By Terrah Baker
“…It’s a totally different type of music to play and convey to people. It’s like soul music. It’s something you have to be able to feel.” — Rochelle Bradshaw
While growing up in Jamaica, with a father who played for one of the biggest names in reggae, Rochelle Bradshaw was mostly exposed to American R&B, gospel and country, singers like Whitney Houston, Anita Baker and Dolly Parton. But when she turned 13 and was allowed to join her first band and tour across the island, reggae entered her life.
She liked the way the strong bass lines and uplifting lyrics made her feel. Unlike other genres, this music spoke to her.
“Reggae music may not be as technical as jazz or blues or classical music … but it’s a totally different type of music to play and convey to people. It’s like soul music. It’s something you have to be able to feel,” Bradshaw said of her first experiences with reggae.
Bradshaw took her powerful and soulful voice into the reggae industry and has had over 20 years of experience in the music business, singing on a Grammy-winning album and touring the world with some of reggae’s biggest stars.
Jump to 2014 and her new band Rochelle Bradshaw and Hypnotion will be holding a showcase performance at Fayetteville’s Greenhouse Grille on Feb. 9 to become “a force to be reckoned with locally, and to most importantly get everybody jammin’,” Bradshaw said.
A Singer’s Career
Bradshaw has always been singing. Between a father who was guitarist and singer for Burning Spear — an internationally popular reggae band — and over 12 siblings who visited throughout the year, there was always someone performing.
At 13 Bradshaw was allowed to join her first band, and by 19 her vocal talents had been recognized by her father’s musical friends and she was recruited to tour with Garnett Silk.
After the lead singer of Garnett Silk passed away in a house fire, Bradshaw found herself looking for a stable gig with the comfort of full-time work. She found it in a hotel band in the tourist district of Jamaica. Bradshaw and her band performed six nights a week from 7 – 11 p.m.
“With the hotels I immediately made a plan to not get comfortable because it’s very easy,” Bradshaw explained.
With free room and board, meals and a stable income, as a musician it can be hard to let go. And she didn’t, for about eight years she performed in resident bands. During that time, however, she also took on recording gigs with record labels that knew of her talent and family.
“The big radio station in Jamaica started out by just playing straight reggae music. The guy who ran the station also had a recording studio. When they realized I was working at a hotel right across the street they just recruited me immediately. I would leave work at 11:45 p.m. and then walk across to the studio and put harmonies on tracks for artists until early in the morning,” she said.
That’s when she started meeting people in the recording industry. She began touring internationally, but still kept her hotel position by bringing in replacement singers while she was away.
Some of her greatest harmonizing successes were for artists like Chaka Demus and Pliers — the first Jamaican act to place three consecutive singles in the Top Five of the British music charts. The album Bradshaw contributed to also had seven songs on the American Billboard charts and won a Grammy.
Front and Center
Through all of her touring and hotel performances she found time to record a few of her own songs. After finally leaving the hotel band and after touring with some big names, she thought she was ready to focus on her own music.
But it wouldn’t be long before another world-renowned musician recruited her vocal harmonizing. She had started recording her own music for a record company in Atlanta, but when she received a call from The Wailers her solo career was again put on pause.
Now, she lives in Fayetteville with her husband, and together they run Nature’s Water on Huntsville Road. She still tours with The Wailers half the year, although last year they took a small hiatus. That gave her time to put together a group of local musicians she could perform with, on her own, front and center.
Bradshaw said finding the right musicians was somewhat of a challenge. There aren’t many reggae artists in Northwest Arkansas, and the few that she could find were taken. But after her brother-in-law Lawrence Newmark (drums) returned from Jamaica, and her local musical partner Matt Smith (guitar), and long-time reggae fans and musicians Jake Cranston (bass) and Jason Ward (guitar and vocals) agreed to join, she had the makings of a great reggae band.
After they booked their first live show, they brought on keyboardist Evan Alvarado to finish off their sound. Their first show was at Smoke and Barrel on Jan. 17 and was a warm-up for what’s to come, Bradshaw said.
The event on Feb. 9 at the Greenhouse Grille in Fayetteville starting at 7 p.m. will feature Rochelle Bradshaw and Hypnotion at their finest. Most of the songs were written by Bradshaw with help from her band, along with only a few covers.
“I purposefully did not choose any popular covers,” Bradshaw said. “Sometimes that takes away from what you really want people to hear. We’re doing a Bob Marley but it’s not one of those extremely popular songs. We’re doing an Amy Winehouse
which is actually a cover she did.”
Just like life, she said, her solo and band career is a process. Combining her years of experience, a natural gift for producing strong, beautiful and heartfelt vocals and some great local talent, Rochelle Bradshaw & Hypnotion is set to solidify reggae in NWA.
Together, she says the band brings the word hypnotion to life — “a journey of being captivated by the pulsating energy of the music. Creating or imprinting a visual image of the art that’s being presented.”
To learn more about the band, view videos of Bradshaw’s previous work and find out about their upcoming shows, visit www.reverbnation.com/rochellebradshaw or www.facebook.com/rochellebradshawhypnotion.