Donavan “Danny Gitz” Cunningham was born in the hills of St. Ann, Jamaica, and raised in the farming community of Prickly Pole, a few miles from Bob Marley’s Nine Mile home, according to his online biography at i-taweh.com/bio.htm. He still keeps his hands in the dirt, but now as I-taweh, he travels the world with his band, The Reggae Lions, spreading a message of equality and peace.
I-taweh and The Reggae Lions will be bringing that message to the KTAOS Solar Center, Friday (Nov. 9) at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door.
As a young boy, I-taweh said he spent much of his time farming with his father and four siblings. They grew cabbage, yams, bananas, gungu peas, callaloo and “a whole bunch of bush teas,” and raised goats and chickens. Growing food and creating music have always been linked for I-tahweh.
“Farming has influenced my music 100 percent because it’s the place where I get to hold my deepest meditation,” I-tahweh said. “I’m hardly thinking about the work at hand, but more the work I have to do. I’m always writing songs in my head with my hands in the dirt and can’t find a piece of paper to write it on! The lyrics have to be really strong so that I won’t forget it! That is why my songs are powerful. They have to live within me.”
As a young boy, I-tahweh was inspired by the music the farmers played at the church, store-front and the Dead Yard, a funerary celebration of drum-led music and feasting occurring between the time a person dies and their burial (usually a nine-day period).
One man who inspired the young musician the most was Mas Leslie Braham. “He played the banjo, but he was really and truly skillful,” I-tahweh recalled.
At an early age I-tahweh began writing his own songs. “I have always had the songs inside me,” he says.
When he moved from his home in the country to Kingston in 1992 he developed a reputation for his guitar playing as “Danny Gitz.” He toured with “High Symbol” in 1994 and became the youngest member of the original Nyabhingi group, “The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari.” He also played with Lincoln Barrington “Sugar” Minott. The reggae singer and producer had a major influence on I-tahweh’s music and career.
“Sugar was really a godfather to me, trust me we were close. He really influenced me and he didn’t even know how much until way down the line,” I-tahweh reflected.
I-tahweh was the guitarist for Everton Blender and later for the Yellow Wall Dub Squad. Over the past few years he has been a band member and opening act for the Abyssinians, Richie Spice, Anthony B, Gregory Isaacs, Yami Bolo, Iqulah, Ini Kamoze, Sister Carol, the Melodians, the Mighty Diamonds, Junior Reid, Tanya Stephens and many other artists.
In the 1990s, I-tahweh recorded for several major artists including Sade, Capleton, Morgan Heritage, Sugar Minott and Luciano, and he helped compose much of Iqulah’s latest released album “Rastafari Forever,” featuring the Marley brothers. He has played at many of the major festivals in Jamaica, Europe and North America.
I-tahweh has been to Taos several times with Sister Carol, the Mighty Diamonds, and other bands, but this will be his first visit as a solo act with his own band. The Reggae Lions is made up of drummer Ken Porter, Jah Lloyd, keyboardist Byron Neal, lead guitarist Brett Harmon, sound engineer Mike Jones and Nambo Robinson on trombone.
Nambo Robinson will open the show with his own dub/ska set.
“Nambo is a legend,” declares I-tahweh. “He started back in the days of Bob Marley and has gone on and on and on and on, really and truly the best in the business. I feel a real sense of honor that he wants to be a part of my music.”
I-tahweh released his album “Overload” in January 2010 under his own production company “Tap Nat Muzik.” The title song is a moving tribute to the slave ships that brought his ancestors from Africa, with music both soothing and uplifting, and lyrics that shape a story from a few powerful images, to find spiritual meaning in the painful crossings of history. I-tahweh’s music has a clarity, resiliency, and joy that brings to mind two of his inspirations: Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Like them, his music emphasizes themes of human rights and social justice.
I-tahweh shared that what is most important for him to convey through his music is “equal rights for all.”
I-tahweh and The Reggae Lions are working on recording a second album, “Hold On,” and they will perform some of these newest songs for his Taos audience. Visit I-tahweh and The Reggae Lions online at www.i-taweh.com.
The KTAOS Solar Center is at 9 State Road 150, north of El Prado. Call KTAO-FM 101.9 at (575) 758-5826 or visit www.ktao.com.