When life gets you down and the deck is, yet again, stacked like a trophy wife, do you breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth, count to 420, pass your problems on the left hand side and dream of the day when your young lions' paws cease their worldly trudge and chill with Jah, ashing a love-joint on the world below?
If so, you need to know Joseph Israel (not "Israel" like the country -- more like "God's chosen people," a distinction he's clear about). Israel's fire-red monster dreadlocks and impressive copper beard make him look like the reggae version of the Human Torch, and the man's head is certainly on fire with incendiary ideas. The idea that governments and corporations do not look out for or represent people, but only exploit them, for example. The idea that "the modern day Babylon is the New World Order, something the Roman Catholic Church has been working on since World War II," says Israel. "Religion, these days, turns a lot of people away from the Bible." Have you thought about the idea that carelessness breeds itself, that apathy is evil's fondest and most cancerous foothold? How about the idea that love -- if we just give it a chance -- will save us all? Have you ever thought about these things?
Israel has, and he's come to the conclusion that "if you don't learn to live in harmony with the humans and the animals of the world, you're gonna blow yourself up."
Chances are, if you haven't thought those ideas, you've at least heard them.
They might not even strike you as particularly revolutionary. They might sound like reggae's party line, a warm, inclusive, huggy mixture of positive vibrations and expanded consciousness. Further, if you are the least bit intolerant of reggae enlightenment, you're probably sure to dismiss Joseph as just another white kid from America (Fayetteville, Ark., by way of Tulsa, in this case) trying to talk about oppression as something other than having to drive the minivan instead of dad's coupe. That's a battle Israel has been fighting for a while, the idea that a white guy must make white-guy reggae, and that such a thing must be somehow inferior to real (black) reggae.
Israel tries not to worry about race and other divisive sectarian constructs. People need labels, but YAHWEH does not. "'Israel' is the biblical name for all who strive for God's blessing," he says. "The prophets spoke of Israel as encompassing the whole world". Rather than fight directly against the mark he's gotten by deign of skin tone and hair color -- a mark he'll have a real hard time getting rid of -- he prefers to plug along, spreading his gospel and letting the converts fall where they may.
Reggae, perhaps the most unabashedly spiritual music to consistently rebel against commercialization (Matisyahu notwithstanding), is a blueprint for revolution through coming together, a gauzy overthrow plan that Mr. Israel stands behind 100 percent. "I'm not a part of a piece of land," he says. "I love the whole earth. I don't consider myself Jamaican or American."
It's Israel's fidelity to that path that he hopes will change people. "I'm just trying to do my work, make music and bring positive vibrations," he says. But he's doing more than that. His Universal Records debut, Gone Are the Days, nods to reggae's yesteryear and eschews the sticky-sweet waiting-room reggae we've become all too familiar with. Recorded at Bob Marley's Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica, the force of devotion -- to music, to life -- is strong with Joseph Israel.
Joseph Israel and guests at the Big Easy on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at 8 pm. Tickets: $12. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.