Time to take Notis

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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Powerhouse rhythm sections have been part of reggae since ska took its first steps in the early 1960s. Welsh and Unga Barunga are the latest drum and bass team stepping up to the plate, and they do so as musicians and producers.

Known as Notis Heavyweight Rockaz, the duo are graduates of Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in St Andrew. They have gradually established themselves as session musicians, while producing songs by Iba Mahr, Christopher Martin and Charly Black.

Next month they head out for their biggest assignment to date as opening act for New Zealand reggae band Katchafire. The 32-date tour is scheduled to kick off in Fort Lauderdale on June 13, and also has stops in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, California, Washington State, and Oregon.

With their first album expected to be released this year, the two-month run is timely for Notis Heavyweight Rockaz.

“This tour is a great opportunity and came at impeccable timing, seeing it would be our first US tour as Notis Heavyweight Rockaz. Getting ready to drop our debut album and opening for Katchafire is a big plus,” said Welsh, who plays bass. “Playing for the​ir fans and gaining new fans of our own, and being featured on their​ new album is also a plus.”

He and Unga performed in Europe last year, working on major festivals such as Reggae Geel. They also performed at Rebel Salute, during Reggae Month in February and recently, the Today, Tomorrow Festival in Negril.

Notis Heavyweight Rockaz have excelled as producers. Their Notice Productions has two massive hit songs to its credit in Holiday by Ding Dong (with Chevaughn) and Iba Mahr's retro-themed Diamond Socks. But making it as musicians is priority.

“Well, we've always been musicians first — that will never change. Music is a universal language; we enjoy making people dance to our drum and bass frequencies in both feels, but now our main focus is letting our voice be heard not only through our beats, but both beat and lyrics and we, too, have a message and a voice,” said Unga.

They are currently promoting No Bad Dayz, the first single from their album. Their previous songs include Miss You and the impressive Raggy Road.

Welsh (Jason Welsh) is from Port Maria, St Mary, while Unga (Wayne Thompson) was raised in Mount Salem, St James. They met at 'Edna', a nursery for a new generation of Jamaican musicians including guitarist Lamont “Monty” Savory, the EarthKry and Pentateuch bands.

They graduated after three years and formed Notis Heavyweight Rockaz shortly after. Both are heavily influenced by The Wailers' Aston and Carlton Barrett, arguably reggae's most esteemed rhythm section, who established themselves in the 1970s when being a musician in Jamaica was cool.

Since the dawn of the computer age in the mid-1980s, the Jamaican session musician has found the going tough. In terms of recordings, older musicians get the lion's share of work.

Welsh admits that being a young, working musician in Jamaica can be frustrating.

“Music is a gift that comes with patience, but the music business can be frustrating at times, just like any other business. But to know that musicians are chosen and we have very important roles to play with our melodies, beats and words, and to see people singing and dancing to our sound, that's just beautiful and enough to see past any frustration,” he said.

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