Innastate: Reggae, Fostering Community, and Musical Devotion
By August Edwards
For Innastate founders Rylan Kabotie and Adrian Wall, music was entwined in their lives well before they dreamed of starting the band. Their commitment has opened their community, given them grounding, and allowed them to cement their story in New Mexican and potentially reggae history.
Wall grew up on ‘80s heavy metal while playing in bands with friends. “Music is one of those things in my life that has been very consistent,” he said. Conversely, the son of a preacher of a Baptist church, Kabotie was raised listening to a lot of classical music from the baroque era as well as hymnals. “It took me a long-ass time to really realize that I had a connection to music that was really particular to me, because I didn’t know any music,” he explained.
The two began playing music together somewhat organically, and from there Innastate formed after finding their drummer Lawrence Bailon on Craigslist. They have had a fluid band roster, with lead guitarist Carlo Johnson, who now has become a mainstay, and horn players that are a signature of the Native reggae band.
Wall and Kabotie are the primary songwriters of the project, which is a process of both headbutting and intense learning sessions. Being somewhat older than Kabotie and Bailon, Wall has imparted wisdom onto his younger peers and taught them that bringing out the spirit of a song is priority, which can be accessed through the craft of story in songwriting.
“We’ve always tried to tell stories with our music. That was one of the first things Adrian challenged me on when it came to songwriting. What’s the story? We don’t just write a song to write a song. It’s not so calculated either, but—all the songs we write, we’re telling a part of our story as individuals and a part of our story as a group. And a part of our story has been of the greater community that we’re a part of,” Kabotie said.
Lately, their creativity has been flourishing and they’ve been able to release two singles in 2021—“Seeds” and “Light”—and prepare for an album. Their recent project with AMP Concerts and Falling Colors Foundation to contribute to the Post Cards from Santa Fe series motivated them to endure the grueling conditions of COVID-19.
As Innastate have progressed, two prominent truths about the band have emerged as strong reasons for their positive reputation in our scene. The first is that they hold roots reggae to a high esteem. The second, which they readily vocalize, is that they believe in the power of music to unite people—and it would seem that this belief corresponds perfectly to the nature of their genre. “To me, because we’re playing music that comes from Jamaica, and has this long history of evolution and the people it represents, it’s really important to have some authenticity,” said Wall.
Reggae is a mighty musical channel that has historically united oppressed peoples. The genre is much more than its somewhat trivialized, very Americanized idea and practice. At its roots, its soulful and buttery sound is a package for a call to action and acts as a leading voice for a community. For Wall, and subsequently the rest of the band, that is what creating music is all about: community.
Said Kabotie, “A big part of why Native people appreciate reggae music is reggae is very by the people, for the people.”
“We use it as a form of expression. It’s important for us. We’re definitely a minority—Native American-based band. I think we have a really good story to tell. An important story to tell. That’s where I come from when I talk about the power of music and using that as a voice to talk about what’s happening in Native America. Community is huge, too,” Wall said.
Kabotie explained how Innastate functions at an intersection: “A lot of people, when it comes to Native American music or Indigenous music, [have] a bit of a preconceived paradigm on what that means. A lot of people will be like, ‘Oh, aren’t you supposed to sound something like this? Isn’t it supposed to be more traditional?’ We’re not first and foremost anything, we’re just making the music that we wanna make and we just happen to be Native Americans doing it. A lot of people have this preconceived notion that Native American music supposed to be this way or that way. It’s like, well, we’re Native Americans making this music, so this is a contemporary sound coming from a Native American band. This is how Native American music is sounding in this interpretation of it. I think it’s been an important thing to us to spread a little bit of that in our community as well.”
The question of where comes up when considering community. Where is this community located? What is a place that can contain music and tradition and personal stories? What is the relationship between place and music?
“The truth is it’s really a forward kind of thing. These influences—if you like them, they’re going to be in you and they’re just gonna come out of you easily,” Wall said of his experience of listening to reggae music relating to growing up in Jemez. “It’s very powerful. Especially considering all our ancestors come from this land, and there’s many traditions that are tied to survival and prosperity and all those kinda things. It can get pretty heavy. But at the same time, we’re expressing ourselves. We’re not trying to make important music, we’re just trying to be Innastate,” he continued.
From his own experience, Kabotie surmises that it can work in almost the opposite way, as well; a disconnect from place, or the idea of place, manifests in music that serves to bridge to that place. “For me, I mean like a lotta my music, my lyrics have dealt with feeling displaced as far as coming up and being raised a bit Christian, feeling outside of my community which now I feel a little bit more a part of. Which is nice, ‘cause music has been a way for me to sneak my way back in.”
Innastate’s latest song, “Light,” illustrates the concept of a higher power, or something that inspires you to be a better person. Their songwriting as of late contains more introspection than in the past, and this seems like a direct result of the heavy hand of COVID-19.
Though music does seem to have the omnipotence to unite people, a lot certainly depends on the transmitters of the music. Innastate, through their inner devotion and astute practice, have access to those powers, and will, without a doubt, transform the listener in their own process of creation.
Said Wall, “To me, I think there’s a bigger picture. There’s something down the road and there’s a reason I feel compelled to do this. I feel like I have to follow my heart, no matter what. The rewards are there, and sometimes it’s not as great as you hope. But there’s nothing like being on a big stage and just playing your music."