There is a lack of redeeming messages in the majority of commercial music. Think of it as a degenerative vacuum razing the mind, with radio serving as the “on” switch. Sure, we can blame it on the pop musicians. But Elijah Emanuel, the Panamanian-bred frontman for local roots-reggae heroes, the Revelations, says it's more of a mirror image.
“It reflects the collective consciousness,” he says. “Today, people are very caught up in the bi-product of the music-the money. No one is being innovative.”
The Revelations started nearly four years ago in San Diego, based on Emanuel's calling to preach a simple message that “we are more than just slaves on the economic plantation,” he says. “We were born to do more than make money and just work.”
The band huddled behind closed doors for a year, refining their sound and, more importantly, their message. In 2001, they released their first LP, The Struggle Continues, and proceeded to gig around town relentlessly.
Emanuel was a military brat raised in Panama, where he was exposed to Rastafarian culture and reggae music through the Jamaicans who worked on the Panama Canal. Their spirituality attracted him immediately.
“What I was attracted to was not so much the music. I wanted to know the lifestyle of the people,” he explains. “It's another example of inspiration of the world.”
Emanuel calls himself an “activist for Hispanic cultural integrity”, and thus his lyrics are a mix of English and Spanish. He concerns himself not only with Rastafarians, but with faiths of all forms, stressing the need for Mayans, Aztecs, African Americans and Native Americans to look into their history to find more spiritual and creative ways to live.
“When I say ‘Jah', I'm referring that unnamed spiritual force that moves all things,” Emanuel says. “I can see the spirit of all things. In my own life, I have to challenge myself to grow spiritually. When I play music, it reflects that. I was doing this before I played music. When I sing, I reflect that.”
In terms of local reggae, the Revelations are the apex. They're also not hard to find, with a Wednesday night residency at Buffalo Joe's, frequent shows at Winston's in Ocean Beach and Blind Melons in Pacific Beach, and opening slots for just about every big name reggae act that comes through town.
Not long ago, the band renamed itself, casting young Elijah to the forefront of their identity as “Elijah Emanuel & the Revelations.”
“I wanted to get the project a little more identity,” he explains.
For a period of time, the band adorned the backdrop to their shows with murals of Che Guevera and other radical and revolutionary leaders.
“Those people give a frame a reference, because some have a relationship with those people and can open themselves up to the message of this music,” he says. “It is a way to acknowledge our own ancestors for the work they did.”
It seems ironic that this self-proclaimed “fisherman of souls” urges spirituality and holding onto cultural roots when the beach city demographic is often stoned, drunken white kids. And this is the challenge that drives Emanuel.
“That's the contradiction in the mix, when I play in Babylon, I'm going to see that as a challenge,” Emanuel says. “Go right into the lion's den.
“I want to go in and affect people that have never been affected by this life. To me I see this as a practice and a challenge.”