The Rafiki Project
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The Rafiki Project

San Antonio, Texas, United States | SELF

San Antonio, Texas, United States | SELF
Band Rock Reggae

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"Live And Local (The Rafiki Project)"

To be honest, the Rafiki Project — not to be confused with the Central Ohio charity — had me at sound check. Guitarist-vocalist Daniel Ramirez tested out the mic with the chorus from Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and part of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s “Crossroads” — two songs I’ll always be a sucker for. I bring this up not, surprisingly enough, to discredit myself as a music critic or to say the band sounds anything like either of these acts when they’re not goofing around during tune-up, but to bring up a few peculiarities in my own musical taste, strange fetishes I try to avoid talking about, but I’m afraid the Project caters to directly. I have a genuine appreciation for some Sublime songs, for example, and I like trance-y Bob Marley remixes better than their original counterparts. If you do, too, get to the next Rafiki Project concert (they play a free First Friday show March 5 at Lazy Daze, 628 S. St. Mary’s), and give them a listen. If you stopped reading this at the first mention of Sublime, uh … well, I guess I’ll catch you later.

“Aggressive Touch” plays off of the tension created by the imbalance between Banner Matney’s relentless bassline and Charlie Hickman’s lethargic trumpet. Brandon Perry, electronics wizard, fiddles knobs and plays keyboard, creating walls of reverb for the other instruments to bounce off of. Like most of us born too late, the Rafiki Project seem to cut their Marley with a healthy dose of revisionist reggae, diffusing the key elements — the off-beat guitar, the dread-rattling basslines, the soulful, politically minded vocals — through contemporary American filters such as Fugazi and Ben Harper. “Raincoats” makes the inanity of lines like “Raincoats will do you no good/ It’s the rain that provides you with your food” a non-issue by hazing Ramirez’s vocals in a thick cloud of dub and distortion till they’re another noise in the collage, serving the same purpose as the vocal-sample sweet nothings in a lot of electronic dance music.

Other songs seem to have more meaning. “This is a song about people who steal land,” Ramirez says before “Whole Entire World.” Other songs are titled “Interconnected,” “Planting Trees,” and “Ocean Thief,” which opens with Ramirez’s guitar getting fierce before the music belies its angry lyrics with shrugging delivery, oceanic ambience, and Hickman’s catchy mariachi trumpeting. “This is another song about stealing land,” Ramirez says, introducing it, “because we think it’s important. We don’t like singing about girls. Let’s put it that way.” A few other song titles: “Enorma,” “Dub Atomic Atmosphere,” and “Preservatives,” which wastes no innuendo describing a “flight to my mushroom planet” and drifts between Top 40 catchiness and tweaked-out retro-futuristic reggae that might be called space jam, if Michael Jordan were never born. Watching it played live is like seeing a remix created in real time.

The one weakness worth pointing out, in fact, is the rest of the band’s reliance on Perry’s electronic embellishments, which could be more effective if the band better diversified to supply him with more original instrumentals to work with, but as the Rafiki Project has yet to drop their first official album (due March 20), we can save that worry for some other day. — Jeremy Martin - Jeremy Martin (San Antonio Current)


"The Rafiki Project (A New Homegrown Aesthetic)"

Whether you search the early years of your childhood or simply Google the name, the moniker of local dub-reggae artists The Rafiki Project might result in some strange images from your natural or cyber circuitry. Some may see a murky reference to that obscure Disney film featuring a wizened, chanting baboon of the same name. If you’re a San Antonio native, the name might call to mind the shadowy, armed militia group formerly in operation on the North West side that goes by code name ‘Rafiki’. Daniel Ramirez, lead vocalist and guitarist for The Rafiki Project, dispels the rumors:
“When we were in high school, there was a place where everyone would go chill, right behind this bar on Huebner Road. To the right of the bar was a back entrance to Camp Bullis and this sign that said ‘Rafiki,’ but no one knew what the sign meant,” Daniel explains.
“Anyway, this big urban legend grew up around it after some kids wandered into the back entrance and got caught drinking by military police from the base. I guess they told everyone that there was some secret armed force called ‘Rafiki’ in San Antonio, and it’s been a big joke ever since.”
Turns out the sign referred to the home offices of a missionary group called the Rafiki Foundation, and the band adopted it in reference to their high school hangout. Those with a background in Swahili might have noted that Rafiki translates as ‘friend,’ a word that accurately describes the group atmosphere that surrounds these musicians who laugh and joke as they remember the steps taken that brought them to their current lineup.
When Daniel and drummer Chase Mullenax first conceived of what would become The Rafiki Project, they didn’t intend to grow to the five-piece force that they are today. Daniel, who had grown up under the influence of his father’s Motown collection and who cites singer/songwriters as a major inspiration, had been playing acoustic gigs around San Antonio and was looking to add a percussive accompaniment to his sound.
“The idea of an artist who made it big as a songwriter before they became a famous musician—that whole folk sound; anyone who was really good at that always influenced me,” Daniel remembers.
When he and Chase began practicing together, Chase’s dance-inspired drum beats led them both to believe that their sound still wasn’t complete.
Chase, whose influences growing up included local drummers Aaron Montano and Matt from Hydro Melody, would soon ask high school friend Banner Matney to come jam bass with him and Daniel. Banner, whose forked tongue of classic and punk rock influences helped shape The Rafiki Project’s burgeoning sound, immediately became a permanent addition.
With a third leg to balance on, the three of them began writing and performing reggae-inspired music as a new collective of old friends. The band’s first show, played at Rebar on Broadway with San Antonio natives Star Child, is available online via YouTube.
“Just Google us, it’s the first video that comes up,” Daniel says.
Shortly after these beginning steps, the trio moved into a house together with a fourth roommate, Charlie Hickman, so they could practice on a regular basis. The way Banner describes it, the band discovered Charlie’s hidden talent for the trumpet after they had all moved in together, which he’d played from sixth grade until senior year of high school but set down in the meantime. Persuaded to pick it back up and play with the band, Charlie was soon appearing as a special guest with The Rafiki Project at Monday Reggae Nights at Atomix during the summer of 2008. He was soon a regular member of the group, adding soaring trumpet accents to the band’s already seasoned sound.
The Rafiki Project found their fifth member in keyboardist and fellow Reggae Night Atomix-ite Brandon Perry. Brandon had jammed with The Rafiki Project on one prior occasion when Daniel asked him to join them on stage only an hour before they were scheduled to go on.
“Charlie was out of town, and we really didn’t want to perform as a three-piece,” remembers Daniel. “So I sat down with Brandon and wrote out the chord progressions for all of the songs, and it turned out to be a really great show. Everyone was grooving to it.”
Brandon, who has been playing keyboard for over 20 years, began experimenting with synthesizers and circuit bending a year and a half ago.
“I grew up with piano and organ, but I always want to hear new sounds,” Brandon said. “When I first heard Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, I knew I wanted to make similar soundscapes to the ones you hear on that album.”
That fascination has brought the additions of a Korg KP3 to his rig, along with a DJ effects board that allows him to create and manipulate an infinite number of sounds and effects that have become a seamless and integral addition to The Rafiki Project’s performances. Brandon shows no self-consciousness about his craft as he explains his equipment of choice. For him, sound creation seems as natural as self-expression, the hardware acting only as a medium and never a crutch.
“I can get all of the control and sound I want out of that set up; all the sound runs through there. Bending circuits, adding delay to the rhythms, tap tempo, you can get all the levels right, everything,” he explains.
A native of Riverside, CA and a two-year resident of San Antonio, Brandon grew up listening to a wide range of music. Dub and roots reggae form the backbone of Brandon’s influences, with classical, oldies, jazz, hip-hop, and more recently Pink Floyd, holding up the vanguard.
When asked how they would describe the difference that Brandon brought to the band, Chase looks me in the face and bluntly says: “Dramatic.”
“When Charlie came in, our crescendos really began to take off,” says Daniel, “and now with Brandon, the combination has become epic.”
Charlie, who started out with a keyboard at home, trumpet at school, and then moved into guitar, says that today his biggest musical influences are his band members, and he’s not the only one who shares that sympathy.
“Honestly, there is no other CD in my car right now except for us,” Chase laughingly admits.
His band mates chorus their mutual affinity for their developing sound.
To keep things moving forward, the group began recording each of their regular jam sessions and listening back after rehearsal. Each agreed that this process of self-reflection was helping them avoid becoming stuck in any creative ruts.
“After you start playing music, your ear naturally learns what’s good and what’s not,” Daniel says. “This method of practicing, recording, listening and cutting out the lame shit has become our shortcut to progression.”
That progress and the group’s dynamic new sound are captured in their upcoming full length release due this April. Recorded in part at the Farm Studio, the album will also feature four live tracks that the band produced in their practice space.
“After we started listening to our practices, we realized that there were moments happening that we weren’t able to capture in the studio. We actually liked it a lot better than the other stuff we produced,” Daniel explains.
In the future, the band plans to produce all of their own releases, using the equipment they have in their practice space to record live sessions that will capture those elusive moments that only happen by mistake, that are honest and natural. This complete embrace of their creative process from conception to production is a bold move that illustrates the confidence the band has in its recent artistic development. Hearing them talk about their transformation, each member bounces off of the other’s statements, demonstrating that as a group, these musicians are finding a groove that is exclusively their own.
Brandon: A lot of people go in the studio to pay for the effects, the delay, the soundscapes, and stuff like that, but we have all of that. Between computers, the Kaos Pad, and microphones, we have everything we need to do it ourselves, and we can get it exactly the way we want it.
Daniel: It’s totally live; we don’t go back and touch anything.
Banner: We leave the mess-ups and everything.
Brandon: You hear it and feel it.
Daniel: Yeah, you listen back, and you didn’t know you had it, but you hear things in ways that you haven’t heard them before.
Brandon: Everyone was thinking and feeling; everyone’s brains were all on the same wavelength, and you hear it, and you think, ‘Damn, we were on some other shit,’ and I mean we were on some other shit, but…
The group laughs but is quick to demonstrate how seriously they take their music nowadays.
“If it affects the way we play, we don’t do it,” Daniel says. “The real party takes place after the show.” And the show doesn’t disappoint. For fans of the genre, The Rafiki Project has all the essentials, displaying their roots with confidence. Daniel’s voice is reminiscent of Bradley Nowell at his most soulful, but never trends on the more distinctive Sublimean trademarks (you won’t find any stray “Bohms” here). Mullenax’s snare is sharp and never showy, riding low in the groove and up high during the breaks. Alongside Matney’s spidery maneuvering up ad own the neck, the pair forms an airtight seal on the rhythm section, keeping everyone on the same path as each instrument is allowed its moment in the spotlight. As a one-man horn section, Hickman’s fluent work is modest and confident, at time taking the back seat to the guitar and at other times flying out front. By not recruiting an entire horn section, the band maintains enough distance from the ska vacuum to allow the audience to enjoy Hickman’s work as an artist and an individual in the ensemble, rather than as a mere trope of the genre. Perry displays practiced dexterity on the sythesizer. He is fully capable of taking the reins and leading the group during solos, and his work on the Kaos Pad creates magnificent additions to the band’s sound that bring a hip-hop production quality to the mix. Ramirez’s vocals are run through his DJ effects board, so that Perry can cast echoes to punctuate the ends of certain stanzas. This interplay between vocalist and technician sounds both natural and strategic- a difficult tension to pull off onstage.
There are brilliant moments that emerge out of the pieces in play, pulling the listener into that space being created by a group of guys who are bending their own rules. More often than not, they prefer to let the pulse lay low – rarely bringing the tempo up to circle-pit fury-but there are still plenty of dynamics at work to keep things moving. As performers and musicians, the band professes a good hold on a range of melodic temperments. There are songs that make you want to dance and songs that let you sit and vibe, but either way you have it, the groove is contagious.
A new sound, a new album, and a new aesthetic: this rebirth surely signals the beginning of a big year for The Rafiki Project. Catch them at their CD release at Café Latino on March 20th and again on April 17th in Protland, TX at Windfest 2010.

- Eric Washburn (Backbeat Magazine)


Discography

"Greener Grasses" 2012

1.) Bird Affects
2.) Honduras Street
3.) Enorma
4.) Winded
5.)Rabbit Hole
6.)Ventriloquist
7.)Dub Atomic
8.)Lupes Massacre
9.)Flower Pipe
10.)Sunny season

SIngle 2010
1.) Rabbit Hole (ProAudio Compilation)

"Wonderful Flight" 2010

1.)Aggressive touch
2.)Micicleta
3.)Throw me a rope
4.)Preservatives
5.)Ocean thief
6.)shoemaker
7.)Planting trees
8.)Selenas
9.)Phone-star
10.)Familiar Land
11.)Textual Transmission
12.)Raincoats

Photos

Bio

The RAFIKI Project is a reggae/dub/rock/electronic influenced quartet based out of San Antonio, Texas. Never straying too far from their reggae homeland, their love for vocal and trumpet processing allow for an innovative songwriting approach. TRP brings the best out of the "counter culture" while intimately connecting listeners to the revolving door of their many songs.

"GREENER GRASSES" New Album out now!

-SALAAM