New Kingston: Reggae family band
by Halee Hastad
New Kingston is more than a reggae band. They’re a family.
Hailing from Kingston, Jamaica, Courtney Panton, Sr. (bass), moved to Brooklyn and founded the Kingston Crew Band in the 1980s. He had been spending much of his time in the studio recording and producing music as his three sons, Courtney, Jr. (drums/vocals), Tahir (keys/vocals), and Stephen (guitar/vocals), grew up in and around Brooklyn. It wasn’t long before they became involved in his music, and thus New Kingston was born in the early 2000s.
I spoke with Tahir late last month, and he explained how becoming a band as family was never a question.
“Being a family band is how we keep everything together,” he said. “As a family, there is really no way we couldn’t be together. It’s a beautiful thing.”
They all respect each other’s opinions, Tahir said. And with that they also respect individual taste and ideas about new music. When one brother is thinking of a concept for a song, he brings it to the other brothers and they juggle it around and around before presenting it to their father. This process may be what makes their sound so consistent. New Kingston has a style that is unique as a result of the combination of the four of their distinct tastes being blended and coming together to create a reggae sound that is both true to the genre’s roots and also relative to other various R&B, funk, dancehall and jazz influences.
The brothers have been brought up with music their entire lives, Tahir explained. They grew up listening to and covering the music of artists such as Earth, Wind and Fire, Bob Marley, and Burning Spear. And with music, they have matured into the men they are today, Tahir said. Being a father himself, he is acutely aware of the message they are sending out as a band, and aims to be sure their music caters to all ages and demographics. In the end, he said, being a musician always comes first next to family.
“Our father has always stressed being musicians before being businessmen or entertainers,” Tahir said. “And that means being well-rounded musicians too, not focusing just on reggae, but all of our influences.”
It’s not uncommon for people to come to them saying that they love their music, despite not being big reggae fans. This explains the versatility of the band. They are able to channel a sound for all different tastes, and their message is universal. They write lyrics that are both timeless and relatable for all. Their most recent album, A Kingston Story: Come From Afar, September 2017, points to how each individual comes to a certain age when they begin to remember times past and start to develop a grasp on where they came from and the experiences that made them who they are in that moment.
This message relates directly to one of the best parts of making music, which is having an impact on the lives of listeners, Tahir said.
“To have people come to shows and sing along to the music, that feels brand new every time,” he said. “When people say our music has helped them get through a lot, when fans say our music has touched them, that is a major feat in and of itself.”
New Kingston’s connections and impact can be seen not just in New York, but on the West Coast and in Jamaica too. The band spends a great deal of time immersed in the reggae communities of all three areas, Tahir said, and functions as a bridge between them. Too, that it’s an unspoken truth that all reggae musicians are united to a certain extent.
“There’s a lot of love,” he said.
And with more love to go around, New Kingston plans to continue bringing the fire to audiences far and wide. They are currently on tour with A Kingston Story with dates up and down the East and West Coasts and into Europe this summer. They play The Shakedown on Sunday, Feb. 11. For more info about the band, see newkingstonmusic.com.