COURTESY JOSHUA ALO
Musician and U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Joshua Alo is deployed in Iraq. He says he never travels without his acoustic guitar and sings reggae any chance he gets.
Soldier answers calling
Joshua Alo's debut album doesn't sound like the work of a man who was battling a cold, suffering from insomnia and working 13-hour shifts at his day job while he recorded it. In some ways, recording the album -- even under those conditions -- was the easy part. Easier than promoting it, anyway.
Most local recording artists can visit friendly radio stations and play promotional gigs here and on the mainland, but U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Alo is on active duty in the Baghdad International Zone, half a world away from the Aiea neighborhood he considers home.
As time permits he's been promoting "Answer Your Calling" by e-mail on his off-duty time in Bahrain. He also has a Web site (joshuaalo.com).
Alo recorded the album in Italy earlier this year, between deployments to the war zone, and he shared these thoughts about his music, the album and his faith via e-mail before leaving for duty in Iraq last weekend:
Album's enduring messages span Christian, Rasta realms
"Answer Your Calling"
» Sample audio clips
Singer-songwriter Joshua Alo makes an impressive debut and speaks eloquently of his faith with this album of religious reggae. Alo conveys his message primarily in Rastafari terms -- praising Jah, and calling for the unity of "all Jah people" against the forces of "Babylon" -- but mainstream Christians will notice lyrical references to Biblical scripture and embrace the message as well.
The musicians establish their credentials as roots reggae professionals with the opening track. The rhythm section is rock solid, and the others add melodic embellishments where needed.
Alo steps forward early with an ukulele solo that adds a touch of Hawaii to this international album, and the interplay between ukulele and the rhythm section elsewhere underscores his Hawaii ties. The final song, "A Thing Called Love," features his acoustic guitar and demonstrates his strength performing solo and "unplugged."
The title song addresses the importance of having "the courage to answer your calling ... and follow your dreams." It's a thought well worth considering in hectic times like these, and the larger messages Alo is sharing are appropriate for all times and seasons.
John Berger, Star-Bulletin
Your lyrics contain vivid religious images and positive uplifting messages -- and many references to Jah (the Rastafari name for God). Do you consider your music to be Rastafari or Christian, or both?
Answer: I am a follower of Christ. This music is of a spiritual nature and my intention is to bring forth consciousness that embodies the human existence. We have drifted at an accelerated rate towards external living, forgetting the root that feeds us beginning with the Father, Mother Earth and even our own minds. ... We must strengthen our roots because as seasons change, external leaves fall and only roots remain.
Q: I would never have thought of Italy as a place to record serious roots reggae.
A: On my return to Italy from Iraq I worked with the tribal roots band Zion Love. None of the musicians spoke English, and my Italian was -- and still is -- tetanus rusty. We got by on musical communication alone and fluently communicated through it.
Q: So the "language barrier" wasn't a barrier. What was the most difficult thing about doing the album?
A: We were on a tight schedule due to the fact that I was scheduled to return to the Middle East once again. There were times when I fell to my knees during vocals and felt completely exhausted. ... (But through) prayers, I gained the strength to say to myself, "The Lord is my stronghold and now is the time for deliverance," as I sang each track 3-4 takes each. I felt so weak and yet so strong. There was no doubt that I was being carried.
Q: Many people speak of religious work as a "calling." Does the album title tie in to that?
A: The song, "Follow Your Calling," and title for the album came to me in response to the question -- "What is your greatest fear?" ... My worst fear is having to account to the Lord for the blessings I was bestowed and telling him that I sold it for "security."
Inherently this is the struggle and blessing for each of us. All of us are blessed with unique gifts to bless others, and, like muscles, we must constantly exercise and cultivate our blessings in order for them to grow and prosper. And like muscles, if we do not use them, we lose them.
Q: Most of us back here don't associate guitars and reggae with the war in Iraq. What are you doing there with a guitar?
A: I do not physically partake in the war, but I am still there on ground and air, and I frequently travel throughout the entire southwest Asian region for duty. I never travel without my acoustic guitar and sing out conscious acoustic roots (reggae) any chance that I get. There's something more tangible and intimate when I sing to a few inhabitants in desolate places. ... Currently this is my purpose, and I embrace Jah's will and pray for the continuous courage to answer my calling.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I will be out of touch (in Iraq) until mid-November. As always, my effects will consist of my Kevlar helmet, flak vest, rucksack, guitar and Bible.