“We don’t like life, we love life,” Inner Circle’s Ian Lewis says of his band’s 50-year run in reggae. “It’s simple, there ain’t no complexity to it.”
Like the blues, Lewis says reggae music should be like a Picasso—painted in different hues of colors and influences. The Jamaican quintet has been around since the mid ‘70s—picking up Grammys, playing alongside reggae legends like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, and opening a prominent recording studio (Circle House Studios) throughout their tenure—yet Lewis and company are still evolving with the world around them.
“It’s an exciting time; the internet has put creativity back in the music because now you don’t need the right friends to get the music exposed,” Lewis elaborates. “It’s the perfect time to rediscover ourselves. . . . When you travel as much as we do and you look around, it’s easy to see the world changing.”
Inner Circle recently released a video for “Light My Fire,” an animated music video directed by Upsetta, to celebrate 50 years. They also will travel next to headline Wilmington’s Port City Reggae Music & Art Festival on Saturday at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Also featuring Edge Michael, Signal Fire, Of Good Nature, and Danglin & Sons Of Paradise, the feel-good festival of social consciousness and roots reggae music will have comedy from Ali Coleman and live painting by artist Cammeron Batanides.
“I don’t think Wilmington has heard reggae music like ours,” Lewis notes. “It’s mixed with a lot of different influences. . . . because reggae music is inclusive, it’s always been that way. . . . If you understand the history of Jamaica (basically we were colonized by the British) and the Jamaican bands were born out of that colonization…”
There was a cross-cultural sharing and shifts between the English and Jamaican sounds and pop culture—from rock and American “boogie-woogie music” to even ska. Reggae continues to change and shift as it makes its way worldwide.
“Now we in the 2000s and you have 25 or 30 white reggae bands flipping again from script, doing reggae their way,” Lewis says, “which is not a negative thing because in Jamaica we never know prejudice of the skin—though we know prejudice of class. But, ultimately, we are one.”
One of Inner Circle’s most famed tracks is 1987’s “Bad Boys” (“One Way”), which was re-released in 1993 and served as the theme-song for the TV show “COPS” and the hit movie franchise by the same name, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Lewis says the song will return to 2020’s “Bad Boys III” soundtrack. Lewis wrote the song about that mystique of growing up and not knowing what real life can throw your way.
“When I wrote [‘Bad Boys’], it was about a teenager living during a rebellious time when you think you’re a man and everything is for you,” he details, citing one well-known line which evolved from “What you gonna do when life [changed to ‘they’] comes for you.”
“‘They’ means you have to answer to somebody,” Lewis continues. “During that time in Jamaica, people were going through a revolution. Rastafarian, to me, is not a religion, it’s a lifestyle; what you eat, what you believe in, it’s founded in nature. . . . Some people turn it into rocket science, man, but it isn’t—it’s how much you care for your fellow person.”
Lewis continues to write new songs about his experiences and perspectives, as well as human nature and respect for others. Finding common ground and love is key where there is fear of the unknown and of others.
“This one song, ‘Beautiful Things,’ is about finding a rose in the garden and a rose is a beautiful thing but if you squeeze it too hard then you get stuck,” Lewis explains. “So beautiful things often have protection built into it. Life is a beautiful thing and we need to protect it, and it’s coming from the inside of us.”
Reggae and the lifestyle associated with it is almost impenetrable by the negativity of the outside world. While Inner Circle continues to carry the good vibes and philosophies of Rastafari and reggae music, Lewis says that doesn’t mean everything is “hunky-dory.” Even Bob Marley’s feel-good lyrics “everything little thing is going to be alright” doesn’t mean everything is OK, but rather everything will work out in the end.
“The theme of that whole movement was love,” Lewis explains. “It was a very good scene and the kids of that era felt that theme, and it’s the same thing with reggae music: that ‘one love’ vibe.”
“The narrative will always be expressed by negative people to try and change certain things,” he continues. “We simple: we just like playing music and being with people. All this racism is just a stupid thing that should never have been there but if you don’t talk about it then you won’t find common ground.”