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Eats and Beats: Keith Okie and the Soul of High Desert Reggae

Rebel Sol Fam

Cottonwood singer-songwriter Keith Okie is set to release his debut album, Runnin’ With Rockers, with his band Rebel Sol tonight. It chronicles the struggles and joys of life over 10 tracks of modern reggae grooves, and also reflects Okie’s deep conviction in the virtues of positivity and love. In the latest installment of KNAU’s series Eats and Beats, Okie discusses his style and the philosophical foundations of his music.

When I first heard reggae music—really heard reggae music and noticed it—I was 11 years old and my uncle showed it to me. Part of it was just admiring him and wanting to look at the things that he was doing and going, “Wow that’s really cool.”

Credit Ryan Heinsius
Keith Okie performs at the KNAU studios, Aug. 1, 2018.

And I didn’t get to get too much exposure to reggae again until I was in high school. My family moved to a beach town in Southern California and all the sudden it was everywhere around me, and I went, “Oh yeah, this is that stuff that Uncle Gavin was showing me.” And at that time it really, really grabbed me—grabbed my heart, it grabbed my soul. Just the love that’s in the music and the spiritual ingredient that’s in the music spoke to me. And that’s when I fell in love with it, and I’ve been in love with it ever since.

Keith Okie live at the KNAU studios in Flagstaff, Aug. 1, 2018. "Today We're Up," "Green Eyed Woman," "Mexico," "The Oneness"
Credit Seth Ryan Photography

So the way we always describe the music is “soul-reggae rockers.” The music is definitely based in reggae music. A lot of the traditions from the genre are things that we use in the music and it’s the basis for what we do, but I really saw a need to introduce more of a melodic take. A lot of the chord changes that I use, the harmonizations, the backing vocals, the melodies themselves, and the song structure are taken from a soul music influence. And the “rockers” happens when the band gets together, because every single one of us was born into a rock ‘n’ roll background, and when the band’s playing together we can’t help but have that rocking influence creep in as well, ‘cause we get excited, you know?

Credit Cover by Jason Teague/Seth Ryan Photography/Brian Burke Photography
The band's debut album "Runnin' With Rockers" will be released Friday night at the Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff.

I wasn’t actually trying to start a band, which is what is kind of so magical about all of this. I was inspired, I was excited, I had a kid coming. Then, one by one these guys just came out of the woodwork and one led to the next, led to the next, led to the next, and three years later I feel like I have just the most wonderful band in the land. I feel like the luckiest man in all of northern Arizona. And beyond that, all of us love each other, all of our families love each other. It’s kind of become a tribes, and it’s a beautiful thing.


For me, a big theme in all of this is that life is hard and it is scary and it is also beautiful, and it’s also fun, and it’s also exciting. It’s all of these things, and it’s not just one or the other and you can’t have one without the other. There’s a sort of holistic outlook that you are going to experience all that humans experience. There’s love in all of it. There’s love in being afraid and there’s love in being scared and there’s love in being angry even. And how you deal with those things and how you choose to move forward with those things in your life is a lot of what makes you who you are.

Keith Okie and Rebel Sol will release their debut album, Runnin' With Rockers, Fri, Aug. 3 at the Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff. 


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