There have been different interpretations of Jamaican pop music over the years. Jazz man Grover Washington Jr covered Marley’s Jammin’ while country legend Willie Nelson put a twang on songs by Toots and The Maytals.
The McNeish brothers, Malcolm and Umoja, are not as famous. But, as Sons of Mystro, they used their violins to rework a number of reggae classics.
This can be heard on Reggae Strings Vol 1, a 14-song album recently released by South Florida’s Upstairs Music.
The siblings put their spin on rock steady standards such as Alton Ellis’ Breaking Up, Feel Like Jumping by Marcia Griffiths and Gregory Isaacs’ lovers rock gem, Red Rose For Gregory.
Malcolm, 21, and 18-year old Umoja were born in South Florida to a Jamaican father and Barbadian mother. They learned to play violin through South Florida’s public school system.
While most of their influences are American pop acts, they also have an appreciation for the music of Dennis Brown, Barrington Levy and Half Pint. Sons of Mystro’s biggest inspiration, however, is Black Violin, an American hip-hop duo.
“They play different genres on the violin. It opened our eyes that, ‘hey, we can do this’,” said Malcolm. Umoja agreed. He said they brought their feel to Reggae Strings while “keeping the essence of the original melodies".
Reggae Strings is the fourth in a series of instrumental albums produced by Upstairs Music, an independent label that has been around the South Florida scene for over 20 years.
Operated by producer/music publisher Danny Breakenridge, Upstairs Music has released instrumental albums by saxophonist Tony Greene, keyboardist Mallory Williams and trumpeter Chico Chin in the last two years.
Reggae Strings Vol 1 may be Sons of Mystro’s biggest project to date, but they have had a presence on the South Florida beat since June 2010. They performed at the Jazz In The Gardens show in Miami alongside Babyface, Najee and Earth, Wind and Fire.
They also played NBA champions Miami Heat’s theme song, Back in Black (originally done by AC/DC. during seven of the team’s games that season. Last year, they were part of the Marcia Griffiths and Friends shows in Hollywood (Fort Lauderdale) and Miami.