Photo: Russel Daniels
If the winter gloom of Salt Lake City has got you down, look no further than January’s Localized. This month will feature the reggae grooves of headliners Herban Empire and Tribe of I, and opener Wasnatch. Localized is sponsored by Spilt Ink, High West Distillery, Uinta Brewing Co., and KRCL 90.9 FM. As always, Localized is free and will take place at Urban Lounge on Jan. 14 at 8 p.m.
Since forming in 2012, Tribe of I have been a group that thrives on live performances and improvisation, whether they’re playing local shows at The Woodshed and Oktoberfest, or opening for bigger acts such as John Brown’s Body or Israel Vibrations. The core of Tribe of I consists of rapid-fire vocalist Drew Zayach, drummer Tyler Hartman, bassist Kyle McCann and guitarist Raphael Kahn. The positive vibes that Tribe of I emanate come from a unique mix of alternative, reggae and hip-hop—a blend Zayach calls “organic” and that Hartman jokes is “Whole Foods.” It’s a combination that has garnered the attention of the larger, national acts that Tribe of I have opened for, as well as earning them a solid and loyal fanbase within the Salt Lake reggae scene.
Improvisation and intuitively rhythmic songwriting are what set Tribe of I apart from other bands who are restricted by setlist. “We just have the ability to go off,” says Zayach. “Freestyle is probably our heaviest aspect, the most impressive thing we can do.” On Tribe of I’s self-titled album, there are parts of each song that can be stretched and improvised, making each live performance completely different from the last. “You get a one-time show every time you come,” says Zayach. “There’s never going to be anything exactly like it, even if we just played the exact same set.”
The freestyle aspect of most of Tribe of I’s music makes for prolific songwriting. Having released a full-length album in 2015, the goal for 2016 is to put out another full album, which, according to McCann, is “over halfway done.” Tribe of I vibes instrumentally, giving a clean, alt-reggae sound, while Zayach’s lyrics add an element of hip-hop. The song topics range from the romantic to the political. “It’s wake-up music, slightly politically charged,” says Zayach. Though there is a strong sense of Zayach’s beliefs in the music, there is nothing too blatant or overstated, and the groove of the music is essentially what comes across to the audience, making it accessible to anyone who wants to get down to a rolling bass and clean drumming.
Even the name Tribe of I has a deeper context that is not initially obvious. Zayach, who also works under the moniker Drew Freestyle-I, came up with the name, which was a natural progression from his solo act. “Tribe of I is meant to be the tribe of everyone,” he says. “So when you say it, it’s supposed to rep you. … The mentality of it is music that is meant to rep the masses.” Even though there are some political subtexts within the lyrics, the first things that I notice are the rigorously precise rhythms, the echoic guitar and the lucid agility of Zayach’s voice. In the slower tune “No More Tears,” Zayach sings, “It’s time for healing / A man is not a demon / Stop the war, stop the stealin’.” You’ll want to dance, first and foremost, but the message of the music permeates through each song like a subconscious suggestion. The simplicity of the message reaches a wider audience but is still powerful in its directness.
The pertinent messages that Tribe of I convey harks back to their influences from artists from Jamaica. “I respect a lot of the artists coming out of Jamaica,” Zayach says. “People don’t roll out for these people. Anthony B can come and no one rolls out for that show; Warrior King can come, and no one rolls out for that show,” says Zayach. For him, Sizzla Kalonji is a huge influence, and Tribe of I had the honor of being put on the bill when he planned on touring America for the first time in years. Unfortunately, the show fell through due to a problem with Kalonji’s visa, but Tribe of I are still trying to educate their listeners to try a different kind of reggae that they may not have heard before. “It’s kind of easier for Americans to get into American bands who are here playing their version of reggae,” says Kahn, noting that a lot of the time, most Utahns are only familiar with Sublime and Bob Marley and don’t discover the new reggae that is coming out. “I’m going to listen to someone who is dealing with life at this time and age,” says Zayach. “I wanna listen to something that’s new and original and not the same shit.” It’s a sentiment that Tribe of I emulate through their own songwriting.
However small and intimate the Salt Lake reggae community may be, Tribe of I is thoroughly involved with supporting other bands. “The reggae scene is probably my favorite scene that I’ve been a part of in Utah,” says McCann, a professional musician who plays for a few other bands in different genres outside of playing bass for Tribe of I. “It’s nice and accepting. It’s a community.” For Tribe of I, being a part of the reggae scene in Utah entails being unconditionally genuine in both their performances and their support for other reggae artists. “At the end of the day, you’re friends with all these people,” says Zayach.
Tribe of I is actively working on a new album while promoting their self-titled 2015 release, which can be found at cdbaby.com/cd/tribeofi. As far as their live show goes, “You can expect a show that will cater to, if not you, your environment,” says Zayach. “You can expect passion.” Come check out Tribe of I’s unique performance at Urban Lounge on Jan. 14.