Story by Lauren Gutierrez
Bronte James and his wife Elisa Sofia are the lead singers in a local Salt Lake City reggae band called Afro Omega which won a spot on City Weekly’s Best of Utah Music 2016.
“I loved music in general,” says James. In college he didn’t care about much else other than football and he credits his Hawaiian roommates with exposing him to a lot of reggae. “When I started listening to reggae that’s when I started collecting tons of music and finding music I liked around 19 or 20 years old.”
The UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival was the first concert James attended that didn’t have the materialism, fighting and shallowness that he’d seen before at rap and pop concerts where everyone kept to themselves. At reggae concerts he met cool and conscious people who were chilling, smoking and wanting to make new friends. He’d never been a part of anything like that.
“At first I didn’t think I could get a band, I didn’t think that would happen,” says James, “I always wanted a reggae band but I couldn’t find the people that wanted to play it in Salt Lake at the time.” So he just played a lot of acoustic guitar. He wanted to play acoustic music like Ben Harper when he formed his first band but he wasn’t happy with the way it was headed. However the more he listened to reggae the more like-minded musicians he met. “When we started there were three reggae bands that I knew of in Salt Lake and now there’s tons.”
Afro Omega was influenced by artists like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh which made the social activism aspect of their music the main focus from the start. “It was crucial because I’d find myself at places where I felt that people weren’t very conscious,” said James, “I was at a point in my life where I felt that people needed to be more aware, including myself.”
At first their causes were anti-war, anti-corporation and race matters, but, playing gigs at bars made it difficult to do that because of the party vibes. Not everybody understood and he didn’t want to be a downer so after a while he decided that it wasn’t the right place to deliver those messages. He wanted to be subtle about it and just write music that anybody could dance to.
The band has gone on tour to several cities but James says the best music scene by far is Mexico City because they play instrumentals and the whole dance floor got packed. In his experience they have a much broader spectrum and appreciation for not just reggae but all music. “They appreciate it more because Mexico is a lot like Jamaica,” he said, “It has that third world label in certain areas and I feel like that’s where they can relate a lot more than in the United States. People here just want to have fun at the end of the day.”
“I see a lot of kids and people nowadays unless they’re going to get paid for it or be a pro they don’t always do it. They don’t want to collect the music,” explained James. He wishes people would play and study more musical genres instead of waiting for the next artist to produce it. He points out that in Mexico City if you’re a fan of rock, for example, then you know everything about rock which is something he doesn’t see a lot of in the United States. He said to keep focused through all the distractions.
“Be humble and don’t worry about what other people are doing around you,” says James of new bands in Salt Lake City. He added that if you want to be a serious musician it helps to study how your favorite band records audio. “That’s something that Salt Lake lacks is CD’s and music. There’s so many bands but there’s so few CD’s.”
He suggests not dedicating so much time jamming, rehearsing and playing gigs. Instead he says, “I want to see more production. There are a lot of really talented people here and time flies, it takes a long time to record an album, it’s daunting and it’s intimidating but if that’s something someone could’ve told me … I could’ve gotten things rolling quicker.”