Reggae grows another Jewish branch

One of the most meaningful Jewish gifts would have to be the planting of an elan, Hebrew for tree, in Israel in one’s honor.

And in the case of Los Angeles-born musician Elan, no other name would suit him quite as well.

His reggae and dancehall-inspired music has firmly planted him in the genre, and after a handful of years fronting for Bob Marley’s mighty musical outfit, The Wailers, Elan is reaching out to audiences worldwide with his mid-2006 debut solo release, “Together as One.”

Elan Antias, 31, was born in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district to a Sephardic Moroccan father and an Ashkenazic American mother.

“Because of my parents’ different Jewish backgrounds, I got to eat gefilte and hot fish,” Elan said with a laugh.

The clashing cultures at home inspired Elan’s interest in world music. At 20, he was introduced to the head of A & R at Virgin Records.

“My two friends had told this guy that I was a singer and he just assumed that I was a professional,” Elan recalled. “The truth was, they’d only heard me singing for fun. I didn’t have anything recorded, so at the meeting I told him what I would like to do, which was a mixture of roots and dance hall.”

While under deadline to produce a demo for the music exec, Elan ran into The Wailers’ longtime guitarist Al Anderson. Anderson was so impressed with the way Elan could duplicate the emotional tenor of Bob Marley’s vocals that he asked Elan to tour with The Wailers.

Elan performed his first show with the band in front of 6,000 people without so much as a single rehearsal, and he stayed as their singer for three years touring the world.

In 2003, Elan recorded a reggae-inspired version of Bryan Ferry’s 1985 hit, “Slave to Love,” for the Adam Sandler film, “50 First Dates.” Around that same time, Elan got to know Tony Kanal, the London-born bass player for the O.C. pop group, No Doubt. The two made fast friends and vowed to work together. When No Doubt went on hiatus in 2003, Kanal signed Elan to his Kingsbury record label and the two got to work on “Together as One,” an album that incorporates their common love for reggae, dancehall and alternative ’80s music.

Kanal and Elan enlisted the talents of such artists as Sly and Robbie, Fatis, DJ Cutty Ranks and even Gwen Stefani, the singer for No Doubt. The result is a tantalizing gem filled with beats, words and feelings that properly represent a genre that has suffered from a lack of commercial success ever since Bob Marley’s untimely death.

The second single to be released from the album will be the title track, and Elan is hoping to enlist the support of organizations like Amnesty International to put together a video for the song that depicts positive footage of people helping others in need. And despite his incredible success, which he passionately credits to God, Elan still lives in the Fairfax district where he grew up, perhaps proving that the roots of any tree are always a solidifying force in life.

Elan will perform a free concert in the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at 3726 S. Figueroa St. on Sat. Jan. 13, 2 p.m., after the USC-UCLA basketball game.

The ‘Justice’ of Reggae

There’s something very, well, Jewish about reggae music. So Jewish, in fact, that Rastas in clubs, swaying to Bob Marley, are uncannily reminiscent of rabbis in synagogue, prayer books in hand.

No one knows this better than Elan, the 26-year-old singer/songwriter who will headline Bet Tzedek’s Justice Ball on July 20. As an Orthodox Jew who fronted Marley’s former reggae band, The Wailers, for three years, Elan felt a kinship with his Rastafarian bandmates. "I’d wake up and put tefillin on every morning, and they would always stand back in respect, because they understand that prayer is holy," he recalls. "They’re very similar to Jews."

A native Angeleno of Moroccan Israeli and Native American descent, Elan was offered the Wailers slot by guitarist Al Anderson, who, after working with Elan on his album demo, was moved by the then-20-year-old’s rich and powerful voice. It’s a voice that eerily echoes Marley’s own — and has even been mistaken for Marley’s by the likes of Carlos Santana. "He heard me singing once and thought I was lip-syncing," Elan says with a laugh. "Then he said he hadn’t been so moved since Bob was alive."

Elan took to the road with the Wailers without a single rehearsal, then spent three years touring the world with them. He’s shared the stage with artists like Shaggy and Santana, and performed classic covers, as well as his own material.

His conscious lyrics make him a fitting headliner for the Justice Ball: He composed "Nothing Is Worth Losing You," a paean to Jerusalem, with his rabbi, and insists that "people nowadays are eager for something real, something spiritual in their music." As he sings in "Check Yourself," a track from his soon-to-be-released album, "All Roads," "I’ve got a voice, but what is it worth if it fills the world with empty words?"

For more information on the Justice Ball, call (323) 656-9069. — Baz Dreisinger, Contributing Writer