Big band Blue King Brown has huge fans |

Big band Blue King Brown has huge fans

Tim Parsons / Lake Tahoe Action
A big band with a big sound requires a big stage: Australia's Blue King Brown will fill the MontBleu Theater on Wednesday, April 1.

What started out as a percussion duo busking on the sidewalks of Byron Bay, Australia, is getting big.

Natalie Pa’apa’a and Carlo Santone took their beats to one of the nation’s cultural hubs, Melbourne, and began adding musicians. And their band, Blue King Brown, which now has nine players, is gaining, and not just in size: Its reputation as a reggae ” or urban roots, if you will ” band is growing after touring with artists such Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and Carlos Santana.

“Blue King Brown is my favorite band right now,” Santana told the band’s management. “They embody everything I love in music from Ozomatli, African bands, Tower of Power.”

Franti is a big fan, too, calling the band’s “high-energy, socially conscious music” inspiring.

Blue King Brown is on tour in the United States again, opening for John Brown’s Body. The bands perform Wednesday, April 1, at MontBleu Casino Resort and Spa.

“They are a very high-energy, very soulful group, from what I’ve heard,” said Tommy Benedetti, the drummer for John Brown’s Body. “And I know they bring it on the live tip, and I feel we do pretty well on the live tip as well, so this should be an uplifting, high-energy show. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Pa’apa’a’s band has an EP and one full-length album, “Stand Up” (2006). She seems humbled to receive the accolades.

“It really helps having such nice quotes from amazing artists so many people know and respect,” she told Lake Tahoe Action by phone from Austin, Texas, during her band’s stop at the South By Southwest Festival. “I think every musician I know has been influenced by Carlos Santana.”

Pa’apa’a credits her busking experience and the pioneering work from John Butler Trio for with paving the way for Blue King Brown’s ascent.

“We learned a lot about being independent musicians and about entertaining people,” she said. “The street is a great place to get performance skills because otherwise people won’t stop and watch, and then you won’t get their money.”

The John Butler Trio was Australia’s first commercially successful folk-roots band.

Butler often invited Pa’apa’a and Santone onstage to jam. Later, Blue King Brown made several tours with the band.

“We’ve always been into the ’70s big-band thing,” Santone said in a press statement. “We’re inspired by people like Femi Kuti and Santana ” known for having sizable bands who aren’t afraid to jam it out and improvise live. We’re always trying to create as big a sound as possible out of our crew.”

Pa’apa’a is realizing her livelong dream. The band has toured Japan four times and has made recordings at Damian and Stephen Marley’s Tough Gong Studios in Kingston, Jamaica.

“I wanted to see the whole world and still am,” said Pa’apa’a, who hopes to visit Europe and Africa. “I always wanted to be a touring musician because I enjoy different cultures, and I really love languages, and I really love different food.”

Reggae artists traditionally carry the torch of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and the Wailers, making positive vibrations and championing social, political and environmental causes. Blue King Brown has eco-friendly CD packaging and extensive Web site linking altruistic causes. Expect a like-minded crowd at the concerts.

“I’m really noticing a shift in consciousness throughout the world,” Pa’apa’a said. “It’s getting bigger and bigger. Music has always been a very effective and positive way to connect with a mass of people and a lot of artists who we admire.”

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