From the Mocking Shadows to a Sunny Soul Jam: Jori Kinjo walks the bassline

Man onstage playing bass guitar and connecting with audience
The good news is, as this is an earlier performance at the ReggaeFest, they still want him to come back! Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jori Kinjo and I, eatin’ Timbits and coffee. It doesn’t Sound that poetic, but so much really good music is about the joys present in day-to-day life . . . I mean, Timbits! And Ska! And a bass guitar played from within the rhythm.

“Time Bomb was just a 5 or 6 song EP that I recorded at OCL, a studio that’s just east of Calgary in Langdon: it’s one of the only ones that are left in the old style where it’s a big studio. (The recording is) about 5 years old. (However) I’m literally recording this month to have something new ready for the Reggaefest performance. (Sunny Soul Jam, June 15th).

As an official spokesperson for the Calgary ReggaeFest Society, Jori is no newcomer to the Canadian music field: MUSICAlive! asks how many groups he’s performed with?

“there’s a number: I’ll try and give you an overview! (laughs) Mocking Shadows is my rhythm & blues band. I’ve been playing in that band since 1999: that’s the band I’ve been in the longest. I went on and did my solo thing, and that’s when I started Jori Kinjo & the Relays, which is my Ska & Reggae project. But I’ve also branched out in my solo thing, and done a few albums with various friends just under my name.

“So it’s kind of all over the place! (laughs again) The Mocking Shadows isn’t touring as much now, and we’re not putting out as much original material . . . you know these days it’s just not that feasible for a 7 – 10 piece band to be touring as much as we used to.”

When we mention we could have seen them at the Palomino, a MUSICAlive! frequent location, Jori points out they were first there for the Grand Opening night, around 2004! How the 7 or more of them squeezed onto the upstairs stage is beyond us, But a decade later . . .

“A friend of mine from Montreal, from a band called the Planet Smashers, told me(that they) needed some members to fill out the lineup for a European tour. And so I went and did this tour with them, and it was my first time playing Ska & Reggae. and I just really got into it! and then I came back and formed Jori Kinjo & the Relays, and have been playing Ska & Reggae ever since.”

We interrogate, when he admits that Time Bomb isn’t REALLY Ska, how he would define it.

“(To sound more Ska) I would do it with a full band, and have horns on it, and just have more of a fleshed out whole band sound. I think there are a few characteristics that would help define it as Ska: one is tempo. In a blanket statement, Jamaican music is characterized a lot by tempo. Ska is basically fast Reggae. In the history of Ska they started off faster: it was a dance music! and as the tempo changed and slowed down it got new names:Ska became something called Rock-Steady; (then) it became something called Lover’s rock; and then it became something called Reggae in the 70’s.

“Now there’s no really hard and fast rules on this, but the biggest difference between a Ska song and a Reggae song is the tempo of the song itself. (Another defining characteristic) is the rhythm of the guitar: it’s called the ‘skank’, placed on the off-beat. (Also) Ska often has a walking bass line, that they derive from jazz.

“When I’m playing with a band the instruments fit more into their respective roles, where the guitar is playing a hard off-beat skank, the organist would be doing what’s called a ‘bubble’, and the bassline would usually be walking. Oftentimes in Ska the drummer is playing ¼ notes on the kick, and the snare on the backbeat . . . I try to give a nod to All the styles (in my writing).”

Man playing bass onstage with eyes closed in rapture
Kinjo feeling the tunes in Okinawa, Japan. Photo courtesy of the artist.

MUSICAlive! confirms that Jori will be playing at this year’s ReggaeFest (turns out he’s talking to us because he’s ALSO on the Board), and that it will be his 7-piece band! So we ask him how he decides on programming the music when he’s got all these musical choices?

“I basically have a catalogue of original stuff in that style. I WILL say that my style of writing, and preference, in Reggae is more vintage: I really like the older style of Jamaican music .(And) to be honest with you, I only listen to Ska and Reggae that is pre-1980s.I REALLY love the stuff from the 60s: the Skatellites, the early Bob Marley stuff from the 70s. There’s a lot I still haven’t discovered, but now with streaming and Youtube I can, so they’re like new artists to me!

“My style of Reggae & Ska is probably quite dated by Jamaican standards, but it’s what I’m going for.”

Mr. Kinjo likens it to people listening to vintage R&B or Motown, or classic rock: it’s a style choice.

“And some of the stuff, especially the Jamaican stuff, is dependent upon the technology of the time, and it dictates the sound: when synthesizers came in it offered a new thing; electronic drums were a new thing, and that changed the style and the sound too. But that being said, we don’t use anything like that. everything’s vintage. And I find that it resonates with people of all ages, just for the fact that it’s simple relatable sounds, and simple relatable songs. I just think people relate to that!”

Jori keeps mentioning someone during our sugar-filled conversation.

“There’s a really influential band from Jamaica called the Skatellites, and they’re still performing today. (and) they were the pioneers of Ska with the influence of jazz:they’re mostly instrumental, where the horns are playing ahead, and their improvisation in the middle, and then they (come back) . . . They’re basically a jazz band but playing Ska; since the 60s!

Jori & MUSICAlive! go down the historical road of First Wave Ska, 2-tone Ska, 3rd Wave Ska, and it’s combinations and influences in the UK, punk, and bands like the Police and Elvis Costello and No Doubt.

“We’re more familiar with it than we know,” he concludes.

We both take a shuddering breath about musical events surviving Covid-19, and Jori mentions that this year’s Sunny soul Jam (June 15) “is the biggest undertaking we’ve taken on since the pandemic, in more of a festival style (than they’ve attempted recently).”

But before we part, I dig out of his soul the fact that he has a record label, called Kimberlite Records, which is?

“A vinyl-only record label. We release 45s, (and) months after the vinyl we DO release them digitally. The priority IS vinyl 45s: Rare Soul.We’re the only Rare Soul label in Canada.

“It’s an underground label that we really love, and it’s going well, but it would be very cool if more people knew about it.”

So There! And come do some jammin in the cool Container Art Park space in the heart of Kensington.

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.

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