Erie native keeps good vibes alive in the Steel City
By: Chelsey Engel
Walking down Penn Avenue on a dreary, cold night, I heard the beat of the bongos emitting from beyond the walls of the tapas bar, Seviche. Within just a few moments, I could tell the gray mood the weather created would soon be transformed into one of color. That’s just the energy Preach Freedom exudes- one of vibrance, one of life and one of cool enthusiasm. And, of course, talent.
“If you went to church, you had to sing in a choir,” Preach states, hands casually folded on the dimly-lit table in Seviche. “But to be honest, I came up in church before they let secular music in.”
Luckily enough for Preach, however, his family’s love for music allowed him to be introduced to the greats, such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Marvin Gaye. To Preach, going against discrimination doesn’t end with race or gender, but continues with music as well. His list of influences ranges from gospel to country, from reggae to rock. It is obvious that there are no boundaries separating Preach from enjoyable tunes.
“To me, there are two types of music: good and bad,” Preach claims.
What’s bad, one might ask?
“Anything that don’t make my booty move,” Preach states matter-of-factly. “Good music has a message and agitates the grave.”
This is the exact mindset Preach maintains when writing his music. Singing about what’s going on in the world around us and turning the negatives into beautiful music is what Preach’s style is all about. Frustration from issues such as schools losing funding for the arts and gas companies contaminating people’s water supply from fracking “really burns my butt,” according to Preach. These woes inspire the artist in an intense and swift way, which is exactly what happened with his soon-to-be released album, ‘Freedom Must Be’.
“It took me two weeks to write that album and I woke up one day and Occupy Wall Street happened. Perfect timing,” Preach reflects.
Performed, perfected and produced at The Church Recording Studio here in Pittsburgh, the album is an assorted mix of African, Caribbean and reggae styles, at least as is reflected in the 5-track EP called ‘Ashe’. In the first song, ‘Unity’, Preach’s desire to send a positive message is easily heard along with his varied influences. Played to a beat that transports you to a tropical beach (drink in hand, of course), the lyrics state, “Children, hush/Somebody’s calling our name/Freedom drums are playing again/I’m not missing this train.” The tracks continue with their upbeat style, all causing you to sway back and forth with a smile on your face.
Preach’s contribution to Rusted Root most definitely has the same infectious effect on concert attendees. It’s hard, if not impossible, to stand still at their shows as Preach slams his drumset, his dreadlocks flying from side to side. When it’s time for his solo, the crowd goes wild as he plays a hulusi flute with one hand, keeps the symbols going with the other and maintains a heart-pounding beat with his feet. From the concert-goer side, there is nothing crazier than a Rusted Root show and according to Preach, it’s the same from their point of view.
“It is an incredible energy. There’s a party on stage just like there is in the audience,” Preach states, laughing in his deep, soulful tone. “It’s balls to the wall every night.”
Preach’s involvement with the band spans back four years to a show he was performing with his hometown band One World Tribe. The tour manager for the New York-based group Big Leg Emma approached Preach to inform him that Rusted Root was in need of a drummer and although he was not familiar with the band’s music at the time, he nailed the audition and has been rocking it out with the eclectic gang ever since.
Preach does not forget his beginnings, however, as he continues to jam with his Erie crew of One World Tribe. Formed in 1993, the tribe represents the human family. To Preach, their sound is music for the people, from the people. The group now dedicates their time to working in the community and keeping the collective vibes alive.
“We have played more in schools and communities recently than in bars and venues,” Preach says.
One World Tribe as a group itself represents the people, which is evident when you see the diversity on stage. This is an accomplishment that the world has said to be impossible, according to the lead singer.
“Fathers, mothers, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, black, white. We have every nationality in the band,” Preach states. “We have broken that stereotype that says we can’t be in the same room together and not kill each other. Twenty years later, we’re still making music.”
Preach is hopeful that 2012 is going to be a big year for the group. Although his time touring with Rusted Root has kept him from reuniting with the tribe recently, he is ready to get back to those roots as the group has recently signed with Little Fish Records and will be hitting the road more often in the near future.
With his wide range of talent and commitment to the community, Preach manages to keep his head from floating into the sky. To him, it’s not about success or competition or gaining recognition. Getting his message out to his fans and keeping music alive is number one on his list.
So, what IS his message?
“Support art everywhere all the time. Because without you, the people, we wouldn’t exist,” Preach states with a smile. “One love.”