“The name has been around from the year 1977, but the membership has changed. This particular unit has been together for about three years,” says Desi Hyson, leader of Moja Nya. The reggae band has only just recently issued its first album, however. A Moment in Meditation is a collection of 13 traditional Jamaican-style compositions (the CD includes a bonus dancehall remix) penned by Hyson and featuring him on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and overdubbed keyboards and percussion. Born on the West Indian island of Dominica, Hyson later moved to New York City, where he first started Moja Nya (a Swahili phrase meaning “for the purpose of unity”). There, the band went through several incarnations, released a single, and recorded an unreleased album for a label that subsequently went bankrupt. Hyson and lead guitarist Robin Armstrong moved to Washington in 1991, where they soon reformed the group with new members and began performing regularly at the now-defunct Roxy.
Both Moment and Moja Nya’s live show follow loping ’70s-style rhythmic forms. “We basically try to stay with the roots feel as much as possible,” offers Hyson, who also notes that the varied musical backgrounds of his bandmates has led to Moja Nya’s updating its traditionalism slightly with poppier choruses, quicker tempos, and a few dashes of dancehall funk.
Conscious of reggae’s varied international audience and eager to be true to the band’s name, Hyson’s outfit is trying a number of different ways to reach new listeners. The band has released dance and dub mixes of the Rastafarian-themed “Paradise” and is “thinking of taking a Jerry Garcia song and doing a reggae version of it.” Making it clear that he isn’t simply pandering, Hyson adds, “A lot of the people who support the Grateful Dead are people who come to reggae concerts. We have a bond which I recognize.”
Moment is available in local stores and from Eight in One Music, 1605 Dayton Rd., Hyattsville, MD 20783.