As Houston reopens and people return to their favorite spots while adjusting to the new norms of social distancing in a world with COVID, one activity is back on the minds of many Houstonians: brunch.
Local roots reggae groovers, Dem are picking up where they left off with their weekly reggae brunch at La Grange in Montrose on Sundays from noon to 3 pm. La Grange has a large outdoor area perfect for accommodating the new guidelines and encouraging social distancing. The brunches are free to attend and open to all ages and La Grange offers a brunch menu and drinks.
Dem began their Sunday brunches two years ago at Cottonwood and after a year of performing weekly and growing their fan base, they relocated the reggae brunch to La Grange, a change that lead singer Louis Morales saw as a perfect fit.
“I’ve realized moving from Cottonwood to La Grange, it's just really about creating an environment and atmosphere to help people feel welcome,” says Morales. The change in venues was a learning experience for the band where Morales explains he learned to take the music in a lighter direction and not always focus directly on social issues.
“There is a tender side of things and I think with those transitions and getting into more of the lovers rock sub genre of reggae music, which speaks more about love, those things allowed me to really connect with the people.”
Morales describes how Sunday after Sunday he and the band would recognize audience members from the previous week who each week brought along more and more friends to where eventually, most of the tables were reserved before the band even got on stage.
“It was just a full party. It was all people, there was no particular color or race. Everybody was loving everyone and everything was so positive.” As COVID-19 caused everything to shut down, he remembers their last brunch there before the stay at home issue was ordered as carrying a particularly heavier weight.
“We were just stepping into the unknown. There's nothing that you could say that would prepare anybody for the experience of this whole COVID, but you could offer love, warmth and assurance that everything is going to be okay,” he says sincerely.
Reggae music has always been about empowering the people and spreading love, two messages which should resonate hard right now where everyone is experiencing a challenge in one way or another.
“I feel like right now is the perfect time to have reggae music identify and speak for what we're fighting for because this is something that Jamaicans were going through in London in the ‘70s. We are actually experiencing the uprising of the oppressed people in saying no more, this is it, we’re no longer going to tolerate this.”
Morales is a first generation American, his father is from Guatemala and his mother is from Mexico. He explains how his father constantly reminded him of his roots, leading to his appreciation for his native tongue and history.
Hearing his father's experience with the war in Guatemala, oppression and immigration definitely helped Morales tap into reggae music and identify with its central message. Dem embodies warmth in their sound and overall positive vibrations and often mixes in Spanish language lyrics.
Last year the band released new songs recorded in Galveston's historic League Mansion, recording accompanying videos for their songs. During quarantine, the band released a long jam session on YouTube highlighting their low key vibes and using the beautiful imagery of the mansion to invite fans into their calming space.
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Morales is looking forward to getting back out there and bringing his message of love to Houstonians while they unwind on Sunday afternoons. For those who are not yet ready to get out and mingle, the band will be live streaming the brunch events on their Facebook and Instagram pages.
“Now it's about love and it’s about sharing and caring. That's my position right now, I feel like I need to go out there and be as warm as I can be, socially distancing of course, but just cope with them through music.”
As everyone navigates the new norms, it can be difficult to maintain a realistic expectation of what's to come. When asked what he expects from these historically loving brunches Morales says, “I think the only thing that I expect to occur is just to have a conversation with a friend that you haven't seen in a while and be conscious about what you need to be doing for precautionary measures. I just hope that people feel comfortable enough to be there, smile at each other, and look at each other's eyes when they talk.”
Dem will perform every Sunday at La Grange's Reggae Brunch, 2517 Ralph, from noon-3 p.m, Free and all ages.