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Go Jamaican with King Django and Version City

4:41 PM, Jan. 13, 2013
Photo by John McGall
A master of multiple genres of Jamaican music, Jeff Baker, better known as King Django, will head up the Version City Tour's appearance at The Handlebar on Monday. / John McGall/Special to the News Journal


WHAT: The Version City Tour featuring King Django, The Snails and Matt MacLeod.
WHEN: 9 p.m. Monday.
WHERE: The Handlebar, 319 N. Tarragona St.


If you looked at the concert listings for the Version City Tour, and upon seeing the name “King Django,” thought, “wow, someone jumped on the ‘Django Unchained’ bandwagon pretty quickly,” you couldn’t be more wrong.

Jeff Baker has been using the name as a singer, songwriter, bandleader, arranger and multi-instrumentalist as a seminal figure on the ska, reggae and rocksteady music scene since long before Quentin Tarantino pulped his first fiction.

During the boom called the “third wave of ska” in the mid-’90s, King Django was perhaps one of the most respected musicians on the ska scene, known equally for his respect and reverence for the roots of Jamaican music and for his willingness to experiment and take the music in new and challenging directions. Whether exploring the old school with Stubborn All-Stars or expanding horizons with Skinnerbox — his two main projects in the ’90s — his credit on a record guaranteed that it merited attention.

He worked outside those projects, too, in stints performing with legendary hardcore band Murphy’s Law, on the Lollapalooza Tour with legendary punk band Rancid, and with pioneering, enduring ska bands like the Toasters and the Slackers.

Continuing through to today, as the next ska wave seems poised to crest, Baker continues to be a dominant force. His projects have incorporated everything from klezmer to dancehall, and on stage, he’s apt to pick up anything from a trombone to a ukulele to perform. His Version City studio, an outgrowth of his East Village dance and culture parties in the late ’90s, have made him an in-demand producer and engineer, and his Stubborn Records label continues to release new music from a wide variety of artists, including King Django himself. His latest, “Anywhere I Roam,” is just out.

In support of the new album, and in continuation of his unwavering support of underground, D.I.Y. music and Jamaican sounds, he’ll be at The Handlebar on Monday with the Version City Tour. Joining him will be young Philadelphia reggae upstarts The Snails, whose debut EP, “The River,” was recorded at Version City; and Matt MacLeod, venturing out from his usual gig fronting the Bethlehem, Penn., soul-reggae group, the Heavy Beat.

If you have even the slightest interest in ska, reggae, soul and/or roots music, I guarantee you will love this show. Head to The Handlebar on Monday, and you can thank me there.

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