Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. This week, we spotlight Icelandic artists in anticipation of KEXP’s broadcast from Iceland Airwaves next week. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Hreppstjórinn” by Ojba Rasta from the 2012 album Ojba Rasta on Records Records.
You might not believe it, but this isn’t the first time we’ve featured Icelandic reggae on the KEXP blog. Like their dub-loving contemporaries, Hjálmar (read about them here), new Icelandic sensations Ojba Rasta draw heavily from Jamaican music traditions. But whereas their longer lived contemporaries explore more astral regions of psychedelia, Ojba Rasta is more like to inspire a rousing sing-a-long or some good old-fashioned skanking. Four family members form the core of the band, but the current roster counts 11 musicians, including members of Retro Stefson, Sin Fang, Moses Hightower, and others. Their name — while it sounds like hybrid Rastafarian — is a play on the Icelandic word “ojbarasta,” meaning “eww gross,” but their music is nothing to be squeamish about. In fact, their recently released self-titled debut still rides high on Icelandic charts and has offered two #1 hits on Rás 2, or Channel 2, of their national radio station. Today’s featured song, “Hreppstjórinn,”in one of the album’s more lively songs, starting off with a swaying rock riff that leads into a peppy dub melody. The lyrics, you’ll notice right off the bat, are Icelandic, yet funny enough, their cadence feels Jamaican, and though you might not have a clue as to the words they’re singing, you know it’s gotta be about something good. Horns, organ, guitar and vocal samples fill the spaces between the funky beats, as bassist Arnljótur Sigurðsson’ vocals carry the tune. So why does reggae music resonate so well in this much chillier environment? Maybe it’s the shared sense of internal closeness or external isolation, maybe it’s the wish for warmer weather, or maybe it’s something deeper about reggae music that appeals to us all. Whatever it is, bands like Ojba Rasta and Hjálmar prove that island music is Ísland music.
You can hear Ojba Rasta perform live on KEXP on Friday, November 2nd, at 6AM PST as we broadcast live from KEX Hostel in Reykjavik during Iceland Airwaves. For now, here they are performing their hit “Baldursbrá” live on Icelandic television… amid a bunch of fake sunflowers: