Reggae is a way of life for one area bassist

by Ryan Snyder

Reggae is a way of life for one area bassist

Though the Triad might never be considered as a bustling haven for reggae music to flourish, there are still a handful of artists who have dedicated themselves to both the music and the spiritual way of life that accompanies it. One of those is Ras David Graves, vocalist and bassist for Winston- Salem’s Pure Fiyah ( purefiyahreggaebandofficialmusicpage). Even if the music has experienced both highs and lows over his years, his commitment to playing has remained the same. Though he’s considered by many to be one of the more veteran players in the area, Graves didn’t start his career as a reggae musician. He began playing R&B and funk at a very young age. His father, a blues musician, exposed him early on and it wasn’t long before Graves picked up his first instrument and began playing. “My mom had this old bass guitar that she was going to throw out, only had three strings,” Graves said. “I asked if I could have it and I picked it up when I was nine. By fourteen, I had it down.” He later had his own funk band called David & the Outcasters, which would eventually be renamed Galaxy, while in high school where he also played tenor sax in the marching band. While rehearsing one day, Graves remembers a weird ambiance surrounding the band’s practice. “We were ragging on the drummer because he wasn’t playing some beats right and in walks this guy with his wife and they both had the red, green and gold on.” Graves said. “I’d never seen anything like that; I didn’t know anything about Bob Marley; I didn’t know what reggae was.” Graves remembers that their presence lit the entire room up. His manager knew the couple and asked them to check out his band since the stranger was looking for a band to back him at an upcoming show at North Carolina A&T University.

“He told me that he heard my band and we sound good,” Graves added. “I asked him what he did and he said that he played reggae.” The man gave Graves a copy of Bob Marley’s Babylon by Bus and from that point his life changed. Graves’ band did the show, which he said turned out to be a disaster, but that is irrelevant in retrospect. Graves remembers that from that point on, all of his albums were put aside. There was something new in his life and it was called reggae music. Graves became a strict vegetarian, started growing his locks out and his wife and his children even went through the transition with him. The man who walked in the room and forever changed Graves’ life was named Psyche, but he was better known as the front man for the seminal Winston-Salem reggae act Truth ‘N Rights. After releasing his first album with a band called One Tribe, he would later take a break from his bass work to play drums for Truth ‘N Rights. It was at this time that Psyche would give him the stage name “Starchild,” a nod to both Parliament Funkadelic and Graves’ own funk roots. Since his conversion to reggae, Graves has both fronted and supported numerous acts on regional and national tours. He was called to New York earlier this decade, where he accepted a deal to work with a former Burning Spear guitarist Shayar. Graves remembers hardcore rehearsals for three solid weeks before embarking on his first trip across the country. Upon his return, Graves began working with Danny Dred from a band called Rising Lion out of New York. He and Dred shared a similar vision, as both had an aggressive style and they expressed the same ideas musically. Graves. along with his close friend and drummer Naphtali and vocalist King Ayoola formed the core of Pure Fiyah just about a year ago, which has allowed him to carry on his style which tends to gravitate away from roots-reggae. They’re currently working on a compilation of American dread-styled tunes which will be their first release together. “Of all the bands I’ve been with, this is the band of my dreams,” Graves stated. “A woman came up to us at the end of shows and said how bad she felt before the show, but that we lifted her spirits.” It was that moment that Graves knew he had the potential to make a lasting impact in the lives of others. Recently, a preacher wanted him to commit to the church, but Graves was hesitant since he was playing the clubs. Advised that he couldn’t stay on the fence spiritually forever, the preacher asked him if he was saving souls with his music. “I told him that Jesus took it to the streets himself and then I remembered the lady in the club,” he said. “I told him that yeah, I think we are.”