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A collective conscience rising

Who: The Wassabi Collective Where: Merlin’s When: Sunday, March 23 If what the world needs now is love, then a Wassabi Collective concert is a good place to go to get the ball rolling.

Who: The Wassabi Collective

Where: Merlin’s

When: Sunday, March 23

If what the world needs now is love, then a Wassabi Collective concert is a good place to go to get the ball rolling. Picture a stage filled with rare instruments from around the world. Throw in eight peace-loving, open-minded musicians and singers promoting positive thinking. Alongside the stage add a belly dancing fire twirler mesmerizing a crowd packed with party people and you’ve got one hell of an uplifting force to be reckoned with.

African, Peruvian and Turkish drum beats, atmospheric guitar rhythms, primal electronic sounds and spiritually uplifting lyrics are the core behind Wassabi’s global consciousness.

"We want to empower and enlighten people on a local level through elements of music from around the world," said the Collective’s manager and founder, Scott Milne.

That philosophy certainly rings true when you consider the range of influences on offer throughout a show. Ethnic beats, house, funk, jazz and dub all get a look-see at their predominantly percussion-based performances.

The Wassabi Collective’s members have spent years studying a multitude of instruments. Vocalist and percussionist Melissa Meretsky, learned her craft from master drummers.

"She hung out with a traditional African drummer and a conga teacher and we have a really good friend who was brought up traditionally trained in djambe, the Turkish drum that’s generally played in belly dancing music, so she’s picked up things from him too," said Milne.

The two marimba players, Jennifer Grindlay and Derek Book, build their own instruments.

"Jen designed a one-of-a-kind style called the Sunshine marimba with rich tones you can’t imagine," said Milne who as bassist joins Jeremy Doiron on guitar, Stephen Moore on drums and Heather Holdener, their fire dancer.

The members of Wassabi embrace interaction with the audience as a fundamental ingredient in their success and will spend a good portion of the show improvising to the mood of the dance floor.

"We have an agenda of really developing the subconscious communications that happen when you play music and so in that way the audience play a really big part in the direction our set takes. That way we get to be really open to what’s happening at that moment which then opens the door to absorbing the energy in the room," said Milne.

Wassabi like to base their songs around the positive aspects within the world around us. Milne explained: "Despite the negativity that’s pushed out by a lot of high profile politicians and the mainstream media, there’s also lots of good going on in the world and we really want to open people’s eyes to that and celebrate it. We have this new song called Dune By The Nile where the whole concept is about different ways of thinking. We ask the question ‘what if everyone embraced a whole new way of looking at life?’ Which I guess is particularly relevant in light of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq."

The band’s mantra of thinking globally, acting locally has been a big reason behind their success, believes Milne.

"A few years ago we were just trying to broaden the art community in the Okanagan but as we meet more people see more places, the more we want to take our music to the rest of the country and beyond."

Surprise guest musicians have become a regular occurrence at a Wassabi show.

"We get people coming up beforehand saying ‘I’ve been told I should play with you guys. Can I?’ Just recently in Vancouver we had a saxophonist get up and play this most soulful solo and then by the very next song, every little riff from our guitar player would be perfectly melded with her sax. We love that sort of improvised atmosphere because we like a challenge and are always looking at so many different types of music and new ways to play it," said Milne.

While the band in its current form has been together for more than a year now, they are yet to record a studio album. One is scheduled to come together in the fall but in the meantime their live independent release, Masquerade Sessions , is all the fans have to hold onto. Sessions has sold over 2,000 copies at the concert table, providing Wassabi with much needed funds to travel cross-country.

"We’re planning to tour Canada again this spring, playing some bigger venues than the last tour and even headlining a few outdoor festivals, so we’re really excited about that," said Milne.

"After the studio album is finished we’d like to do the States and then perhaps look at Australia. We’ve also had an offer to go to Peru to a wilderness reserve where several master drummers live that we’d love to play with."

Tickets to the Wassabi Collective are limited, with a scaled pricing structure to bear in mind. The first 100 tickets are available for $15 while the next 100 will be $20. Expect to pay even more at the door. They are on sale now at Bestsellers & Merlin’s. Doors open 8 p.m., brought to you by JnB Productions & DJ Primitive, who will get the night started.