George Pusey was born in Portmore, Jamaica, a city outside the capital, Kingston, in 1982, where he grew up listening to reggae. In 2010, he lives in Bangor, Maine, where he’s studying psychology and occupational therapy at Husson University. He had to move north, to a place that’s arguably the opposite of Jamaica, to really embrace the music of his homeland.
Pusey, who sings in the new reggae four-piece Riddim One, never expected to be making music in Bangor — but he’s glad that it worked out in his favor.
“Never ever did I see myself in a band before,” said Pusey. “I never thought Bangor would have an appetite for my kind of music, and that I’d find people to play with. I mean, Bangor? But it’s worked out so well. I’m still surprised sometimes.”
Riddim One, who will perform Saturday night at Ipanema Bar & Grill in West Market Square in Bangor, is composed of Pusey, bassist Dillon Murray, guitarist Conor Linehan and drummer Collin Corneil. The band has been playing together only since early June, but they’ve already amassed a following thanks to several key shows in downtown Bangor.
After moving to Maine in 2002 to be with family (which now includes his 6-year-old son), Pusey joined the Army in 2004. He was stationed in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, and remained on active duty until 2008. Upon leaving the military, he started school at Husson and began seeing what had happened in the Bangor scene since he left four years earlier. He was pleasantly surprised — there were more people, there was more music and more places to go.
The Dru Blood Quintet, a hip-hop band composed of recent Bangor High School grads, played in and around Bangor throughout 2009. Murray, Linehan and Corneil all played in that group, and when they disbanded in the spring of 2010, Pusey knew they were the guys he wanted to play with. Despite their young age, they showed a huge amount of promise.
“I really liked their sound, and they’re all really good musicians,” said Pusey. “We call Conor ‘Constana,’ because he’s like a mini Santana. Dillon and Collin are a great rhythm section. I approached them at the beginning of the summer to see if they wanted to get together and try things out. It’s pretty much been on ever since.”
Within weeks, the band had put together a long list of songs, and by the end of July had started to play gigs. Their sound is rooted in traditional reggae, but will often bring in other influences.
“We had an idea of the vibe we wanted going into it, but we definitely do a kind of fusion thing,” said Pusey. “We add in little layers of pop and jazz and hip-hop in places. We do a cover of Biggie Smalls that people love. At the heart of it, though, it’s reggae.”
The popularity of the other reggae-influenced group in town — Myke Billings’ ongoing reggae project, which plays each Thursday, also at Ipanema — proved that there was a big, hungry audience for the genre in Bangor. Already other gigs have cropped up, and Pusey hopes to play throughout New England over the course of the next year.
Pusey still misses his home, but with the opportunity to play the music of Jamaica here in Maine, he’s never too far away from it.
“I have a little piece of Jamaica with me every time we play,” he said. “People have been responding really well. They like having something different.”
Riddim One will play at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4, at Ipanema Bar & Grill. They also will play at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at the Bear Brew Pub in Orono. For information, look the band up on Facebook.