J.G. BOCCELLA & the Modo Mio Band
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J.G. BOCCELLA & the Modo Mio Band

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"Cross-bred music probes divisive issues"

The audience that gathered to hear musician J.G. Boccella and his band at Rosebud Wednesday wasn't typical of a crowd usually found occupying the Strip District club on the same night.

Genteel middle-aged suburbanites who wouldn't know Bob Marley from the Marlboro Man clapped in syncopation with black folks of all ages, some wearing dreadlocks, some in business suits fresh from the office, but all enjoying Boccella's brand of crossbred soul music.

It really shouldn't be any big deal at all that Boccella, 32, a man of Italian-American stock, fronts a multiracial band that can attract a demographically diverse audience on a night that is typically slow for a club. In most major metropolitan cities, it wouldn't warrant any comment at all, but, alas, our town remains one in which crossing the "racial divide" is still interpreted by some as a bold, political act.

Frustrated by the racial parochialism of his hometown, Boccella recorded "The Divided States of America," a suite of songs about race, class and other divisions that continue to haunt the American dream.

Living by an ethic of colorblindness has come at a price for the Manchester-based musician, who seems genuinely perplexed by the fact that talking about race verges on the taboo in some circles.

"A lot of white people ask me 'Why are you talking about this stuff?' I'm not being radical," he said. "This isn't a pose. This is what I see." For every fan of his polyrhythmic, reggae-inflected folk-pop, Boccella knows there are listeners who consider his debut CD "preachy" because it tackles uncomfortable subjects like racial profiling, police brutality and even far-flung subjects like male chauvinism.

"As an artist, I have to write about what I feel and then put it out in the world," he said. "I want to be an advocate, but I don't know if I'm an activist. I can't say that I can change people, I just have to be real and hope [my songs] spark a dialogue."

There wasn't much chance his audience misunderstood the extent of Boccella's sympathies last week when, sitting at the Roland sample piano he uses for stage shows, he belted out the lyrics to "If a Dog Bites You," his most fully realized protest song to date:

"I heard a white man say, 'Why don't they trust us?'/ I heard a black man say, 'Is there any justice?' / If a man can be beaten by cops and killed for the color of his skin / How can you expect that man to trust the system he's living in?"

But after filling his first CD with protest songs, Boccella is quick to underscore his faith in the future and his hopeful outlook on life. He's already thinking about the next two CDs: a soft, acoustic piano recording and another full-out CD featuring his band.

"The next record will be more personal," he said with a laugh. "Believe me, I'm not going 'Hmmm, let's look at all the good causes out there' and pick one. It'll be about struggling with inner demons and won't deal with the political."

Boccella laughs after promising to cut back on the politics, knowing he'll always feel obliged to respond to what's happening around him, no matter what. Until then, he'll continue playing wherever he can get a gig. His fans will turn out to support his evolving vision of a more equitable and just society and his critics will continue to resent his earnestness until he figures out a way to turn moral outrage into art for art's sake.

- Tony Norman

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


"Change" (Single) 2006
"Family Man" (Single) 2005
"The Divided States of America" (Full-length CD) 2003


Feeling a bit camera shy


Rege Behe of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review writes, "J.G. Boccella is a man out of time, a throw-back to the socially aware 1960's. 'The Divided States of America' confronts society's ills with a mix of styles ranging from jazz to reggae, with lyrics that are unabashedly hopeful."

J.G. Boccella is a dynamic performer with a soulful vocal and piano sound. His mission is to bring people together through music. His debut CD, “The Divided States of America” is a “concept album” about race in America.

Boccella has also developed a concert/workshop program called “Undercover White Man” which uses his music as a way to start dialogues on the topic of race. He is currently seeking a publisher for his book of the same name. See program details & video clip at: www.UndercoverWhiteMan.com

JGB & the MMB have a very eclectic sound which combines elements of reggae, folk, jazz, blues, gospel, rock. Influences include: Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, U2, The Doors, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder.

Check the single, "Family Man" at www.FamilyManSong.com
It is JG's tribute to his father.