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Local reggae band celebrates Bob Marley

Cyndi Revolinsky, Entertainment Writer
March 13, 2013
Filed under Entertainment, Top Stories

An iconic figure of peace and love, Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley once said his music would go on forever. The band Unity is helping to make sure it does.

Jimmy Seas Pub and Grill welcomed Unity the Band March 2 to celebrate Marley’s birthday and his music. Based out of Appleton, Unity honored the reggae legend by covering some of Marley’s most notable songs, including “I Shot the Sheriff” and “No Woman No Cry.” Unity also performed original tracks, such as “Oceania,” from its new album.

“It’s amazing how the music brings people together,” said Kai “Pita” Katobalavu, founder and front man of Unity. “Our music is a diverse blend of reggae, roots, funk, blues and country. It appeals to so many demographics and is so diverse that we have built up a unique blend of fans ranging from college students to retired couples.”

Unity the Band won the Wisconsin Area Music Industry award in 2011 by popular vote.

“It was awesome to win recognition for our work,” Katobalavu said.

Each member brings his own sound and personality to the table. Katobalavu is the lead singer and songwriter. He draws inspiration from his homeland, Fiji, where he taught himself music.

Jason “Red” Brown plays bass and performed with Hank Williams III for almost seven years. He began playing with Unity in 2003.

“My favorite part about playing with Unity is the good grooves and when they perform live,” Brown said.

On drums is musician/producer Kelvin Ayres, whose current influences include Pharrell Williams and Timbaland. Jeremy “Chunk” Schroetter creates eclectic percussion beats by combining sounds from Native American, Latin and Indian cultures. Lead guitarist Ryan Peerenboom was discovered while working at a sushi restaurant in Green Bay.  Also present for Marley’s birthday celebration was special guest Alana Morin on vocals and percussion.

As a band that does both covers and originals, it is important to Unity to maintain its distinct sound. Unity’s repertoire includes such hits as “Play that Funky Music,” originally performed by Wild Cherry, and The Beatles’ “Let it Be.”

“The energy of our music alone is enough to keep our sound separate when we do a cover,” Peerenboom said. “Because of our musicians, it separates itself.”

Unity the Band also has a mission to promote peace through music. Bob Marley gave a voice to the people of Jamaica, and Katobalavu aspires to do the same thing for his native land of Fiji. More than 250,000 people in the Fiji Islands live in poverty, and many more live just at the poverty line, according to Think Pacific Think Pacific, a volunteer program for the Fiji Islands and other South Pacific locations. Katobalavu moved to Wisconsin because there were more opportunities for his music and his message. He hopes to encourage Wisconsinites to visit his homeland in an effort to boost its local economy.

Unity the Band also donates its time and musical talents to raise money and awareness for local benefits and fundraisers. Some recent fundraiser performances include the Littlest Tumor Foundation, performing for various cancer patients, the Salvation Army, natural disaster shows such as Hurricane katrina, the Haiti Earthquake, and the Japan Earthquake.

“We are working on finding a way to make a difference in Fiji,” Katobalavu said. “Its complicated, with the military government in charge, to find a way to directly help those in need. When we were there last year, we made some contacts and hope to develop some partnerships for 2014. We love to support causes we believe in. People helping other people is a  great gift we can give with our music.”

Unity the Band will  played at the Midwest Sun Splash Musical Festival this July. For additional tour dates, information and merchandise go to unitytheband.com or www.facebook.com/Unitytheband.