The Return of Hawaii's Favorite Reggae Band, Dread Ashanti

Left to right: Pat Morley, Gabe Jameson, Ian Masterson and Bryce Myers play their first public show on Sept. 20, 2013. Not pictured: Shawn Moseley.

photo: © Leimaile Quitevis, Aina Arts & Photography 2013

If you were one of the more than 2,000 people who witnessed Dread Ashanti’s comeback show this past September at the Kailua Full Moon Party, you knew something big was happening. As a radiant evening fell over the crowd, the beloved reggae band lit up its hometown stage for the first time in more than a decade. It was a euphoric family reunion; though many of the fans now had children seated on their shoulders, Dread’s music felt as potent as it did 20 years earlier.

Anyone who remembers Hawaii’s fertile live music scene during the ’90s will remember the name Dread Ashanti—a band of unbelievably young musicians who dominated the reggae scene with their irresistibly danceable sound.

Whether it was at a private rager or in one of their staple venues such as Anna Bannana’s, Jaron’s Kailua or Compadres (those Tuesday night parties that literally shook the walls of Ward Center), the driving drum-and-bass rhythm and pulsating dance floor at a Dread performance was one of the seminal sensations of the last generation to come of age before the new millennium.

Dread Ashanti was born on the jutting promontory of Castle Point in Kailua, where President Barack Obama now spends his vacations. Informal jam sessions by two teenage brothers Bryce Myers and Ian Masterson soon attracted classmates from Punahou and Kalaheo High School, including a classically trained pianist, Shawn Moseley, and a punk- and jazz-influenced bass player named Pat Morley who would later form the band Elvis 77. “We were a jam band made up of a bunch of kids,” remembers Masterson. “But those Castle Point sessions, without any neighbors close by to complain about noise, were the genesis of Dread Ashanti.”

After finding their lead singer in a Caribbean rasta named Ital, the band nailed down the sound and soul that would make it a fixture of the beach town party scene in a still undiscovered Kailua. Dread Ashanti went through several iterations as three of the original members left for college and new musicians stepped in, but at its core was an infectious reggae groove coupled with lyrics that reinterpreted the Roots movement’s sociopolitical and spiritual messages for Hawaii. Dread Ashanti released two independent albums, Rising (1992) and The Beauty of the Sea (1995), opened for big names like Steel Pulse, and even toured the Northwest U.S. The band dissolved in 2000 after Ital’s departure.

Thirteen years later, armed with a second guitarist, Shawn McKay, and an astonishing new frontman, Dread is back, and recording an album on Moseley’s boutique label, Aumakua Records. The band’s revelation is 22-year-old Gabe Jameson on vocals. More a prophet than a pop star, he sums up his musical motivation: “Togetherness is what I hope this music is going to create. I want to move people and I want us all to move forward as a planet.”

Watch for the new album in early 2014. Dread Ashanti’s “iration vibration” lives on.

Did you know? Ashanti is a tribe and a region located in Ghana, West Africa.