CHRISTAFARI IS REBORN
By Mark Ragsdale
In case you haven't noticed, there are two Christian reggae albums out this year. The first to be released is the self-titled album by Temple Yard. The second is the latest offering by Christafari.
Now, I know there are all these rumors and stories around that say that Christafari broke up, Temple Yard is Christafari, Mark Mohr died, and so on. So, first things first, let's get down to the truth of the matter. Recently, I talked with Mark Mohr, Christafari's founder, lead singer and moving force.
"So, to answer all questions, Christafari didn't change it's name, members left and formed Temple Yard. Temple Yard is not 'the lead singer and band of Christafari' as it has been advertised. Christafari didn't change their name, we didn't break up. There was a definite transition, some would call it a split, or a departure of ways. And Christafari still stands strong. New album, new record company, new musicians, same name, same ministry, same vision, with even stronger music," said Mohr. And what follows is "the true, true, true story."
So how did all this happen? What caused "the split" or "transition"? Christafari has always been known to have member changes. Members have left for a variety of reasons. But not like they did back in 1997. Right after they recorded Valley of Decsision, Bassist Lyndon Allen left. "[In the] summer of 1996, without Eric and I knowing, some of the band members snuck out and started another band called Temple Yard with Marky Rage being lead vocalist. The purpose of this was to make some money and they wanted to do some club gigs, at secular clubs around Nashville, and around the area, on off times from Christafari. They ended up covering normal, secular reggae songs. That was truly the birth of Temple Yard. That was the beginning of the division. We found out about that after about a month, and said 'Hey, you are breaching the contract' and they stopped. It wasn't the most comfortable situation, but it was a foreshadowing of what was to a happen in the future. Months went by, and conflicts kept arising, and it was like, most of the band member felt that something was broken, and no matter what they tried to fix, it couldn't get fixed. I would attribute that to a lack of unity, a lack of unity in vision, a lack of spiritual unity. We were meeting with pastors and trying to work it out."
What caused this "lack of unity"? Two things. Money and musical differences. "As you probably know, quite a few of the members got married, or were getting married, one had a child, now we had families we had to provide for. And there was more pressure [on us] to provide financially. Any body who knows anything about the record industry knows that you don't get money if you are signed to a record label for the most part. Especially if you are splitting it among five or seven people." So they started having meetings to try to fix things and make things work again. "And their idea of fixing things was to save money. And their idea of saving money was to get rid of people. First things to go was horns and the extra keyboardist. And then they wanted to get rid of Vanessa [Mohr], and didn't want to have any more dancing, or her as a backing vocalist on stage. And when they brought these ideas up to me, I was very distraught. It was hard for me to deal with, especially when somebody says they want to get rid of your wife."
But this wasn't the only things the guys wanted to cut. "They said that they didn't want to have any more ragamuffin, or any more dancehall/ DJ chanting. They wanted to have just singing." They wanted Mark to go as well. Needless to say, this didn't exactly go over too well.
"When these guys who asked if they could join a band, that was already in existence and already had these things in place, wanted to get rid of those things, that put up some red flags. And when I thought about it, I'm like, Christafari without live horns, without dancehall chanting, which is half our sound, and without dancing on stage and choreography, I said, ÔWell, that sounds like a great idea, that sounds like a great band, but it's not Christafari. It never has been, and I'm not about ready to change in directions mid-stream. And then I stated my vision, which was the vision that at one time, we had all agreed to, as those partners, and even before they came in. I said this is Christafari, and it's not a pride issue, it's not me against them issue, this is what our fans have been buying 90,000 of each album, this is what has reached so many people. The roots reaches one crowd, the dancehall reaches another crowd, and I'm not about to eliminate half our audience, because we want to make more money, because our record company or our management company thinks that we would be more accessible or acceptable. I said, 'This is Christafari, it's staying the same, and if you want to do that, I would encourage you to do so, but it's not Christafari, so if you want to continue to do Christafari, then stay in Christafari. If you want to do those visions, then I would say leave and do them. And may the peace of God be with you.' "
And that was that. With three days left before the next gig, Mohr had the daunting task of assembling a new backing band but it would be totally different than it had been in the past. No more partners. Everytime they had member changes in the past, rumors started flying that they had broke up. Taking clues from such artists as Prince and secular reggae artists, he set out to form The SoulFire Crew. "What I did was look around at all the different bands in reggae, you've got Buju Banton, who is backed by The Shiloh Band, you have Bennieman who is backed by The Shocking Vibes Crew, you have Bounty Killer and all these different people are backed by all these crews they've started and by these different bands. It's very, very common to see that happen. I started the Soul Fire Crew, which is now my backing band and found the best musicians that I could . In that, now if one of them leaves or if it's in the beginning of a touring season I say I want to readjust the band or change it as some of the other artists have done, like Prince, and other people like that, I can do that without people saying Christafari broke up. That is what has happened every time in the past."
But this was only part of the break. With Temple Yard now on their own, Gottee (Christafari's record label), brought them into the studio and had them start recording their own album. Not one phone call was made to Mohr. This spurred Mohr to fulfill another vision that he had - his own record label. "I came up with the vision of [Lion of Zion] when I was in bible college, in 1993. It has stayed the same, basically a World music label. Something that reaches people. The CCM market is very, very one-sided right now. It's very white. When you turn the radio dial, you can tell when you get to a Christian station before you even hear the lyrics, by the production, by the sound and by the songwriting. My goal is to inject some world culture into this."
When all the legal entanglements were taken care of, Christafari and The SoulFire Crew headed into the studio in the fall of 1998 to record WordSound & Power. And with a new record, a tour is naturally to follow. This has been another difficult part of the split. While touring after the split, and even now, people are confused about Christafari. Booking shows has been a problem when people think that they have booked Christafari but have booked Temple Yard instead. "When we go to book a show and they tell us that they can't book Christafari, because they've already booked Christafari. But then we realize that's not Christafari, that's Temple Yard. Or when promoters come up to you and say, "we are so excited that you are coming to town next month", and I say that we're not, 'oh, we've booked Christafari'. And then we find out that it's Temple Yard. It's hard." A publicity 'blitz' has been started to try to correct some of the misconceptions people have and to let everyone know that Christafari is still among us and is going strong.
Music isn't the only thing that occupies Mohr's time. He is an ordained pastor at Sanctuary, based in Mount Juliet, Tennesee. His role there has changed as well. He isn't there most of the time, with his band commitments, so he tours as a youth pastor, speaking at rallys and events. "It's really a choice of going to a place, with a few people in it, that are already being reached, or going to a place, where people really want you, and speaking in front of hundreds or thousands, and really making a difference. And that's what we have chosen to do." More information about Sanctuary can be found at www.gotosanctuary.org.
And, if that wasn't enough, Mohr also has the missions focused Jamacia
For Jesus. " The year after I started Christafari, I went back to Jamaica
for the third time. This time, not on a vacation, but as a missionary.
Went there by myself, stayed there for a month. [I] did backstage witnessing
at reggae Sunsplash, I did street evangelism and witnessing, vacation bible
schools, just all kinds of ministry opportunities. The next year, I brought
back some of my friends and band members. The next year, I brought back
more and more, and so on and so forth. Now, it has gotten to the point
where we are taking between 50 and 75 missionaries, fellow 'Christafarians',
people who believe in our vision and our mission statement. People who
not only want to make a difference and reach people for Christ, but people
who are willing to be changed by another culture, and are willing to let
God change them by giving them a global perspective, a world vision as
to missions and ministry. This summer, we are doing two concerts, with
'Change' in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We are going to be visiting orphanages,
childrens and mens centers, feeding the homeless, giving people clothing,
street witnessing, [just] all kinds of different types of ministry opportunities.
We are really excited about it. It's not a fan club tour, it's not a Christafari
event, it's a Jesus Christ event. Warriors for the Kingdom coming together.
Yes, Christafari is going to be there, and many of the people who are going
to be there, I wouldn't say they are so much fans, as they are friends
of Christafari, but its much more than that, and I'm really excited about
it." For more information about this mission trip, see the News section