Wed | Dec 11, 2019

Drum-and-bass duo hits authentic notes in Texas

Published:Wednesday | November 13, 2019 | 12:16 AMKimberley Small/Staff Reporter
L-R - Kevin Groeneveld and Geo Ramos (The San Antones).

Many worry that American reggae bands are stealing the spotlight from local stars. This is not necessarily always the case. For the Texas-based drum-and-bass duo, The San Antones, their love and knowledge of our music got deeper because celebrated white Californian reggae bands whet their appetites – which led them to the roots of the sound, in the productions of pioneering Jamaican musicians. According to drummer Geo Ramos, the Texan reggae music scene established a presence there in the ‘80s, when many reggae stars headlined festivals at the Sunken Garden theatre, and reggae band One Destiny, based in San Antonio, has been active on the scene for over two decades.

Ramos and fellow musician Kevin Groeneveld planned to add their own full band to the mix – but instead have necessarily and quite skilfully kept it ‘drum and bass’ with a growing catalogue of authentic-sounding reggae and dub.

“There used to be two or three festivals a year. Right now, we play with a keyboard player who used to play those festivals, and he tells stories of that other time,” Ramos told The Gleaner. “He never shuts up about them,” Groeneveld lightheartedly interjected.

By ear, it’s clear that The San Antones do revere the genre. On first listen, it’s near impossible to discern that the music is American- made. They both fell so far, that they have achieved an authentic presentation.

“We’re mainly a studio band. It’s just the two of us. Geo and I write music together and send it out to California to mix and master it. There, the aforementioned storytelling Roger Rivas of The Aggrolites takes the controls. “He plays all the keys on our stuff, and helps with the mixing. He’s definitely responsible for the home-grown sound,” Groeneveld said.

Groeneveld, the bass guitarist, names characters like The Scientist and King Tubby as his influences. But it was Ramos who first catalysed his interest in our indigenous music. Groeneveld’s introduction to reggae happened in 2011, after Ramos gave him a CD compiled with tracks by Buju Banton, Bob and Rita Marley, and a host of others.

Old-school feet

“It had some old-school music, like Gregory Issacs. There was a little bit of everything. I was getting into it, doing more research. The further I went back into the history is the more I fell in love with the music,” he explained.

The San Antones had many starts, before coming into form as a duo. Years ago, on their first attempt to delve into reggae music, support was not forthcoming. “Our very first reggae band did an EP, and it cost about US$3,000 to put five songs on a CD and have it mixed and mastered. It didn’t come out right. The toughest part is finding the right people to come in without an ego, follow direction, and be happy to be a part of it. We would set up to record for free, and no one would show up. A lot of the time, it was just me and Geo – which works out. We’re good,” Groeneveld affirmed.

Last year, The San Antones released their debut EP called The Walking Texas Danger.