Ruff Kutt Band developed own brand

After more than 20 years dominating the music industry as arguably dancehall and reggae's most sought-after backing band, Ruff Kutt says it wants its legacy to inspire the new crop of backing bands to represent Jamaican music to the best of their ability.

Speaking to The Gleaner recently, Donovan 'Benji' Belnavis, band leader for Ruff Kutt, said they have stayed afloat consistently because they studied Jamaican genres.

"We have played for many artistes several times, so we have been able to study the artistes and how they perform and how they arrange their sets. Some bands play rhythms, but we don't do that; we play songs. We might play a rhythm differently to suit a particular artiste and play the same rhythm differently for another artiste depending on how their music is arranged. That is something that backing bands need to take a note of if they want to have good working relationship with the artistes, because some of them are very precise with their work," he said, pointing out Leroy Smart's face-off with a band at Rebel Salute.

The Ruff Kutt band has existed since 1989, starting under the wings of Shabba Ranks and later lending their talents to Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, respectively. The band believes live music is of paramount importance to Jamaican music and hopes the new generation of bands will have the steam to continue the legacy of Jamaican music.

"We have been on the road doing high levels of productions and performances. Live music needs to live, and we welcome new bands. However, what we are doing is setting a standard so that the new bands can follow and surpass. At our stage, we just want to keep the industry alive," Benji said.

The band leader also says Ruff Kutt was not originally an independent backing band, but was actually built as the support system for Shabba Ranks, which is similar to the mutual relationship between reggae artiste Chronixx and the Zinc Fence band. He highlighted that the band wanted to expand its reach since Shabba was often caught up with overseas duties, therefore, its members collectively decided that in order to withstand the test of time, they needed to develop Ruff Kutt into a brand.

Ruff Kutt later merged with forces like Bounty Killer, followed by Beenie Man, before fully taking on the road independently. However, in order to make a name for itself, the band hosted several concerts locally and abroad with hopes of cementing its name in the reggae and dancehall markets.

"A band can sustain itself without a lead singer. It depends on the direction that the band needs to go. You have self-contained bands like Inner Circle that has a lead singer and they produce their own music, so that still predominantly benefits the band," he explained.

"However, there is an industry for being a backing band and working with a variety of artistes. What the new bands need to do is study the foundation of the music ... that is the key. You have to know how to perform for various artistes at a particular level. To be able to play to perfection for eight and nine different artistes, it takes preparation and paying attention and, more important, memorising," he said.

Ruff Kutt recently backed Shabba Ranks, Spice, Lady Saw and Rhyme Minister at the recently concluded Best of The Best festival in Miami.

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