Mister Kali
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Mister Kali

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The best kept secret in music


"Nights for Brotherhood"

Nights for Brotherhood
Don Martin's Brotherhood Sound throws the best dancehall party in three states. So where is everybody?
By John Hult

Dancehall 101 with Brotherhood Sound.
May 6, 2005

It's 10:45 p.m. and the show is just getting started. Don Martin grabs the mic and shouts, "All right everybody, Brotherhood Soundsystem Reggae Dancehall 101 starts now!"

A few yelps fly stageward as Martin and crew throw their hands up to the first track's roots reggae beat. The music gets loud. Four or five Burt's Tiki Lounge patrons dance and wiggle their way through the maze of chairs, tables and bystanders to get closer to the floor, where some dedicated reggae fans are already busting loose.

Martin, patriarch of Brotherhood Sound and an encyclopedia of Jamaican musical history, is an immigrant to the United States originally from Germany. After spending his late teens in southern Colorado, he settled down in Santa Fe, where he's stayed on and off since then. He started Brotherhood Sound with Robbi Hanelt in 1992 as a sort of reggae school for both uninitiated music fans and emerging artists. The Brotherhood functions as a mobile dancehall that allows artists, selectors (DJs) and aspiring party-starters to get out-of-bedroom experience and blossom into club-commanding dancehall showmen. Basically, Martin throws parties for a living and teaches others how to do the same.

One of those artists, an El Paso native named Sergeant Remo, is standing at the edge of the stage singing along as the show starts, fully immersed. According to Remo, who sat down to chat about a half hour earlier, "Sergeant Remo" is a Brotherhood handle. At the first Reggae Dancehall 101 event in January, he was Remo. The first time he jumped on stage, Martin called him Sergeant Remo. The name stuck.

He didn't expect to find anything like Brotherhood in Albuquerque. Like a lot of serious reggae artists, Remo sees reggae as a life style, not a musical one. In order to keep up with what's happening in a genre whose spiritual home is a foreign country, it's a necessary step. Especially with reggae. Jamaica releases more singles per week than any country on Earth, and the heavy slang and island syntax is so pervasive that learning to rap over dancehall riddims is a bit like learning to rap in French.

"It's a whole different language, you know,” Remo said. “It probably took me six or seven years listening to this music before I understood everything."

Remo travels to New York, the biggest dancehall market in the U.S., about twice a year to visit clubs and catch up with friends and fellow performers. Thanks to Brotherhood Sound, he now has an outlet at home.

"[Martin] is really the only one holding it down out here," Remo said.

By 11:15 p.m., things are running smoothly. As Mikey Messenger, a University of South Florida music marketing major and 6-month disciple of Brotherhood, spins records and his roommate Rashid leads the slight but excitable start-of-show crowd, Martin pulls up to my booth with another artist named Mister Kali. Kali and Martin are both hugging Heineken bottles—there wasn't a moment when either could be seen without one—and the look on Martin's face is one of relief. The show is on and going well. The late start came from technical difficulties, he explained.

Megan Sikkink
Straight away, I ask Martin about dub plates and his famed music collection. Dub plates, previously recorded songs that artists rework to include the name of a particular sound system, are an essential part of dancehall. Martin spends about $1,000 a year on them. The week before this show, they recorded one with Toots in a motel room after a Toots & the Maytals show at Santa Fe's Paramount Theater. The dubs are one part of sound system maintenance, but the monumental task is keeping up with dancehall trends.

"We probably spend between $2,000 to $4,000 a year on new music," Martin says. This means 20 to 40 new singles for possible use in the mix at Brotherhood shows each week (since 1992—you do the math). "As far as dub plates go, they can get pretty expensive, but my cut off is usually at $250."

Kali smiles—his most natural expression, I would find—and looks to Martin for cues, as an apprentice looks to a teacher. Later on, after Martin left the booth, I realized that this impression was correct. He is an apprentice, and a worthy talent to boot. Kali's gravel grinding flow catches the ear; his performance style grabs attention. Truth be told, the Berkeley-trained musician probably would have been good at anything.

"He's gone to a lot of music schools, you know," Martin would say weeks later. "He's actually gone to school for this stuff. I've never done anything like that. My school has been the dancehall."

Now he, along with Mikey, Rashid, Remo, Kali and a few others who couldn't make it to the show, school themselves and others.

"That's why we've got the name going on, Reggae Dancehall 101. We're not just schoolin - Weekly Alibi-Albuquerque, NM


-promotional EP 2004

Mr. KALI-"Shake Weh Yuh Have"-Prime Time
-single to be released 2007


Feeling a bit camera shy


Currently at a loss for words...