By Jordan Reisman
Moving to another country without knowing anyone is a daunting thought, especially at 16 years old when social groups are already formed and the rules for getting by are already in place. Bands like U2 and the Pogues may have already captured a modern take on the immigrant experience, but we’re looking for someone new who can take that hardship and turn it into an uplifting anthem of sweet transcendence.
The Big Takeover from New Paltz, NY are just that band. The reggae/early-ska influenced group from the Mid-Hudson Valley are chugging along with the Jamaican-born Nee Nee Rushie at the front. BTR had a chance to speak with her about the little mountain town they formed in, the struggles of moving at a young and how it was all redeemed by reggae.
Rushie was a freshman at SUNY New Paltz where she met “two people who had a really big connection with reggae”, though the “two people” go unnamed, we can only assume they now play with her in the band. Being a Jamaican native, it seems curious that Rushie took the hint from two Beacon natives to start playing the music of her homeland. She claims that, “I grew up surrounded by reggae and I don’t think I appreciated the music as much as they did.” Once her initial interest in the music was piqued, Rushie’s former drummer took the initiative, forcing a fateful encounter with Rushie in her dorm’s laundry room by essentially telling her, “I’m gonna start a reggae band and you’re gonna be my singer.”
Going back even further, the story of Nee Nee coming to New York from Jamaica has everything to do with what the band has become and what they are about. Though she might not have ever played in a reggae band without meeting those mysterious “two guys,” it takes a collision like that to bring out the music that you grew up on, the music that’s in your blood. What brought Nee Nee to New York was an education.
She describes the education system in Jamaica as “so different from up here” because over there they employ sort of a “sink or swim” mentality where “if you don’t get it, they leave you behind.” Rushie sought a higher education than a place where those who think differently are treated as less than. She left everything she knew behind in search of a place where she could “really fly and take off.”
Though she sees New York and the US at large as the land of opportunity, it wasn’t so easy for her to fit in at the age of 16 as a high schooler in New Rochelle. The struggle that Rushie faced is best described in the last track on their 2011 release Tale of My Life, “Take Me Home.” She spoke candidly to us about it too.
“Being sixteen in high school, you’ve established yourself pretty much. You think you know who your friends are, you think you know what you’re going to do with yourself, you have a best friend and you might have a boyfriend or girlfriend and to uproot all of that was very hard for me. It’s really important to have a friend and it was just a really hard transition, with just my age and the whole ‘social thing’ with the pressure of trying to find friends. Being new to not only the culture but also the country, just everything was really hard. I used to stay up at night and not sleep and eat,” she says about making the adjustment to life in New York.
However, the little town of New Paltz changed all of that since, unlike the stereotypes of “upstate New York” would have you believe, it invites people from all backgrounds and certainly when that pertains to music.
“Going to New Paltz was part of the answer for me. New Paltz really helped me get myself together. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have met the amazing people that I met. I wouldn’t have met the guys from the band. The Big Takeover wouldn’t have been created!”
The Big Takeover’s last release was Tale of My Life back in 2011 but they are preparing themselves and the world for their upcoming record called Children of the Rhythm, to be released on January 21st, 2014. Rushie describes the record as a tribute to “people who go out and listen to live music, or they take the initiative to support live music. People who like live music so we call them children of the rhythm.” They hope to enlist enough of these appreciators to create an “army of live music listeners.”
With a Jamaican background behind her, one might be expecting Rushie to mainfest itself in her speech, especially with the favored Jamaican pronunciation of the word “riddim.”
“I guess if you listen to the song, I do say ‘riddim’ but when I wrote down ‘Children of the Rhythm’, I think naturally I just spelled it the right way. I do incorporate it sometimes, like on stage I definitely tend to pronounce things more Jamaican but I also want to be accessible to everyone,” says Rushie on her patois code-switching.
In the same vein, adding a bit of Jamaican flair to the band’s live show would definitely “up the authenticity” but it doesn’t really seem to be something that Rushie consciously employs when she’s in the moment.
“I’m Jamaican, I’ve lived in this country for ten years now. It’s just who I am. When I’m around my family I talk a certain way and when I’m around friends that I met in this country I talk another way. When I’m on stage, it’s like something else happens. I honestly don’t know what happens when I go on stage or when I go into a booth to record, I just do whatever I feel like. I’ve never really thought about it as ‘playing up the Jamaican thing,’ I just do whatever is natural for me honestly,” says Rushie.
Right where her cultural identity and art meet each other is where the audience takes notice — with a group of individuals from different places doing what feels natural to them.
To await enlistment into the Children of the Rhythm, click here.
Check out The Big Takeover’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.