A taste of Wassabi 

Who: the Wassabi Collective

Where: Boot Pub

When: July 8

Anyone who has ever tried wasabi, that innocent looking green horseradish putty that is served with sushi, knows that it is an experience you will never forget. An awakening of the taste buds, if you like. Unusual, in fact unique, and strangely addictive.

Once you've heard the music of the Wassabi Collective, an eclectic and ever-changing lineup, you immediately understand why it seemed a good idea to name the band after such a powerful condiment. The name was chosen during a sushi dinner.

It was at this same dinner that the idea of a collective rather than the traditional corporate band lineup was first adopted.

"We decided the idea of a collective was probably the best way to go," said Scott Milne. "I wanted to put something together that was more of an art troupe or performance troupe where people were free to come and go."

Taking the sushi analogy a bit further, bass player and band manager Milne explains that if the group were a California roll, he would be the nori – the seaweed strip that binds the group together.

"I take a very holistic approach to developing the band," he says with typical enthusiasm. "During the show any band member can take the lead – we are always getting to the next level – we're not just playing together, we're learning to understand each other musically."

This inclusive aspect of the band's philosophy extends to the audience, says Milne.

"Our audiences are getting so highly involved in what we're doing, especially dancing. One of the things we’re doing right now is the masquerade session and we get a lot of people dressing up. It puts an end to the whole audience/stage separation, because the audience are part of the show."

The Wassabi Collective are now famous for their regular slot at Victoria’s Lucky Bar, where they take audience participation to new levels. They regularly host the masquerade sessions, and visiting musicians are constantly taking the music in new directions, making every night an unforgettable experience.

The Wassabi Collective in its current form features Melissa Meretsky (congas, djembe, vocals), Jeremie Doiron (guitar), Stephen Moore (drums), Jennifer Grindlay (baritone marimba) and Derek Book (tenor marimba). A special guest at various shows is Al-E-Katt (formerly of Chameleon).

Although the band's origins lie in the Okanagan, the band members hail from right across Canada.

"We're a really good reflection of what Canada is all about," says Milne. "Basically one of our philosophies is combining our diverse musical backgrounds."

Diverse is an understatement when it comes to describing the Wassabi sound. Milne barely pauses to draw breath as he rattles off a long list of instruments and influences: "…merimba, congo, jimbe, African, island, dub, rock, organic, house, break beats and dance."

Ethno-funkin-tribal-jazzy-world-trance with a dub beat barely begins to describe what is really an indefinable sound. The effortless fusion of the best of the world's music creates a unique and fluid sound with an irresistible beat. These funky rhythms and melodies are overlaid with the amazing vocals of Melissa Meretsky, her sound reminiscent of PJ Harvey and Portishead, while remaining totally her own.

Add to this the on-stage energy and visual spectacle of the live performance of the band and the Wassabi Dancers – the final ingredient in this progressive collective – and you have the alternative musical event that Whistler has been waiting for.

Depending on the venue, a Wassabi performance can feature the dazzling poi dancers, spectacular fire shows with hula-hoops, poi, and flaming wands. The Wassabi Dancers (Heather Holdener, Tashia Weeks and Meretsky) perform both traditional and innovative styles of dancing to the beat of live percussion.

The Wassabi sound is best suited to a live venue – its ever-shifting sound and its endless variations on style mean that the audience must always expect the unexpected.

Despite this, the band have found a sympathetic producer and have just completed a nine-week recording session where they have managed to maintain the integrity of the live sound within a studio setting. Milne describes the end result as, "Really strong melodies combined with tight song structure to create fresh new improvisations… I guess the thing that we're trying to work to is combining and improving four-part harmonies and combining song structure."

Examples of the Wassabi Collective's work are available on-line at wassabicollective.tripod.com, and they show that they have certainly succeeded in creating fresh and funky sounds. The live show promises to be an amazing event.

Have a taste of the Wassabi experience at the Boot Pub on 8 July, before they head off on their seven-week summer tour of Canada. This band will be quite literally going places.


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