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Monday, March 2, 2009

Dominican musicians in the Gizzae band

By Thomson Fontaine
gizzae band
From left Ralph Mote, Clem Julien, Brian 'Rocket' Rock, Ruphael Mariam and Asrat Sellasie of Gizzae.
The Gizzae band has been gracing the Chicago musical scene for the past sixteen years and is arguably the best and most popular band in that region.

Although viewed as largely a reggae band, Gizzae musical styles incorporate everything from jazz to rock. Lead singer and bass player for the band is well know Dominican musician Brian “Rocket” Rock. Another Dominican Clem Julien plays guitar while Ethiopians Asrat Sellasie is on drums and percussion and Ruphael W. Mariam plays drums and keys. Ralph Mote from Chicago is on keys.

Brian Rock grew up in Roseau and at a very early age could play almost any musical instrument. He moved to the United States in the early 70’s and being an accomplished bass player and singer enabled him to work with Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Judy Mowatt, Culture, Moja Nya and others. According to Rock, "The 70's was a wicked time to be playing. "

Rocket’s musical influences are rich and varied: "Growing up in the islands, we listened to and played a lot of rock music. Chicago, Jimi Hendrix, The Who -- people were just surprised we played that kind of music," Rock said. "But we were looking for a challenge ... this kind of helps us with our music."

"Musically, you can't really stay with one sound. I consider myself a musician, not a reggae musician. I am always open to doing different types of music. I think it's about playing music that you feel and that the audience loves too. That's the bigger accomplishment."

Rock says all reggae music includes a message of some sort. The message Gizzae presents usually talks about God, love, joy, and happiness. “Reggae music is very infectious. It compels you after a while. I love seeing people leave a Gizzae show with smiles on their faces," he said.

Showcasing the rich musical talent, which comes as naturally to Dominicans as the many rives that flow through the country, is lead guitarist Clem Julien. Born in Marigot, followers of the local music scene will remember this musical wizard as the lead guitarist of the famed 70’s band Ignation.

From there he went on to play with other iconic Dominican bands the Swinging Stars and Bell Combo. He also played for Mighty Arrow and Mighty Baron in Trinidad and Martinique.

In 1992 he went to Chicago to link up with Rocket and the others where they all formed Gizzae. Clem brings some phenomenal licks, blends and harmony to the band with some comparing his style to that of Santana. Clem also plays and records contemporary jazz at his newly built home studio in his downtime.

Meanwhile, Gizzae is busy around the Chicago area and playing at University campuses and night clubs throughout the US.

Their most recent CD is Roots Like A Lion, which has received rave reviews. One listener exclaimed: “this CD is fantastic. Since I got it, I have listened to it almost everyday. I agree with Phil Rock when he says it should be nominated for a Grammy. Gizzae is out of this world. Normally, on a CD you might have a couple songs you really like, but on this CD you will find that you like every song and that is unusual. Nice arrangement, great vocals and the band itself is just out of this world.” This writer could not agree more.

More information on the band is available at E-mail to a friend

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