EarthKry: booked and busy abroad
EarthKry is Jamaica’s busiest self-contained reggae music band. At the end of September, the band wrapped up this year’s touring activities, counting 76 performances, declining some dates to complete work on their upcoming album. In 2018, the four-man group counted an impressive 125 international performances across the United States, Europe, and Australia. “We buy our own tour bus and all dem ting deh,” keyboard player and bandleader Phillip McFarlane told The Gleaner. But shows at home are few and far between.
It’s not that EarthKry don’t want to perform at home, but opportunities aren’t forthcoming for a full band. McFarlane shared instances in which local organisers may request a band then based on their technical limitations or other excuses, are unable to facilitate them. He believes that there is a mindset or conditioning that prevents local event producers from organising performances that include live instrumentalists. “It’s easier for an artiste to sing on a riddim. It’s not as easy for a band. It’s not that we don’t perform in Jamaica; it’s just really hard. We’d love to be more exposed in Jamaica, but sometimes we reach out to people, and they say they’ll get back to us. And we don’t hear back from them,” McFarlane told The Gleaner.
McFarlane recalled a time when bands would plan a show, then invite another to join in. But he rightly observed that most other contemporary reggae bands have broken up. “Bands used to invite other bands to their shows, but most of them break up. And the reggae ting in Jamaica is cliques and circles. That’s the reality.” Another reality is that modern audiences may prefer to focus their shorter attention spans on singular, rather than group, acts. “Jamaican people are not really into bands. We’re not a band culture. Maybe back with The Melodians and groups like that, people were into groups.”
McFarlane further observed that Jamaicans were not the fan base that took reggae music all around the world. The genre was popularised by the attention of foreigners. “The white audience made reggae popular, and I don’t think it has changed,” the bass player said. “It was never really popular around regular Jamaica. It’s just the scenario we face, that the wider world loves and accepts reggae.”
Touring a necessity
An intense touring schedule is necessary for a band like EarthKry, especially in a technologically advanced space that has promoters saving money on booking multiple musicians. “Building a brand, especially as a roots reggae band …, it’s hard to do it like a mainstream artiste. You won’t hear our music in the clubs. But opportunities come. Sometimes while on tour, you get an offer for another tour. It would be a different crowd, maybe gain a different fan base.”
While in Jamaica, the band is focused on the final touches on their upcoming album and lining up an island tour kicking off in January 2020. “Unless we are putting on our own show, we can’t present properly. We used to perform everywhere – Junkanoo Lounge, RedBones, JoJo’s Jerk Pit. We used to do all those places, and we used to video everything and put it on social media,” McFarlane shared.
EarthKry will be making an appearance on the north coast in January at The Bright Side Festival in Runaway Bay. From January 9-13, Rebelution will headline the festival, with other performances by Common Kings, Alborosie, Jah-9, DJ Mackle, and EarthKry. McFarlane shared that the band also hopes to book a slot on Rebel Salute 2020 and follow-up with appearances at Dub Club and other reggae music hotspots across the island.
“It’s important for us to tour. A lot of people are here in Jamaica performing or are on the charts. But if they go to Utah, they won’t sell five tickets. But they should go. Just go and perform, even if it’s 20 people. Because that’s how you get fans,” McFarlance said.
EarthKry aim to have their next album out in late February or early March 2020. Then, they’ll hit the road again. “We have quite a few festivals in the US, then in the summer across Europe. We’re also trying to go into Africa,” McFarlane said.