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Columnist Garrett Wheeler's close encounter with reggae superstars Midnite at the Santa Cruz Dayz show.

By Garrett Wheeler

Close Encounter With Midnite
Last summer I wrote that Midnite is the greatest contemporary roots reggae band on earth, so you can imagine how I felt Friday night as I was led backstage to meet the St. Croix soul rebels: Yup, pretty excited. Excited not only because I was told all night by various promoters and staff members that "they don't really like to do interviews," or because I've been listening to their first couple albums since I was a pimply high schooler. What excited me most was the music itself. You see, the depth of Midnite's music eclipses most, if not all, material found in today's corporate-driven music world. To put it bluntly, the intellectual weight of a Midnite album is heavier than an ancient Greek philosophy reader, and here I was at Santa Cruz Dayz '08 (which included Gregory Isaacs, Gentleman and Anthony B), moments away from meeting the individuals responsible. So it's safe to say I was a little excited. The set was over, so the band was partaking in a post-show chill-out session, which included some fruit, some water and some organic, um, produce. Spirits seemed high (no pun intended); the set had been a good one, though short, and I humbly introduced myself around the room, shaking hands and offering a few star-struck compliments. I was given a seat next to lead singer Vaughn Benjamin, who engaged me with polite sincerity and even a trace of eagerness. For the next two hours, I sat listening as he discussed a wealth of knowledge more vast than I could have possibly imagined. Topics ranged from the Old Testament to linguistics, covering a historical timeline of thousands of years. Names like Nietzsche, Bob Marley and Barack Obama found their way into Benjamin's discourse. And it made sense.

When it came time for me to play interviewer, I asked Benjamin what inspired him to begin playing reggae music. I know, not the greatest question, but I was curious. He laughed. "I don't know. I was around music from birth. My father played reggae music. Me and my brother, we were born into it." Fair enough. I followed up with an equally ridiculous query: What has changed since the first Midnite album, 1997's Ras Mek Peace? "Everything," answered Benjamin, quoting a line from the album's first song, "Pagan:" "'Living in a system-pagan. Every time you get pay-pay gone.' Things are always happening, there are always new situations. Look at what is fresh today. You will have your first black president, if he doesn't get shot."

Literally or figuratively, he's right-things are changing, and hopefully for the better. "You can't escape change," Benjamin went on, "the sequence of history continues. Midnite seeks to realign the roots of history with music because much of history has been omitted, and this is our perspective." He continued on this beam, recounting biblical events and offering examples to back his theories. As for me, well, I sat transfixed, absorbing the prophetic narrative of a man intensely concerned and equally optimistic. "You need to know the past before you can know the future," Benjamin smiled. "A child can graduate with a Ph.D. and not know these things."

I don't have a Ph.D., but I get the message.

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