American dance group RAZE opted to record their debut album in Manchester rather than Nashville. Chris Tozer caught up with them in the mud of Greenbelt '97.
It was a meeting of musical minds when rapper Ja'Marc Davis, freshly demobbed from ETW met our very own World Wide Message Tribe at the Fishnet Festival in America last year. The veteran End Time Warrior had recently formed a sanctified dunce group with choreographer Mizze Logan in Tulsa, Oklahoma after they had worked together with CCM singer Carman.
As Ja'Marc explains, they soon found out that they had much in common with the Mancunian Tribe. "Our kind of dance music is still pretty rare in the States, so it was exciting to hear about their schools ministry in Manchester. We could relate to them because we are trying to do the same thing in America. We were amazed to find someone from England playing our kind of high intensity dance music."
Although Raze had already seen some success with their initial Stateside single they were delighted to get an opportunity to write and record with the Tribe's producer Zarc Porter as well as former member Mark Pennell and Justin Thomas, one time rapper with HOG. The first fruits of this transatlantic partnership included a second single "I Need Your Love" which was recorded in November 1996 and released the following spring. Davis enthused over the results: "The Brits gave us a nice round sound and with what I bring to the table, it really meshes into a good product."
Last February Raze performed at the Good News Festival in Holland and Manja visser asked Ja'Marc about their work with Porter. "Zarc is an incredible producer," he said. "Together with him we tried to make our sound a bit different. We brought elements of our culture and mixed it with the European sound, so what you hear in our live show is a combination of the two. The overall style has always been a universal thing."
Raze is a band that likes to think globally as Davis explains: "We try to have something that relates to people around the world. Raze wasn't planned as an inter-racial band. It happened [naturally because we live in a very multicultural area. Therefore we are able to relate to people on different levels and bridge the gap between cultures and races."
If you are fortunate enough to catch Raze on their current European tour you will encounter a stage set that is totally bereft of guitars, bass and drums. You would even look in vain for the ubiquitous keyboard player. Yet, despite a total lack of musical instruments these guys are not likely to record an acappella album in the near future, for their high energy dance music comes courtesy of a bank of backing tracks provided by Perfect Music's producer/engineer extraordinaire Zarc Porter.
But if the enthusiastic reaction of the audience when Raze performed in the Big Top on the last day of Greenbelt '97 is an accurate barometer, then no one is likely to feel cheated by the absence of a live band. In fact, the vibrancy of the backing tracks provide a perfect platform for the dynamic duo vocals of ja'Marc and 'guest' singer Donella Lewis whose mother Doronda recently joined the Tribe. While Davis runs the show and raps and leaps about, Ms Lewis Jr provides some sophistication in the soulful style of heroine CeCe Winans.
Meanwhile, Mizze and the other dancers, Le Tekia Tyson and Nathan Chadwick (also from Tulsa) and new girl Samantha from Nashville let their feet do the talking with ultra tight dance routines that rekindle the spirit of the kids from the Fame TV series that inspired dance classes around the world in the late 70s. But don't expect any jaded nostalgia from this group. As Ja'Marc explains, Raze are very much a message band for the here and now. "l had a vision strong on my heart to use music as a platform to relate to kids in school."
Having worked as a hip hop dance instructor, ja'Marc started calling people he knew, which led to the formation of what is now Raze. "When we came together," he added. "Our main emphasis was to be a real motivation for today's youth - to leave them with a tangible view of how life is - and can be. This is a ministry of joy and encouragement and that is what our music and performance are designed for."
There have been several personnel changes amongst the dancers in recent months so l asked Ja'Marc whether he was wearing them out with a punishing schedule. He laughed, but added cryptically, "Everyone has different circumstances and different needs. As a band we're really growing. But, if anyone is not growing we kinda grow past them. We really feel that the members we have now are going to grow with us spiritually and that's the important thing - our relationship with Christ."
Samantha, the newest recruit amongst the dancers, bore the evidence of the physical demands with her right arm in plaster. "We were practising outside our London hotel and Nate threw me up in the air," she explained. "We both did something wrong - we're not sure| what' but I fell on my arm and sustained a hair line fracture that will take a month to heal." ja'Marc added laconically that they were still watching the video.
Mizze, the group's choreographer, had endured far greater discomfort shortly before leaving the States. Her lung was punctured and her knee was badly torn in a car accident. "But she didn't miss a single show - and that's a miracle," added Ja'Marc.
Earlier this year the band and Zarc Porter completed work on their debut album simply called 'Raze' - which Alliance have released throughout Europe during the summer. It's already getting mucho radio play via UCB Cross Rhythms and seems set to establish Raze as a major CCM act both in Britain and the States.
But to finish where we started, I sought comparisons between Raze and the World Wide Message Tribe amongst the fans queuing for autographs at Greenbelt. Most rated them equal. But one punter described the Americans as more "in-your-face". High praise indeed for the messengers from Tulsa.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.