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Photo by Mike McGillLast year, I caught the debut gig of a decidedly non-poseur roots-reggae band called BLACK & WHITE, which is led by a charismatic singer/songwriter/guitarist named Calin "Carlos" Chin. Duly enthused at this skanking, authentic, 12-piece pleasure machine, I followed Black & White around a bit, caught more gigs, and now must admit I root for the group on a level that ain't exactly impartial. I love this band's sound, and I'm personally fond of Chin, so before you read on, I must 'fess up to being an advocate rather than a sneering, scorched-earth kind of guy.
Chin's vibe has that effect on people. I don't feel like being in my normal cynical-dickhead state when I'm listening to Chin's music. No, I'm not turning into a dorky, white, hippie dread boy, but there's a harmony to his sound that extends beyond mere notes. The devoutly Rasta-Jesus Chin (this will be explained shortly) has a way of conveying spirituality through music that's uncommon outside the realm of pure, sanctified gospel—another holy din this heathenous Hebrew takes to like a maggot on an open sore.
You can experience the I-and-I-irie-one-love—or whatever the fuck they call it—vibe on Chin's brand-spankin'-ass-new CD, Reggae Fever!, which is available from the stage wherever they play. The band is credited as RASCALIN & THE ROOTS ROCKERS rather than Black & White because there's a transformation afoot. Henceforth, the band shall have two identities—Black & White is the cover-band version; Rascalin is the all-original showcase band. Chin hopes for enough acceptance of his original music that he'll soon be able to drop the Black & White tag altogether.
So guess which version of the band gets more gigs? Correct, Top-40 breath: in fact, Black & White plays every Sunday evening at Twin Palms in Newport Beach. But even though they've been hired to perform covers, go see them and ask them to play originals anyway. Tell them I sent you and that you've been instructed to give everyone in the band a pink belly or a wedgie if they don't comply. Then buy their album because it's, uhhh . . . jammin', mon.
I'm predicting here that Rascalin & the Roots Rockers will indeed became a full-time entity if Chin gets the exposure he deserves. The goods are clearly there; many of his original tunes are just flat-out fuckin' lovely. My personal faves include the sweetly melodic "Lyin' Eyes"; the bubbling, minor-chord "Black & White"; and the straight-ahead roots chunker "Can't Say Goodbye," all songs that effectively channel the spirits of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
Talk of Chin's music inevitably turns to matters more celestial than mere dead reggae singers. "My music was inspired by God," Chin states with an unearthly smile of contentment etched onto his mug. "I wrote the words down as they came to me. The music is basically about justice and equality, self-redemption and emancipation from mental slavery in a way. Free yourself from the ways of the world and find yourself spiritually, and everything will be okay. That's the philosophy behind me. Everybody's got a spirit, and I want the music to touch everyone."
Do ya maybe wanna sell some records along the path to spiritual enlightenment while you're at it there, Bunky?
"I might want some commercial . . . I don't like to think in this way, but some people might like it, commercially. But the music is just a vehicle; the message is what's really behind everything. It's not about fame or money with me. It's about if someone can listen to my record and hear one line that would make them feel better, then it was all worth it. Old-school roots reggae, yeah! That's what I want to keep doing because that's really a lost art. That music is spiritual."
Chin's beliefs are difficult to construe, and as I'm a theological retard, I ain't going down that road beyond allowing Chin to explain it himself.
"I'm a Rastafarian, but I believe in the Holy Trinity, and I believe in Jesus," he says. "I don't think he returned yet—as opposed to him being reincarnated as Selassie-I. I guess they call me Jesus Rasta."
That may sound like a nice title for a new superhero comic, but Chin's upbringing was decidedly normal. He was born and raised in Panama, a child of Panamanian, Jamaican and Chinese heritage. The Jamaican influence on his family was profound, though, and Chin was exposed to reggae and calypso—along with South American salsa—from the time he was small. Relocated to America by his 20s, he soon began to learn about American rock & roll, too—the guitar heroes in particular.
"For some reason, I thought it was only white guys that shredded," Chin, 35, says with a laugh. "And I had this neighbor, a white guy, and I told him how I thought it was strange that only white guys shredded like that. And he said, 'Dude! Look at Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King,' and he started naming all these [black] guitar players. So I bought [Hendrix's] Smash Hits and listened to that for a year. I listened to no other music but that record for a year, over and over and over. After a while, I started getting it."
You will also find that Chin plays guitar like a real mean son of a bitch, particularly when tearing into his reggae version of "Hey Joe" or the original instrumental "Michelle." Chin occasionally gets lost in grimacing metal land for a second before that Rasta look of peace and contentment comes over him again when the guitar solo ends.
Shreddage aside, Chin's music is dub-less, toast-less, raga-less, pop-less purebred roots reggae, with a heavy base in religious passion. How do local audiences, steeped in and apparently enjoying the most heinously trendy and commercial versions of reggae, react to the real thing?
"You know, most people are pretty cool," Chin coos. "All ages. They like it. Surfers to lawyers, they all like the messages I have. [Corporate reggae is] what they're used to, but they come up and tell me this is what they really like. It's as if they were settling for what they were given because they'd never heard real roots reggae before. At least no one was playing it out here [in OC]."
Not until now, Rascalin; not until now.Black & White play at Twin Palms, 630 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 721-8288. Every Sun., 6 p.m. $5 (includes free buffet). All ages.