10 Ft. Ganja Plant cultivates a vintage approach to reggae
By Albert Ching
A lot of artists claim to value their music over their image, but few are quite as zealous about it as upstate New York-based reggae collective 10 Ft. Ganja Plant.
Try to find a publicity photo on their official website or MySpace—you can’t. Even live performance videos are scarce. For the most part, the liner notes of their records—up to six as of 2010’s 10 Deadly Shots, Vol. 1, released by New York City-based label ROIR—omit personnel credits.
“It wasn’t contrived, it just happened to be that way,” says 10 Ft. Ganja Plant bandleader Kevin Kinsella via telephone. “It was purely for the love of the music.”
It’s also a way for Kinsella and the group to pay tribute to the historical roots of Jamaican reggae and dub music that has inspired them since forming a decade ago.
“We had all these great records, like The Revolutionaries, and nobody was credited,” he says. “It just said, ‘music by The Revolutionaries, recorded at Channel One.’ I love that. It is so punk. Then it doesn’t become a vanity gig—this is the music; shut up and listen.”
10 Ft. Ganja Plant’s reverence towards reggae fundamentals was also a motivating factor behind 10 Deadly Shots, Vol. 1, 10 tracks of cheekily titled instrumentals including “Bonny & Clyde” and “Machine Gun.”
“Really, at the heart of it, we’re huge Upsetters fans,” Kinsella says, referring to the house band of legendary reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, a band that was responsible for many of Perry’s dub permutations.
The entire album was recorded live in one take onto analog tape, and released not-so-coincidentally on 4/20 this year. But the band doesn’t overload on the marijuana references—well, other than in their name.
“The image of the band is a Cessna plane,” Kinsella says. “That, to me, is more central to me and to the band. Our symbol isn’t a marijuana plant. Obviously, the name kind of says enough.”
In Southern California, white dudes—from Sublime to The Dirty Heads— becoming successful playing reggae-fied music is not all that unusual. But a couple of decades ago in upstate New York, in the formative days of Kinsella’s music career, the onus was definitely on him to prove he took the music seriously.
“We wanted to play militant reggae,” he says. “We would go down to New York City and be opening up for Dennis Brown or Jimmy Cliff or somebody. There’d be all West Indians there, and they’re not pushovers about their music. We were a young white band, so they were just like, ‘What the f*#k is this?’ But at the end they were usually like, ‘This is good.’ We went through the fire.”
Before 10 Ft. Ganja Plant, Kinsella played in the still-extant reggae outfit John Brown’s Body, and its precursor, The Tribulations.
“We’ve just been playing reggae now for like 20 years,” he says. “It’s been a part of a lot of our lives, inexplicably.”
Kinsella considers himself lucky that he happened to live in an area that was surprisingly hip to the genre.
“We used to go to shows, like the People of the World tour by Burning Spear, also seeing the Gladiators, that changed my life,” he says. “We also were blessed that in our town there was a promoter at this club that just loved reggae.”
He also doesn’t have any disillusions about 10 Ft. Ganja Plant’s place in the pantheon of reggae—he says the genuine article, from Jamaica, will always be his favorite. But there’s room on the table for everybody.
“Jamaican reggae’s the best, I think, personally,” Kinsella says. “That’s a fact. That doesn’t make everything else bad or discounted.”
For more Ganja, go to www.10ftganjaplant.com.
This Dub’s For You
If vintage dub’s your thing but you dig electronica, the newest release by French dub constructor Kanka, Inside (under the name Alek6), should satisfy drum-and-bass heads from here to Channel One. Imagine King Tubby’s spring reverb getting a digital upgrade. Murder!