By TOM GODFREY
One of Canada’s most successful reggae bands, Messenjah, is back together and plans to open the doors for other reggae acts in Toronto.
The Juno Award winning band had five hits during its heyday from 1981 to 1998, when it packed Ontario Place, Maple Leaf Gardens and other venues across North America.
The band, with some new members, reunited this year for a Bob Marley Day concert in Toronto and its members were surprised by the reception they received.
“It’s like we never left,” said Rupert “Ojiji” Harvey, who co-founded the band in 1980 with Errol Blackwood. “People were lining up to see us and they had to turn people away at one venue.”
Blackwood, who left for a solo career, and most of the band members were born in Jamaica.
Harvey, who grew up in North York, said their fans today are younger and are of all backgrounds.
“The fans today know all our music, words and all,” Harvey told Share. “People cannot get enough reggae and we are not going to disappoint them.”
They are re-releasing their top-selling single “Rock You High” this month in time for a reunion tour.
Harvey said the reggae music scene in Toronto has been lacking or “non-existent” for some years, with many acts only featured for the Caribbean Carnival.
“We are trying to create opportunities for other bands out there,” he said. “We are creating a venue for others to follow.”
The band, that got its start in Kitchener, Ontario, had hits that included “Jam Session”, “Cool Operator”, “Arrested” and “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”.
The hits led to performances on three movie soundtracks, including Cocktail, with Tom Cruise, Milk and Honey in 1989 and What’s the Matter with Us, with Raffi, in 1990.
Harvey said Messenjah toured all over North America as well as Jamaica for 16 years before calling it quits. The band won a Juno Award for Best Reggae Recording in 1989.
Toronto during that era was the home of a lively reggae scene with local bands like two-time Juno Award winners, the Sattalites, which last year released a CD; and 20thCentury Rebels attracting large followings at top venues such as the now-shut Bam Boo Club.
“The reggae music scene is pretty flat right now,” said Harvey. “Not much has been happening on the reggae front in Toronto.”
Messenjah will be performing at the Toronto Beaches International Jazz Festival on July 25.
The band includes Rupert’s brother, Carl Harvey, who played lead guitar for Jamaican reggae icon Toots and the Maytals for 20 years.
“Carl has toured the world twice in his time playing with Toots,” he said. “You name a place and he has played there. We are lucky to have him.”
The lineup also includes Charles Sinclair, Robert Stephenson, Haile Yeates and Orville Malcolm.
One highlight for the band was their appearance on stage with Nelson Mandela at the Toronto SkyDome in 1998.
Messenjah released its first album, Rock You High, independently in 1982 and was the first Canadian reggae band to be picked up by a major label; Warner Music Canada.