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Joe Sambo's New Hampshire-Made Reggae

Joe Sambo's debut album, "The Wrong Impression," reached the top of the reggae charts this spring.

The weather is starting to cool down in New Hampshire, which makes right now a great time to hear some music that calls to mind the beach and sunshine.

Salem-based musician Joe Sambo’s first album, “The Wrong Impression,” features reggae music warm enough to erase the chill of autumn. It reached number one on the reggae charts earlier this spring, and in September he won the New England Music Award in the category of “Best Male Performer of the Year.” Joe Sambo spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello.


Tell us about when you first started to really like reggae. When did it come into your life?

I just have a very musical family. My dad pretty much raised me on funk and reggae and jazz. I listen to everything but reggae—you can’t not nod your head to reggae. Everyone of all walks of life can get into it, you know?

Were there any particular reggae artists that you were into early in your life?

Honestly, Americanized reggae like Sublime, Slightly Stoopid. Bands like that got me into it and that attracted me more into the more original styles of it from Jamaica. Peter Tosh, all that. I really got into that. 

Let’s talk a little bit about the music on the album. One of the songs that got a lot of play in local press was because of the video. And it’s the song, “How We Do.” How did this video come to be? It must have been filmed in December or January.


February! The image is funny and striking and the music is so incongruous. You don’t expect that kind of warm weather music in cold downtown Manchester. Where did this video come from?

I’d done a photo shoot of that same concept in January and I took some pictures with a surf board in the middle of downtown Manchester and I still had all those clothes in my car. And me and my buddies, we have a studio in Manchester called Revelry Studios, and we got snowed in, and I had all this stuff and we had all this camera gear, so we’re like, let’s go out in the blizzard and make cool video. We edited it in the night and posted it the next day and it was pretty well-received, especially from people in New Hampshire. 

How have audiences been in New Hampshire, being receptive to the music you play?

It’s been great. You wouldn’t think but New Hampshire and New England in general has an awesome reggae scene. There are a lot of great bands coming out of Massachusetts, New Hampshire. The east coast, too. Florida. All these bands, they’re networking in a way where New England is putting it on the map. It’s pretty cool. 

Let me ask you about the accent you use in these songs, because you don’t have that accent now, but in some of the songs it’s a very heavily Jamaican accent. 

You think so?

I thought so. Maybe it’s not Jamaican, but it’s common to those native from Jamaica who are singing this king of music. It’s not the accent I hear in Sublime or 311. Could you talk a little about the accent you adopt here? 

If you listen to the whole record, it’s very, very universal. Very, very unique in the sense that there’s a punk rock song, there’s a classic reggae type style, there’s a hip-hop style. I’m a songwriter at heart and I write for what’s best for the song. It may entail some sort of accent or way of making the song how I intended it to be heard. As far as cultural appropriating—appropriating a culture: I want to respect the music itself and that’s what I try to do with every song.

It is a fine line, isn’t it?

It is a fine line.

Because you’re a white guy in New Hampshire playing a music that’s not native to this area, but it’s also being adopted widely by a variety of cultures. 

Absolutely. Music is music. It’s a universal language if you ask me.

Is there something about the style of reggae that lends itself to the kind of emotions you’re putting into your songs?

I’d say so. Overall, my songs have that reggae undertone, but it’s a lot of different influences I’ve had throughout my life. Musically and personally. You can hear it in my lyrics. I think I’ll always have that tropical undertone. They call them “skanks.” I don’t even consider what I do reggae. I do what Joe Sambo does. 

You don’t think it’s reggae?

It definitely has its influences, but if you listen to the whole record, there’s way more influences than just reggae.

You’re 27. “The Wrong Impression” is your first full-length album. It has done really well. Where do you see your music career going from here?

I see a lot of traveling in the future. At least that’s what I’m hoping for. So really, I’m just trying to continue to create content, put out more videos, put out more music. Hopefully by the end of the year, maybe early 2020, I’ll have some new songs and new videos out, and just start hitting the road, check out different parts of the country. 

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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