Reggae with roots that grow in you 

Toronto's House of David Gang play GLC and Prospect Pub

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - For Jah People Toronto's House of David Gang will play traditional reggae favourites and their own songs.
  • Photo submitted
  • For Jah People Toronto's House of David Gang will play traditional reggae favourites and their own songs.

If you like your reggae with a lineage stretching back to Bob Marley and beyond, you'll like Toronto's House of David Gang.

The band takes its unique name from a Rastafarian hot spot in Toronto in the late 1980s and '90s, where people could go for afterhours dancing, talk, smoking and music.

House of David Gang performs covers of well-known traditional reggae as well as their own original work. It is old school, more Bunny Wailer, Gregory Isaac and Peter Tosh than dancehall.

"We keep it in the roots, our roots and culture. It keeps people together," says House of David Gang drummer Colin Edwards.

"Reggae is the heartbeat of the people. It creeps up on you; once people accept it they realize it is a part of them, integrated into one."

Edwards and lead singer King Selah are the original members of the band, performing together since 1988. Different players have come and gone, with the band currently a five-piece outfit.

King Selah is the main songwriter, says Edwards, who also sings.

"Selah's a great musician. He does the lyrics, the rhythm and the bassline and then I'll come in and lay in the drum according to the feel of it," Edwards says.

Both have Jamaican roots but have been longtime residents of Toronto, arguably Canada's most multicultural city.

"Toronto is really diverse. Everybody has their own little part of the city. When we all come together, like when the Pan Am Games are going on, you see a lot of smiling faces. Everybody's feeling pretty good right now. They're proud of this city and of Canada.

"We love bringing the positive message."

But reggae went into decline in Toronto in the years that followed its heyday, Edwards adds.

"The music was really vibrant through the '70s and '80s and then it took a dive," he recalls.

"I left in 1992 for Jamaica and when I got back in 2003, I wondered what happened to the reggae scene. When I left it was really up on top and then something happened. I realized that a lot of the electronic music and DJs started taking over, drum 'n' bass and dubstep and dancehall, then hip hop.

"Toronto has a really big music scene, all kinds of styles, but what I saw with what happened to reggae — it took a dive."

This meant there were fewer gigs for traditional reggae, but House of David Gang knew the love was still out there.

"We decided to take our music on the road. Usually when we play in Toronto now we do an event, or someone invites us to the Harbourfront (Centre), but mostly we're on the road," Edwards says.

"When I came back from Jamaica I was shocked, so I decided I would take the music and bring it back downtown. Our band kept on working and encouraging it. Now there's a lot of bands forming. It's not yet the same as before but hopefully it is heading in that direction.

"I always said to myself if I have a plan to do something I give myself 10 years... now it feels more like a movement again. Like Bob (Marley) said, a movement of Jah People."

Hitting the West Coast this time, House of David Gang performs at the Garibaldi Lift Company on Friday, July 24, at 8 p.m. They also perform at the Prospect Pub in Pemberton on Saturday, July 25, at 9 p.m.

House of David Gang's most recent album, Reggae Warrior, came out in 2012. King Seelah will sing songs off the album and as well as the band's new single, "A Rock and Roll Queen."

Edwards says he will be singing his covers that move his soul, including "Stir it Up," "Zimbabwe," "Natty Dread" and "Exodus." He agrees that he loves the political message.

"Those are my favourite songs still. 'Zimbabwe' goes to the heart. It's a real political song, a tough song. That's why I just love it. I feel so good when I am singing it. It has that message that people really need to hear," he says.

Natty Dread is a particular favourite because of a personal connection for Edwards.

"When I first heard that song I was a teenager and my dad said, 'Come and listen to that album here.' And he wanted me to play drums to that music sometime," he recalls.

"I was just a young boy then. When I heard that song, it stuck with me a long time. Many years later, I find myself playing drums and singing the song. It stuck on me!"

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