When the sun rose on Saturday morning at the 2015 Otis Mountain Get Down, the whole mountain woke up and joined Mosaic Foundation to greet it.
With a dedication to traditional roots reggae music, noting musicians like Burning Spear for inspiration and guidance, Mosaic Foundation brings a unique flavor to reggae’s message of love and togetherness. The upbeat sounds and warm energy got everybody moving, and kicked off the day with positive vibrations.
Hailing from places like Ghana, Jamaica, and Hong Kong, the group’s identity is born out of diversity, and their passion has earned them a spot among Upstate New York’s buzzing music scene. In staying true to reggae’s grassroots spirit, they have given a voice to the struggles and joys of life in the modern melting pot. We connected with vocal and percussionist Yao Augustine “Chacha” Foli and guitarist Michael Corey to get a closer look at the band.
How did you guys come together?
I put out an ad on cragslist looking for people who wanted to play reggae. The first person to answer was J.P. (Nawn), the drummer, and we just started adding people from there. We went through a couple lineups before we met Cha Cha and started playing with him, and that’s been the group for three or four years now.
Was it always your goal to start a reggae band?
Well my mom is from Jamaica, and my dad was living there when they met. So I definitely grew up with reggae music. It’s one of my most familiar genres. When I was in high school I was always playing different stuff, from rock to even more punk sometimes, but reggae was always something I was into. I think I just wanted to meet some people who had a similar taste. I really just wanted to get to know people from the start, and then it blossomed into something bigger.
So where are you based out of, anyway?
Well that’s a little complicated. When we first started, pretty much everybody lived in Rochester, and then people started to spread out a little.
At the moment we’ve taken some time off from shows to have more steady rehearsals, but the past couple summer’s it’s been tough to get together because we all live about two hours from each other. But this winter we’ve gotten together a lot more. We’re working on new music and are trying to focus on more regular meetings to get it going.
You have members from Ghana, Hong Kong, Mike, you have Jamaican roots. How did so many people from different nations come together in Rochester?
It wasn’t planned to be a diverse group, but that is what it has ended up being, and that’s why I describe the beauty of music as a healing power, bringing people together. We did not plan to meet, and formed the group from different places.
It was really something organic. We worked with that for our name (Mosaic Foundation) speaking to the fact that we’re different people from different backgrounds. From the start it has been a natural thing. Ken’s from Hong Kong, I have my Jamaican background. Everyone brings their own flavor and thinks of things differently. It’s really cool for the creative process. It’s cool to see how different people like Cha Cha and Ken (Luk), who immigrated to this country for school. You get a sense of how they grew up in completely different cultures. You get to see how they react to things here.
And of course musically, music is so universal that wherever we’re coming from we can still talk to each other through the music. It’s kind of corny to say, but it’s like a melting pot. Each person brings their little thing. But I love just being able to talk with all the guys and get a really different perspective.
Is reggae music something new to Upstate New York?
Our music is not new, because the Finger Lakes region has been promoting and supporting reggae musicians from Jamaica and all over for some time. There are a lot of reggae bands that come from many places, so I wouldn’t say our music is something new to the region, but it is an addition to what has been listened to, coming from a different direction.
We sing about our life experiences, and we think about situations that we go through, and the things that are happening around us. Our lyrics are all composed around this. It’s about social consciousness and the current vibes going around. That’s what we think about and that’s the direction we take.
I always talk about reggae music being about education. It’s about what you see going on around you in society which can be fixed with love, which can be fixed with discussion, not argument, not shooting bombs and guns. It's a matter of coming together to have a discussion. Because, personally, I’m not in a position to speak about this, but through our music we can think about love and togetherness. When we are together we can have a discussion. We can have peace. We can have love.
How do you prepare to have that discussion with the audience at a show?
Well that is very personal. You must do your warm ups when you get off the bus. Like, I always have this problem in the winter time. I don’t like being cold before I get on stage because my voice shakes, so I am always dressed warmly. I do push ups and jump around and shout a bit. Everyone is doing his thing to get ready. We always join our hands together and say a prayer to remind ourselves of everything.
What’s happening in the next few months for Mosaic Foundation?
We’re taking time off from touring until the spring to work on all new music to come back with a new show for people and give them something they haven’t really heard yet. That’s the goal right now, so we’ll be back in the studio soon!
When you are older, telling your grandchildren about playing shows like Otis, what will you tell them?
Oh my. I have been sharing my experiences with all of my friends back home in Ghana. I’m just overwhelmed about the hospitality, that’s number one. How promoters and event managers take care of us, making sure everything is safe and sound and that we feel at home. It blows my mind. I give thanks for everything. And at the parties everyone is open and lovely. They come to you and ask you questions. They want to know you. They want you to know them. I like it! And traveling is part of education; it’s another way of learning about each other’s culture. And that’s how we come together and lift up together.
Mosaic Foundation is Foli Yao Augustine (Cha Cha) on vocals and percussion, Aaron Sprague on bass, J.P. Nawn behind the drums and vocals, Ken Luk on the guitar, melodica, keyboards and vocals, Bryan Davis on percussion, Michael Corey on the guitar, and Zach Dumrese on sound and dub. Look for them on Facebook and stay tuned for a new tour schedule in the spring!