In July of 2006, a passionate reggae fan started a weekly music show to share the genre of roots reggae with listeners in Pagosa Springs. Nearly four years and 501 playlists later, the show is being heard worldwide via the Internet and boasts over 32,000 online friends.
Bear Gabel, or DJ Bear as he is known in music circles, shows up at the KWUF studio in Pagosa Springs every Sunday just before 2 p.m. Armed with a list of requests that have come in from his websites and e-mails, he browses through the large collections of albums and compact discs that he keeps in the room to use for the live broadcast. He pulls out some music to start with and queues them on both a turntable and CD player. At 2, the weather report comes on, followed by the sounds of an original reggae song that was submitted by a listener.
“The opening song is by Jah Mex from Los Angeles,” says DJ Bear, explaining that Jah Mex did a title track for a new album and wrote a version of the song specifically for Roots Radio. DJ Bear has been opening the show with the track since the he came back on the air in March of this year, after restructuring at the station kept the program off the air for several months. The song seems to fit in perfectly with the roots reggae sound that he is trying to promote.
Although DJ Bear gets 20 to 30 requests and submissions per week for songs to play, he admits that they’re not all the quality he wants, or the kind of music he wants to play. “It needs to be roots music,” he said. The next song fills the studio with the sounds of Junior Lou, a reggae artist from Toronto, Canada, who has been performing since he was 5 years old. He found DJ Bear online and sent him the music to play.
“I used to play one hour of new music, then a mix of my picks and requests,” DJ Bear comments. “Now I’m mixing it up and trying to keep the music more fluid for the listeners at home.”
His goal is to give his listeners a wide experience into the genre of roots reggae, with less talk and more music. The music played on Roots Radio covers a wide variety of reggae, but his main focus is specifically roots reggae, which is defined as a subgenre of reggae. Roots reggae themes include poverty, Black pride, social issues, resistance to government and racial oppression, repatriation, and Rastafari, a monotheistic religious movement that developed from a Christian culture in Jamaica in the 1930s. This is more an ideology and way of life than a religion; Rastafarians vary in their beliefs, but are centered on the common theme of encouraging one another to find faith and inspiration within themselves. Uplifting songs about Jah, an offshoot of the Hebrew word for God, are common in roots reggae.
Perhaps the most famous Rastafarian was the late reggae star Bob Marley, and rarely does a Sunday go by at the station without a request for his music. Although DJ Bear honors most requests, he enjoys introducing people to the wide variety of roots reggae that includes many other artists. The mix that listeners will hear, DJ Bear explains, honors the true roots of the reggae movement. “The songs are positive about the earth, community, friendship and understanding,” he says.
“The roots reggae that gained popularity in the 1970s,” says DJ Bear, “was a counterbalance to the rampant gun violence that was happening in Jamaica at the time.” He elaborates that artists such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh used music to promote consciousness of youth and wrote songs of happiness to counter the songs of lament and hardship that reflected the struggle of their nation. “Roots reggae stayed true to form through the drug violence in the eighties,” adds DJ Bear, “and some people consider the music to be hymns.”
Right on cue, the next song that comes over the studio speakers is titled, “Put Down Your Weapon of Destruction,” performed by Capleton and Yami Bolo, a Jamaican recording artist. The song is followed by “Another Positive Message” by Matisyahu, an American Hasidic Jewish reggae musician.
“Roots music can have a slow beat or be dance-hall fast with a roots vibe,” DJ Bear shares, and adds that the music began from the sound of Jamaican rhythm and blues. He plays another custom promo with words about DJ Bear, KWUF and Roots Radio. Artists send their promos to stations with the hopes of getting air time, and DJ Bear has received 50 or 60 from around the globe, including places like Switzerland, Germany, Jamaica, France, New Zealand and the United States.
DJ Bear began his interest in reggae music when he was David Gabel, attending college in the late ’80s in San Diego. He was introduced to reggae first hand when he attended a festival that featured the music of a group called Lion Sound. When a good friend happened to move into a house across the street from the group, it was then that he was first immersed in the genre. DJ Bear says he was introduced to a reggae sound that wasn’t Bob Marley or Peter Tosh or UB40, the artists who were getting lots of airplay at the time.
“I listened to Bob Marley as a kid and loved reggae,” DJ Bear recalls, “but attending the show and meeting the band brought me a personal connection to the music.”
A friend at San Diego State University hosted an early morning radio show from 2 to 6 and would let friends come in to the studio and do the show. As David Gabel, he took advantage of the experience with live radio and discovered his passion for sharing music with people. He says that even at home he would play music for friends and introduce them to new sounds.
“I found a freedom to express myself through music and through radio,” he recalls.
After leaving San Diego, Gabel found his way to Colorado, where he started a family. His passion for reggae music and roots traditions is reflected in his children. His daughter, Marley, is named after the famous Jamaican singer, and the name of his son, Solomon, is derived from “Son of David.” After deciding to follow a path of music and spirituality, he chose the name Bear for himself and the professional name of DJ Bear soon followed. In addition to the local Pagosa Springs listeners who tune in each Sunday afternoon to hear his show, Roots Radio is also heard live online from any computer with Internet access, and it is the online reach that has gained DJ Bear his thousands of followers.
Roots Radio is found on Facebook where “friends” can leave comments or request songs, and his Roots Radio MySpace page currently has 32,841 friends from around the world. Artists use the MySpace page to connect with each other and share information about new songs or upcoming events. DJ Bear’s first efforts at event promotion last year led to the booking of international reggae star Pato Banton, playing a show in Pagosa Springs in April 2009. Continuing in his quest to bring live music to the area, DJ Bear worked with Christine Pitcher and Morgan Murri to once again bring Pato Banton here to Pagosa Springs, this time for a free concert in Town Park. The July 31, 2010, show will be a fund-raiser for the Ride to Wolf Creek Pass event that will take place later in the summer.
DJ Bear credits local musician Brooks-I (Brooks Lindner), and Will and Christie Spears at KWUF for the opportunity to share roots reggae with Pagosa Springs locals and online listeners. Brooks-I was one of the founding creators of Roots Radio in 2006 and, according to DJ Bear, was the motivation behind taking his idea to KWUF and making it reality.
“He provided the driving push I needed to take my musical knowledge and share it,” he says of Brooks-I.
Also a bass player and song writer, DJ Bear plays with other local musicians and wrote a song that included the line, “Too blessed to be stressed.” He felt that the line perfectly reflected his feelings at the studio on Sunday afternoons and he began using the phrase as the closing line on his show. “I could be sitting home on a Sunday playing the music for myself,” DJ Bear says, “So it’s great to be able to share it with others.”
Submissions are welcomed by DJ Bear and he can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Artists can also send their material to the KWUF studios, c/o Roots Radio, PO Box 780, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.