SayReal’s “Unarmed And Ready” debut record release party took shape in the form of undeniable movement last Saturday night at the renowned Apogee Studios (home of the KCRW Apogee Sessions) in Santa Monica.
The exclusive event got rolling with hors-d’oeuvres and specialty cocktails as VIP guests mingled through the rooms of the coveted recording space—owned by legendary producer/mixer, Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones/Bon Jovi)—where an endless list of A-list artists including Adele, Jackson Browne, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Ryan Adams, Regina Spektor, Beck and John Legend have recorded and/or showcased their music. SayReal’s turn came when Apogee Electronics approached them about recording their song, “Want Some,” for an online commercial with/for their new flagship audio interface, Symphony I/O Mk II. They filmed the commercial at the studio, and it seemed a natural segue for the band to launch their album at Apogee, as well.
SayReal is a Los Angeles-based reggae-rock fusion group of multi-instrumentalists/singer-songwriters/freedom fighters who have banded together for reasons no less than starting, being part of, a musical/spiritual revolution. If the movement they created at Apogee on Saturday night is any indication of where they are headed, change is afoot. The sincere intention of these musicians to use their artistic talents and musical synergy as channels through which to inject positivity into the world is crystal clear.
A quote by abolitionist Frederick Douglass is embedded in the “Unarmed And Ready” album artwork: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” It is around Douglass’s life message and teachings that the band created their single “Frederick’s Song (Freedom)” (co-written with academic Richard Fink), an indisputable anthem that builds, lyrically and musically, from start to finish, in its calling-out for a spiritual uprising to inspire us all to fight for our freedoms in the face of injustice. SayReal is certainly timely with their vision. The band kicked-off their set with a premiere of the powerful music video for the deeply lyrical single:
“It’s not the light we need, but fire, fire/ not the gentle shower, but thunder, thunder / we need the storm / we need the trouble / we need the whirlwind, the earth to rumble / without a struggle there can be no progress … / give me my freedom … / I’m taking my freedom … / we must fight for freedom despite the danger that comes … / I’ll fight for your freedom / we must fight for freedom / pray for nothing but freedom, freedom.”
By the time the video reached its culmination, the crowd pulsed with anticipation for the band to take the stage. At last, SayReal erupted into song with “Lovers Heist,” an original song that is not on their album, but a perfect excuse to go out and hear the band live. Enthusiasm in the venue heightened from there. By the third (title track) song of the set, “Unarmed and Ready,” fans moved, danced, cheered, sang along: “There’s about to be a revolution / (feel it in the heart) / we’re starting a revolution / it all starts with a feeling / you pull it from the inside out.”
As the enchanting, you-can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her, lead singer, Naia Kete (NBC’s The Voice) breathed into her mic between songs, “This is just the beginning,” her energetically tapped-in audience had no doubt in her prophecy. “There are no words to describe what I’m feeling right now, but I know y’all are feeling it too, otherwise I wouldn’t be feeling it,” she said to a roar of recognition that infused the rest of the set.
Naia was right. We were feeling it. Undeniably. The spark of revolution. A yearning for change. A belief in what’s possible. The energy in the space was kinetic. Inspired. SayReal’s genuine passion and authenticity poured from the stage and reflected right back at them from their fans. As relentless with their masterful musicianship as they are with their well-defined objective, to “champion integrity, strive to be examples of sincerity and honor the truth within ourselves, ” this is not a band that is going to relinquish their mission any time soon.
Sonically, SayReal presents a tight, smooth groove with a crackin’ rhythm section; tasty and innovative guitar arrangements; commanding vocals from Naia Kete with a sweet yet strong, soulful and sultry, grainy yet pristine essence that draws the audience in with immediacy; backed by lush harmonies from bass player Lee John, guitarist (Chris) Lightfoot, and sassy-soul-sangin’-virtuoso Whitney Myer (also from NBC’s The Voice).
Visually, all four band members (as well as guest back-up singer, Whitney) offer an explosion of artistic individuality, multi-culture and style—be it dreadlocks, a wild afro, long locks, vivid colors, ornate head bands or a flowing gown custom-made for Naia—gelled into an intriguing portrayal of oneness.
Perhaps that Naia is sister to Imani Elijah on drums, girlfriend to Lee John on bass, and a The Voice co-contestant to her soul sister, Whitney Myer, on backing vocals, adds to the oneness of this configuration of musical warriors. Not only does the band move together as one, they get the whole audience moving along with them. This band is one with their music; they are one with each other; they are one with their intention; they are one with their audience; they embody the spirit of “one love.”
SayReal played a ten-song original set including all eight gems off their album, such as “Sisters,” a psalm of feminine strength that encourages women to stay connected to their needs: “You think you know what I want / you think you know what I need / but, let me tell you my love, it isn’t something you see … / all my sisters raise your hands up high / if you know what you need then raise your hands up, hands up higher.” “Feel About Us” lyrically incorporates the band’s name, and flips through the pages of history referencing/quoting those who have stood up for freedom before us: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks; SayReal invites us to join these revolutionaries.
The set finished climactically with the deeply emotional, yet oddly uplifting and ultimately healing, “From Far Away,” which the band explains the inspiration behind: “Since writing the song, we’ve all lost someone. So it became about loving someone regardless of any type of boundary. Being able to love someone in spirit.”
The band left the stage, but didn’t stand a fighting chance in hell at not returning for an encore. The crowd’s “encore” chant was almost as loud as the band’s freedom cry; so, SayReal gave their fans what they wanted with two closing songs that are not on their album, “Wandering Soul” and “Fire Breather,” all the more reason to go out and see them live.
“SayReal strives to create a soundscape that soothes, excites and inspires humankind to love and live truthfully and with its entirety.” The band absolutely achieved their purpose with their performance and the stellar party they threw for their fans on Saturday night, as well as with the recordings on their debut album.
“Unarmed And Ready” is available on iTunes and Spotify.
You can catch the band and their infectious energy at their Tuesday night weekly residency at Harvelle’s Santa Monica. I highly recommend it.
As my guest, composer/producer Nataraj Tribino [Nile Rodgers, Maroon 5, P.M. Dawn], said on the way home from the party, “Those guys are on a train I definitely want to be on.” I have to agree with him.