Peru. It’s not a country that seems like an immediate inspiration for roots reggae. But when a young Cisco Lagomarcino moved back there from New Jersey with his family in the 1990s, that was the sound the surfers around Lima loved. One listen and the music clicked in a way he’d never expected. Lagomarcino was a roots convert. It became his obsession. Eventually he returned to the U.S., settling in South Florida where he formed Mixed Culture, which has become one of the biggest reggae bands in the area. And for their second album, they’re unleashing a two-pronged, double-CD attack, with the songs of Movement in Roots alongside the versions that make up Movement in Dub.
“We really wanted to do both songs and dubs,” Lagomarcino, the band’s singer and songwriter, explains. “I love dub, and we were lucky enough to get Gary Woung to mix them. He won a Grammy for his work with Third World. I’m big on musicality, and while it’s great to know people listen to the songs, I want them to hear the musicians, too, which they can on the dub versions.”
Rather than rely purely on effects and space, as in traditional dub, these really serve to emphasize the melodies of the songs, isolating and highlighting individual elements, like the keyboards that form the broad foundation of “Crazy Dub.” It’s a different perspective on the music.
“The dubs are as important to me as the songs,” Lagomarcino says. “They’re designed to be a trip, a journey, but without the musicality they’re nothing. The way Gary presents them really take a listener somewhere else.”
But, of course, that musicality has to be there in the first place, andMovement in Roots demonstrates just how much Mixed Culture loves good melodies. There’s a sweetness at the heart of the music, soulfulness that won’t quit, with conscious lyrics that have real depth – exactly the way roots reggae ought to be.
“I need the songs to mean something, to give people a voice,” Lagomarcino insists. “In This Life” is about the Arab Spring, for instance. I saw all these images of people finding a voice, able to speak out at last, and that was incredibly powerful.”
It’s not the only political track on Movement in Roots. “Tuff Road” deals with the economic crash of 2008, when “bankers created the bubble and people had to try and protect themselves,” Lagomarcino recalls. And some of the material is more personal.
“When I wrote “Tesoro” I wanted to talk about trying to make a living in the arts, and the way people always ask when you’re going to get a real job.”
It’s a feeling all six members of the band know well; every one of them makes a living as a professional musician, and Mixed Culture is what brings them together in their devotion to roots reggae. But with backgrounds in Peru, Colombia, South Africa, Haiti, and Jamaica, as well as the U.S., there are inevitably other influences, too.
“We wanted something more Spanish on that track, a different vibe that mixed up roots and Latin jazz,” Lagomarcino says. “One thing about this album is that we’re not trying to do the same reggae riddims. We like to put our own spin on it all, to mix in more Western sounds, Latin sounds, and blend it all together.”
It works. There are strong choruses and plenty of sturdy beauty in the sound. They’ve honed everything extensively on stage, working with artists like Inner Circle, Steel Pulse, Toots and the Maytals, Yellow Man, and Freddie McGregor – a who’s who of global reggae royalty. They also brought Jamaican singer Perfect Giddimani on board for “Ganja,” the initial single from Movement in Roots, and made their first video with him.
“We play about four shows a month in Florida these days. It’s strange; plenty of Jamaican reggae musicians live round here, but there are very few roots bands. And we’re eager to take this out on the road, too. We’ve played all over the U.S. before and we’d like to get out on tour again. It’s time.”
It’s definitely time. Time for some movement in roots. And time for some mixed culture.