduled to drop in February. You can also check out the band at a free performance this Friday, October 26 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm on Fort Street Mall
- Honolulu Advertiser


"Review of Onward, Corey Asato"

Post WWII, Jamaicans acquired American R&B via radio, late 70's English punks meshed Jamaican ska, years later, Americans jumped right in on the skank. Three waves, all voiced with messages of social outcasts, political movements, racial unity, and of course, booze. With Onward, Black Square is kicking off the “ska is dead” boots while garbing their fourth wave protest gauntlets. And no, not your hippie hugs, dance drunk punch love, rude boy.

There's something to adore about DIY bands that get it right, and Black Square gets it. Their strength is in their live sets, and Onward is a testament to just that. Opening track "The Ego" fills the air with an energetic synergy of groove rhythms, vocal chants, and jazzy blasts of brass all surprisingly swelled and hushed exactly where they need to be. In our digital recording age of, “Dr. sync my vocals in key,” cut-and-paste, and way, way too much reverb abuse (insert pop star here), over-production is a crutch and here-by acclaimed irritation. Gladly, Onward is a well-refined recording, yet remains raw.

Reggae-bound, sure-to-be-radio-hit, “Underground” is where we see the band relax, kick back, and give an ode to their surroundings. Album closer “Chinatown” reminisces of the band’s beginnings, underage fan base, and like “The Ego,” humility. Hard touring, three albums and six years in, at the top of their game, Black Square shows why they’re on the better bands of the island list. While giving us nothing entirely new, Onward still hands a well crafted, upbeat, familiar feel, and Hawaii likes familiar.

- Honolulu Weekly


"Interview with Josh86"

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Skratch Magazine Interview

When one thinks of Hawaii, it's easy to concentrate on stereotypes; surfing, hula girls, etc. However, Hawaii and a burgeoning ska/punk scene have never been synonymous. Punk/reggae sextet Black Square are looking to change that, and SKRATCH recently caught up with guitarist/vocalist Josh 86 to discuss just how they plan on it.

Black Square is Josh 86 (vocals/guitars), Nick Danger (bass/vocals), Brian Kim (drums), T.R. (alto & baritone saxophone/vocals), G-Bone (trombone), and Babyface McEvans (tenor saxophone.)

SKRATCH MAGAZINE: Is there any significance behind the name of the band?
JOSH 86: The band name comes from the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich who, in 1915, painted a black square on a white foreground which became his most famous piece of work. [The] appropriately titled "Black Square" was classified as part of the Suprematist movement, a theory in which the material matter of art or objectivity was without value and the true value in a work of art was in the feeling it expressed or the feeling it provoked without specifically leading the viewer to specific object-based reflection.

SKRATCH: From a lyrical standpoint, what do you think is the most powerful song in the band's catalogue?
JOSH: "One Glass of Water," the title track of our most recent album, has an urgent and important message calling on people to conserve, replant, and replenish our earth as we have been raping and taking from it for too long now. The song's verses are self-reflective while the bridges and chorus call for the listener to remember the past and to be active in shaping the future of our planet.

SKRATCH: What are some of your goals for 2008?
JOSH: Release our third full-length album, ONWARD. Tour Japan and the west coast again.

SKRATCH: Who are some of the artists that made you want to do this?
JOSH: Local bands like Go Jimmy Go and The Hell Caminos have stepped up and embarked on cross continental tours of the mainland, as well as tours in Asia and Europe. This has been influential in our traveling goals. Musically speaking, Joe Strummer has been my biggest influence. From the Clash to his work with the Mescaleros, he is my most admired songwriter with his political and insightful lyrics along with combinations of pop, punk, and reggae.

SKRATCH: Do think the Internet has been more of a benefit or a detriment to the music industry?
JOSH: From the financial perspective, I'd say a detriment. Bands have gained much better exposure possibilities though, and I believe that is more valuable than the dollar. Artists have always struggled financially, it seems. Those who benefit off the sales of art are almost never the ones creating it. I'd much rather have a million people be listening to our music than making a million dollars off it.

SKRATCH: What would your "dream tour" look like?
JOSH: I'd love to tour South America. I'd like to have everything with us we'd need to play anywhere. All the generators, lights, etc. Playing music to people that have never heard anything like us is exciting to me. I wouldn't even want to hit the big cities. I can just imagine the adventure it would be. Yeah, I'd want to play the Amazon.

SKRATCH: If you weren't involved with music, what would you be doing?
JOSH: I run a non-profit organization that sets up all ages shows in the Islands. I'd love to focus more on that and establish our own venue and art space for bands to play, and to have art and music classes. This type of work involving the youth and giving them tools to express or empower themselves is very rewarding. To encourage and cultivate more music and art in Hawaii's youth culture is noble work I'd like to be a part of.

SKRATCH: What is one of your least favorite things about being a musician?
JOSH: Traveling. As much as it is always an awesome adventure, and memorable, and one of the best parts of being a musician, I get homesick really easy. Growing up on an island makes you never want to leave, or makes you want to get the hell out as soon as you can. I love Hawaii; it is my home, so whenever I leave, I miss it in a way that makes me feel like part of myself has been taken away. A lot of people talk about this feeling when they lose a lover. I feel that way when I lose Hawaii.

SKRATCH: Where do you see the band in five years?
JOSH: I would expect our live show turnouts to grow immensely. I would expect to have visited many cities and countries with fans across the world. Most importantly, I would expect our music to improve greatly.

SKRATCH: How bout ten years?
JOSH: Hopefully living off our art somehow. But who knows, maybe the Internet will have swallowed the music industry by then. In that case, we will instead [have] made over a million fans, and everyone in the Amazon will know our name.
- Skratch


"Review of One Glass of Water, John Berger"

The effectiveness of music as a conduit for educational messages and encouraging political awareness is immediately evident in this powerful new album by Black Square. A majority of the songs on this all-original album have the catchy uptempo rhythms and blaring horn section punches of mainstream party-hearty ska, but the group's resident lyricist, Josh 86, writes primarily about topics more cerebral than sex, drinking and the pursuit of women. There's even a song here that speaks out against the popular playa attitude of treating all
women as a "one-night thrill."


Other songs denounce the glorification of random violence in Hawaii's local "moke" culture, racism in general, eco-cide, the concept of "freedom as a by-product" and America's relative lack of interest in addressing the many problems that are devastating sub-Saharan Africa.

"December 7th," the only song Josh 86 didn't write, turns out to be an indictment of the shameful imprisonment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

There's also some lighter material -- autobiographical, perhaps -- about swaying "to the sound of Chris Murray on guitar," leaving messages on answering machines and the daily grind of life in modern America.

Songs that are written to deliver political or religious messages are often painfully didactic and musically bland, but Black Square rocks throughout. Whatever the topic may be, relatively light or politically charged, island ska fans will find Black Square worth hearing.
- Star Advertiser


Discography

Onward, 2008
One Glass of Water, 2006
End the Cycle, 2004

Photos

Bio

Black Square’s sound is a blend of ska and reggae delivered with the urgency and intensity of punk rock. As reggae music was the backdrop for these Hawaii raised punk rockers, the sound of Black Square came about organically from their musical and geographical upbringing. The band’s name comes from the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich’s 1915 painting of a black square. The theory behind the painting was that the material matter of art was without value and the true value in a work of art was in the feeling it expressed or provoked—without leading the viewer to a specific object based reflection. Black Square seeks to do the same with their music.

Black Square’s music has been featured on FUEL TV, Billabong Surf, Heavy Water, Wahine Blue, Board Stories, and the feature films One Kine Day and Noho Hewa. With a tour van and backline housed in California, they have toured the mainland every six months for the last four years.

Black Square was formed as a Punk trio in 2002. Influenced by bands like Operation Ivy, Minor Threat, Bad Brains and The Clash, Black Square’s lyrical focus aimed at attempting to raise consciousness concerning political, environmental, cultural, and economic issues—many specific to Hawaii.

Black Square released their first CD “End the Cycle” in the summer of 2004. “End the Cycle's” basic punk and reggae sound is a great musical match to the lyrics and stands up to the test of time.

Black Square evolved by adding a horn section and moved in a more complex musical direction. They released their second album, “One Glass of Water” in January of 2006. The album features songs covering such diverse concerns as teenage homelessness, globalization, militarization, and the Japanese internment camps during WWII). The added brass of T.R., G-bone, Boto, and Babyface make horns sound relevant again. The music, while not losing its edge, incorporates influences such as The Specials and The Aggrolites.

Their third CD "Onward" was released in June 2008. In an era of digital perfection, “Onward” is refreshing in its organic musical feel and reflects Black Square’s continued social focus. “Onward” is a groovy-rocksteady jam that showcases the band’s continued organic evolution. Direct influence of traditional ska music on this album is evident without compromising any of their unique blend of punk-fused reggae tones.

Black Square is currently recording their fourth album.