All the rage

Anthony "Ras Cricket" Cusenza gives practical advice about timing, sound and instrumentation to aspiring reggae artists, and also reminds them, "Don't overdo it and keep it cool."

Cricket, as he is called by peers, and his band, The Cultivators, are foremost in the local reggae scene, which he pioneered.

A Michigan native, Cricket moved to Ashland when he was 19 years old and to Seattle when he was 22 years old — about 14 years ago — to team up with a reggae band there. When he retuned to Ashland seven years ago, there was only one reggae band in the area.

"I put a lot of energy into promoting myself outside the area because, for a long time, reggae music wasn't really happening around here," he says.

To make it happen, Cricket started his own label/recording studio, Small Axe Studios, and began working with local musicians, including Marko, Frankie Hernandez, Michelle Bellamy and Craig Wright, as well as several artists out of Jamaica.

"I've been working quietly but have had a hand in a lot of people's successes," he says.

A few years back, he and four others — Hernandez, Andy Casad, Matthew T. Wells and Alcyon Massive — formed a band, Oregon Transplant.

"It was the Southern Oregon supergroup," he says. "We have all since gone our own, little ways.

"When I was in that band, I was playing bass, and it was my opportunity to make everything we played reggae, and I think people really latched on ... flipped a switch, if you will."

Now, Cricket plays keyboards, guitar, bass and vocals with The Cultivators, a project with keyboardist Thomas Mackay, drummer Scott Mangicaro, bassist Nick Davis, keyboardist Ryan Redding and whoever else wants to sit in.

"The Cultivators are set up to be an original band and a reggae, backing band for any band that comes through town," Cricket says.

On its own, the band plays old-school reggae from the rocksteady, or "Jamaican Motown," era. Its sets include reggae versions of songs such as "Sea of Love" and "My Girl," obscure Bob Marley classics, including "Mr. Chatterbox," and Cricket's original songs.

Cricket's lyrics tend to have religious qualities, addressing hope, love for the Earth and love for the community, along with some social commentary. And he's not afraid to write love songs.

"Reggae is a platform to talk about things — anything," he says.

"Someone told me, 'Hey, you guys are The Cultivators. You guys need some more songs about marijuana.' I think we're grown up and past that; that's not what it's about. It's about cultivation of the area. We're playing this music to empower the parents, farmers and teachers. They are the real cultivators. They are the ones sculpting the area."

Cricket and The Cultivators, accompanied by Trinidad reggae artist King Thayo, play at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, at Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar, 35 N. Main St., Ashland. The cover is $5.

Call 541-482-8818.

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