The level of reggae fandom is often void of a gray area. For some, it’s a genre listened to with an opinion of lethargic indifference. For others, it’s a lifestyle around the music, a whole-hog fanaticism involving not only the music but its culture.
Many casual reggae music fans own “Legend,” a best of Bob Marley that features all the hits and has been a gateway drug of releases that could lead to the harder stuff: Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and maybe Third World and Burning Spear. After your consumption of the canon, you’re jonezing on a vast and ever-growing genre featuring plenty of bands that exist outside Jamaica, a slew of international and domestic bands flying above and below the radar.
It’s a genre that influenced all the members of Magi Nation, Durango’s local reggae band playing Friday at The Balcony Backstage. They are Daniel Sagetree on guitar and vocals, Nick Hagglof on guitar, Ari Newkirk on bass, Aaron Hagglof on keyboard and “Rasta” Stevie Smith on drums.
The band came together when Nick Hagglof and Sagetree met at Bandwagon Music; they began playing reggae music under the name “Unknown Souljah” and when that band fizzled, the two recruited newer members and moved on. Smith had played drums in Telluride reggae band 8750 and put away the drumsticks for years until joining this band.
Magi Nation has turned into a vehicle for Sagetree’s songwriting. Prolific with his pen, what began as writing folk-rock morphed into writing reggae tunes.
“I wrote one reggae song, and it clicked,” said Sagetree in a recent interview at KDUR. “The feelings, and inspiration, I was channeling reggae. It’s that perfect vehicle for the higher consciousness, coming from Rastafari and self-determination. Reggae found me.”
Reggae music has always been connected with the Rastafarian “religion” and lifestyle. While Rastafari is practiced by some of the band members, its not what drives and defines them musically. What does define them is a raw and honest dedication to the music and their own place within this style of music.
“I always dreamed of a music that could be the historical expression of who and what we are and be fun. Reggae is the portal to be able to spread a message, but at the same time have fun and enjoy,” said Smith. “It’s grabbing a bunch of kids and inspiring the youth. We’re not Jamaican Rastafarians, we’re just Durangoans, and we just have our song.”
In this ever-sensitive society, the world is continuing to take notice now more than ever of color and culture. Authenticity can be genuinely questioned, especially with any band playing a style of music so defined by its place of origin. What Magi Nation isn’t doing is claiming they’re something they’re not, while openly admitting a flat-out love for reggae.
“I’m in a domestic reggae band,” said Nick Hagglof. “At the end of the day I’m as white as they come, but I love that music. It has nothing to do with the color of your skin. Reggae music is reggae music, rain or shine, black or white.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].