Critically-acclaimed hard roots rock reggae outfit Natty Nation is a collective of spiritual warriors.
For over twenty-five years, the Madison, Wisconsin-based group has purely and fearlessly followed its inner artistic continuum. Along the way, Natty Nation has burst through genres while retaining a distinct roots reggae core.
Through it all—whether it’s onstage conducting its shamanistic live show, or in the studio pushing the scope of its musicality while honing its sharp songcraft—Natty Nation has remained dedicated to one mission: spreading light. On March 11th, 2016 Natty Nation issued its brightest beacon yet, Divine Spark (iNatty Records), which debuted at #3 on the Billboard reggae chart.
“Our ultimate goal is to uplift as many people as possible through sound and vibration,” says frontman JAH Boogie – bass, lead vocals (also percussion/drums in the studio). “To do that we hope to take our music to as many places on this earth and positively influence as many souls as we possibly can.”
Natty Nation’s unique pedigree of a Midwest home base and artistic openness has helped the posse foster a signature sound. The group describes themselves as hard roots rock reggae because, in addition to their honest and authentic roots reggae foundation, their embrace of soul, rock, and funk is undeniable. Natty Nation is also influenced by such diverse geniuses as Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Living Colour, Earth Wind and Fire, Fishbone, and Bad Brains. Since 1995, Natty Nation has had fluid membership of esteemed and visionary musicians. Currently, Natty Nation is led by JAH Boogie – bass/lead vocals, Paule Willis — drums/percussion, musical director Aaron Konkol – keyboards/vocals/melodica, Nick Czar — guitar/vocals, and finally Captain Smooth — live dub engineer.
The band’s name remains a conceptual and aesthetic touchstone for the group, elucidating its wildly diverse cultural and aesthetic journeys. JAH Boogie explains: “The band got its name from a past member who coined it Natty Nation, dealing with Rastafarian culture and tradition. Natty can be locks of hair (short for natural), unity, or well dressed, and nation denoting nationality. The idea is that the barriers of nations are not natural, so the earth is the one natty nation, and we are all earth citizens. We are all one. The only thing that separates us is the ego and its physical manifestations.”
Since its inception, Natty Nation has issued five uncompromising studio albums along with a string of epiphanic live albums. The tastemaking Madison alt-weekly, Isthmus Magazine, named their 1998 release Earth Citizen one of the “top 25 Madison pop albums of all time,” writing that “Natty Nation’s mix of hard roots rock and reggae proved unique and gained a following that remains today.” In 2019 the group was inducted into the Madison Area Music Association Hall of Fame, and to date has earned 31 Madison Area Music Association awards, including artist of the year, ensemble vocals, world album, and world performer of the year for nine years in a row. Natty Nation has also received a Wisconsin Area Music Industry award for best world artist.
One of the most profound components of Natty Nation’s artistry is its live show. In this context, the band truly thrives, and all the years as a unit, the collective’s telepathic band interplay and colorful palette of music influences make for a fresh freewheeling reggae-focused experience. “We treat our recorded music as a calling card for people to come check us out live,” JAH Boogie says. “The crowd plays a huge part in where our show goes. Which songs we do, the vibe, how long we play, and most significantly how we play.” Natty Nation has built a robust artistic profile through tirelessly touring, nationally and internationally. Select live career highlights include performing at SXSW, Summerfest, Freakfest, and as well as throughout the Middle East, Africa, Japan, and the Marshall Islands.
Divine Spark is a lightning bolt of an inspirational album artistically and introspectively. JAH Boogie explains: “The Divine Spark is the higher self within everyone. I’ve learned that through raising your vibration and opening your chakras you are able to tap into your divine spark. Our music is for the mental, spiritual, and physical expansion of the human family. We are spiritual individuals who express our spirituality through the frequencies and tones of the music that we play.”
Artistically it’s a watershed album as it was carefully crafted by the creative core of founding member JAH Boogie, and longtime member Aaron Konkol, who is a multi-instrumentalist and prodigious musical talent. The two shared music writing responsibilities while JAH Boogie retained lyric duties. Divine Spark also boasts a verse from acclaimed South Side, Chicago-via-Madison rapper F. Stokes on the track “Civil Rights” and the entire album was mixed by legendary Bob Marley recording engineer Errol Brown, other than the two dubs that close out the album which were produced by the band.
Highlights on Divine Spark include the title track, “Meditation,” “Civil Rights,” and “Prophecy.” The album’s spiritual core is the simmering and soulful title track. “This song deals with the spiritual essence of each human being,” JAH Boogie explains. “The song also expresses that when you open your heart chakra it helps to open up the many other chakras within the spiritual body. When these energy centers or chakras are open then many other dimensions are open as well.” “Meditation” aptly conjures its name with sweetly languid grooves. Soul rebel militancy bubbles over with the aptly titled, “Civil Rights” courtesy of F. Stokes’s fiery rhymes. And the rousing “Prophecy” is sure to inspire self-reflection. “This song deals with going within yourself to find out who you really are or what you really are. We all have spiritual guides or angels who reveal certain things to us,” explains JAH Boogie.
A fortuitous encounter at a Rebelution show enabled a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Aaron Konkol, after marveling over Rebelution’s sparkling live sound, ran into the group and asked who was manning the boards for their live show. To his astonishment, it was Errol Brown (Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear, among others). At the time, Natty Nation had been chasing the optimum mix for years. Errol agreed to mix the album in his makeshift studio he built in the back of Rebelution’s tour bus. He worked closely with Aaron’s feedback and the two came up with a majestic mix.
Divine Spark marks the beginning of an era of fevered creativity and watershed output for Natty Nation. Thinking back on the group’s perseverance, JAH Boogie says: “We believe in creating positive energy in the universe, and when we can see the people dancing, smiling, and nodding their head to our music, and then coming up after the shows or reaching out to us to tell us how our music touched them profoundly, or even just was a great soundtrack to a fun night, it really means the world to us and keeps us on this path to make music.”
bass, lead vocals
keys, backing vocals, melodica