Talking Heads Reggae Style!
The Talking Dreads is the brainchild of Jamaican born Mystic Bowie, best known as a vocalist of the Tom Tom Club, the hit side project of Talking Heads co-founders Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth. Authentic on so many levels, The Talking Dreads deliver iconic hits driven by joyous rhythms and jubilant island vibes. The Talking Heads hits – ‘Pyscho Killer’, ‘Burning Down the House’ , ‘This Must Be The Place’ and many more – re-imagined reggae/Caribbean style.
“The combination of classic Heads lyrics and Caribbean/reggae rhythms is a total home run! Talking Dreads’ sound is tight, and everyone from the lead singer to the band members to the back up singers to the folks selling Talking Dreads merchandise is 100% professional. We had a blast the night of the show and we walked away with a definite bounce in our step. Can’t wait for the next stop on their tour. Definitely going back for more.” – Chris Frantz – Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club
On “Life During Wartime,” the first single from Talking Heads’ 1979 album Fear of Music, David Byrne famously sang the immortal lyrics, “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco…no time for dancing…” Yet all those anti-fun declarations go gleefully out the window when Mystic Bowie, aka the “Head Dread,” takes the stage, re-imagining and infusing fresh life into TH’s classic catalog with his high octane mix of roots reggae, ska and lover’s rock (aka “romantic reggae”).
Since debuting his musically revolutionary Talking Dreads project live at the High Times Music Festival on the beach in Negril in late 2015, the charismatic Jamaican-born singer and performer has electrified audiences at over 100 shows across North America – spinning the heads of initially skeptical Talking Heads fans, and getting everyone else grooving along to the infectious, joyous rhythms and jubilant spirit of his native island. Considering the success of these events, it was only a matter of time before Bowie – who has lived in the Northeastern U.S. for many years – headed back to his cherished homeland and set up shop at the famed Barry O’Hare Studios in Ocho Rios. He gathered old friends he had played music with since childhood, along with younger musicians, legendary Jamaican artists and other surprise guests to capture all the magic of his live performances on the epic, 13 track recording Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads.
“Talking Dreads is much more than a cover band,” Mystic says. “I am very much drawing on my own musical culture and history to make these amazing songs my own, while at the same time preserving the integrity of the Talking Heads songs. I’ve always felt that reggae’s dance-inspiring, feel good vibe is universal, as are many of the band’s songs. And don’t forget their intelligent, powerful lyrics, which are fun to sing and shine fresh light on through this new fusion of styles. It took a lot of effort to deconstruct and dissect each song to make it work seamlessly with my singing and performance style. I removed all the instrumentation, kept the story and words, then created my own reggae, Caribbean and tribal feel and married those two elements – then brought back a few of the melodies that captured my attention back in the day.”
The Talking Dreads debut features an amazing lineup of legendary reggae figures, including singer Freddie McGregor, whose recording career dates back to his 1980 album Bobby Bobylon; ska guitar master Ernest Ranglin, (session player and arranger of Millie’s hit “My Boy Lollipop” and the Melodians’ “Rivers of Babylon” who has worked with Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Monty Alexander; singer and Soul Train Award nominee Tarrus Riley (“Start Anew,” “Good Girl Gone Bad”) and saxophone great Dean Fraser. Bridging generations, Mystic also invited his young drummer friend Kirk Bennett and his old friend Lincoln Thomas, who is McGregor’s longtime guitarist, to participate. The sole non-Jamaican on Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads, Cindy Wilson of the B-52s was chosen as a voice that harkens back to the era of Talking Heads’ new wave heyday. Wilson duets beautifully with Mystic on a dreamy, soulful rendition of “Heaven.”
Mystic complements the eleven Talking Heads re-imaginings on Talking Dreads with his own unique, Jamaica-fied spin on two songs originated by other artists that are near and dear to his heart – “Piece of My Heart,” best known for its hit version by Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.” Mystic recalls that while growing up, his late mother, a single mom, worked all day long in the fields. When she was upset or in a bad mood, she would sing “Piece of My Heart” for comfort. He recorded this as a personal tribute to her.
As for “Shakedown Street,” let us allow Mystic’s brilliant way of weaving a narrative take over: “When I was a teen performer at hotels, a lot of musicians would be nearby hanging out on the beach. I remember one of them being friendly to me one day, showing me how to play a few chords on his guitar. He taught some other local kids as well. Much later in my life when I was living in Connecticut, I was talking to some friends about the Grateful Dead. When they showed me a picture of Jerry Garcia, I knew that was the musician with the curly afro on the beach who gave me that song to play. Besides that reference, the lyrics of the song are dear to me and, in some ways, tell the story of my life.”
Mystic has been awarded two Certificates of Special Recognition from The Overseas Maroon Council and the Accompong Primary and Junior High School in Jamaica for his efforts (Accompong is an indigenous Maroon community). Two years ago, he opened the Mystic Bowie Accompong Library and has stocked it with over 15,000 books and 16 computers. An open air space is used to hold after school programs and primary school graduations. He is the founder of the Maroon Youth Culture Group, a gathering of young singers, chanters, drummers and dancers that reflects his commitment to sharing the art of music beyond the stage. Mystic has also been named the reigning Minister of Youth and Culture for his beloved tribe.
“I am very committed to the Maroon traditions and passing these down to the younger generation, along with the principles of what it means to be part of our tribe,” he says. “No matter where I am living or performing in the world, I am entrenched in these sacred roots, and am building a home there where I can retire someday. There are millions of Maroons that live abroad, and I love to use music to draw attention to where I come from and how it has shaped me. It’s all about community and caring for one another.”