Cultureal – Captains of Cape May County Reggae

The ten-piece reggae band Cultureal has been bringing its unique island sound to various Cape May County hotspots this summer season. Joshua Winer, lead vocalist and bassist, carefully assembled this renowned reggae ensemble in the summer of 2006.

Originally from Massachusetts, Joshua Winer attended Berklee College of Music where he concentrated in International Studies of Music and Culture and honed his bass skills. “I wanted to play the most difficult music I could find that I also enjoyed, and that was reggae,” explains Joshua.

Ten years ago, after graduating from Berklee, Joshua moved to Philadelphia where he began a career as a music teacher to young children. It was through this job that he met a talented percussionist that introduced him to Philadelphia jazz legend and horn musician Elliot Levin. Elliot would soon become an extremely valuable member of the band, currently responsible for tenor, saxophone, and flute accompaniment.

“At that time, I was playing in a few international music circles and jazz circles in Philadelphia. I was in the studio working on some world music and percussion stuff with a drummer from the area. He started playing this reggae drum beat and I was amazed, it was just great…” This talented drummer, named Wesley Rast, soon became another important piece of the Cultureal assembly.

“Other than that,” explained Joshua, “I was just playing in Philadelphia as much as I could and built a reputation. Cultureal was about representing the best musicians from the best bands in the Philadelphia area.…They were not all people that had been familiar with reggae music. They came from different music backgrounds – jazz, punk, jam band circles in Philadelphia.” In fact, members of this 10 piece reggae ensemble have avidly studied a vast range of music styles including North Indian Classical, Ghanaian Ewe, Middle Eastern, Balkan, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and Avant-Garde just to name a few.

Today, Cultureal consists of Joshua Winer on bass and lead vocals, Sammy Flicker on vocals, Dena Epstein on vocals, Wesley Rast on drums, Ray Pirre on lead guitar, Adam Hershberger on trumpet, Larry Toft on trombone, and Adam Flicker (brother of vocalist Sammy) on keyboard.

On flute, saxophone, and tenor and described by Joshua as a “living legend on the jazz scene”, Elliot Levin is also responsible for bringing Cultureal’s superior sound and talent to the Cape May County area. “Elliot had a show scheduled at Beach Creek Oyster Bar & Grille that he couldn’t make it to. He was looking for a band to sub, so we filled in. The manager Chris was just enamored by us. We’ve been playing there every Saturday ever since,” explained Joshua.

Sonni Schwartzbach, also of the local band Sonni Shine & the Underwater Sounds, has joined the Cultureal ensemble on ribbon guitar and as a vocalist. Nominated for two 2011 Asbury Park music awards, “Best Groove Band” and “Best Female Vocalist”, Sonni Shine & the Underwater Sounds have recently played their first Cape May County Show at the Rusty Nail Bar & Grill of the Beach Shack in Cape May and plans to make a more regular return next summer season.

Though Cultureal initially started their career playing a rotation of covers, they have since evolved, adding over twenty original songs to the mix. “We started out playing about ten covers, mostly Bob Marley. I never thought it would go as far as it has,” expressed Joshua. “It went from a group of friends just really enjoying the music and playing together, to this all star-reggae band…I thought it would just be a fun project to do, but we’ve had so much success.” Joshua attributes this stellar success to the band’s unusual size and ability. “It’s rare to find a ten-piece reggae band. Even most major acts don’t bring a full ensemble to a show.”

Cultureal’s “full ensemble” of Philadelphia’s “best of the best” enables them to perform in a league of their own. “We can play about thirteen or fourteen hours of music including over fifty covers and more than twenty original songs.” Cultureal makes sure to change up their set for each individual performance. “We always try to do a different show,” stated Joshua.

By Megan Kummer