A Podcast Conversation With ... Jason Wilson
Jason Wilson: Ashara. Scotland meets Jamaica in Canada!
By Bill King
Jason Wilson: Ashara. Scotland meets Jamaica in Canada!
Wilson was centre stage for the big event at the Redwood Theatre upfront of an adoring, engaged audience. The night belonged to the two Bobs. Bob Dylan played Reggae and Bob Marley—folk with gifted sidemate Fergus Hambleton. The prelude to what was to come was a fitting intro and warm-up to the main event.
Wilson is a thinking man’s musician. An author, researcher, and accomplished musician with a passion for finding connective tissue in all of us. Ashara, his latest, is the road to Wilson’s past. An exploratory journey with grand possibilities.
In a radical musical fusion that marries the soulful traditions of Scotland, the rhythmic beats of Jamaica, and the diverse tapestry of global roots, Jason Wilson & Ashara have emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the music world. A brainchild of the visionary Scottish Canadian maestro Jason Wilson and accompanied by the legendary Jamaican-Canadian guitarist Carl Harvey (Toots & The Maytals), this musical collaboration is where Scotland meets Jamaica in the heart of Canada.
Jason Wilson, vocals, acoustic guitar, and piano form the pulsating core of Ashara. Active 1: Celebrated musicians like saxophonist Marcus Ali, vocalist Laurel Tubman, drummer Vince Reel, and bassist Michael Shapinko work alongside Wilson to create the rich, multilayered sound that defines Ashara's distinctive musical identity.
Debuting their innovative sound in the land of its Scottish roots, Ashara's inaugural performance in Scotland in January 2023 captivated audiences at Glasgow's prestigious Celtic Connections festival. The blend of Scottish folk, reggae, and global roots left a lasting impression, setting the stage for what promises to be an exciting journey in the music realm.
As anticipation reaches a crescendo, fans eagerly awaited the eponymous album's release, out on September 29, 2023. Produced under the esteemed Wheel Records and distributed by Proper Music Distribution, this album is poised to showcase the remarkable confluence of musical styles and influences that Ashara has artfully crafted.
With this release, the world is ready to embrace the refreshing and unifying sound of Jason Wilson & Ashara. Get ready to groove to the beats that transcend borders and celebrate the beauty of cultural amalgamation as these musical virtuosos redefine the very essence of collaboration. Ashara is a testament to the universal language of music, transcending boundaries and unifying hearts in a joyful dance of melody and rhythm.
More from Jason himself:
Jason Wilson is an award-winning Scottish-Canadian musician, bestselling historian and television personality. An important figure in the Canadian reggae music scene, Wilson is a two-time Juno Award nominee, a Canadian Reggae Music Award Winner, a four-time Reggae Music Achievements Award nominee and was the first recipient of the Karl Mullings Award for commitment to Canadian Reggae.
In 2021, Wilson’s Ready to Be Loved topped the Canadian reggae charts. It was produced by Carl Harvey, bandleader to Toots and The Maytals. Harvey – who also co-produced Wilson’s Ashara album (2023) – is the eldest brother to Rupert “Ojiji” Harvey of Messenjah and to Richard, Jason’s best friend from his high school days who passed away in 1986. Wilson’s book King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land: The Roots and Routes of Canadian Reggae (UBC Press, 2020) won the Ontario Historical Society’s Joseph Brant Award in 2022.
Born to Scottish immigrants, Jason Wilson grew up in Downsview, a neighbourhood in Toronto’s northwest corridor. Like most of his friends at school, Wilson contributed his own funny accent (Ayrshire) to what was then the most densely populated and multiracial square mile in Canada. The young reggae acolyte played his first nightclub date with Messenjah a month after his fourteenth birthday. At fifteen, Jason joined Ronnie “Bop” Williams’ band Yahwedeh (Williams appeared on several cuts with Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff). Not long after this, Studio One’s legendary keyboardist/producer Jackie Mittoo took Wilson on as his protégé.
Since then, Jason has amassed over 2,500 performances across Canada, the United States, the UK and Jamaica. He has frequently served as the Canadian bandleader to ska pioneer and jazz guitar virtuoso Ernest Ranglin. Likewise, Wilson was the Canadian bandleader for the two-time Grammy nominee Brinsley Forde, founder of UK reggae great Aswad. Forde appears on Wilson’s Juno-nominated The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur album (2009).
Jason was also the on-stage Musical Director for the popular Jamaica to Toronto project that toured the Canadian festival circuit in 2007 and 2008. Wilson has had the good fortune to perform and record with some other Jamaican musical legends including: Sly & Robbie, Willi Williams, Prince Buster, Eric “Monty” Morris, Derrick Morgan, Ken Lazarus, Sonny Bradshaw, Hopeton Lewis, Lynn Taitt, Ernie Smith, Big Youth, Dawn Penn, Dennis Alcapone, Bob Andy, Boris Gardiner, Larry Marshall and The Fab Five.
Wilson has also had the pleasure of performing with UK reggae artists like the English Beat’s Dave Wakeling, Tippa Irie and UB40. Wilson’s cousin is Michael Virtue, who was UB40’s keyboardist for nearly four decades. Virtue appears on Wilson’s Juno-nominated Jonah album (2000). UB40’s Ali Campbell, his father Ian Campbell, and Jason sing together on a rendition of the elder Campbell’s Old Man’s Song.
Wilson has also performed and recorded with artists outside of the reggae world, including Alanis Morissette, Ron Sexsmith, Dick Gaughan, Martin Carthy, Percy Sledge, Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Penner and many others. He was also one half of the Wilson & Swarbrick project with the late English folk icon Dave Swarbrick with whom he produced two albums: Lion Rampant and Kailyard Tales.
"Scottish-Reggae" and "Post-Reggae" are among the descriptions people have used to describe Jason's award-winning original music. While none of these quite cover it, Wilson's art is nevertheless unique; it is a sound where the reggae portion is freely brushed – not strictly detailed – allowing space on the canvas for wildly divergent inspirations such as Bach, Scottish Pibroch, folk-rock and bebop to peek through. Jason's music has caught the attention of many critics. The Beat’s Ted Boothroyd confessed that Wilson’s work is “deeply satisfying reggae for aware, intelligent grown-ups.” Similarly, No Depression’s Douglas Heselgrave believed that “the more I listen to Jason Wilson…the more I am convinced that he's onto something that may just help broaden the spectrum of how people consider reggae music.” In 2018, the Timmins Symphony Orchestra performed Jason's music. In 2023, Wilson served as the Musical Director for the prestigious Dora Awards held at Toronto’s Koerner Hall.
Barely passing Mrs. Lang’s typing class in junior high, Wilson is now a bestselling author with eight books to his name, including the critically acclaimed Soldiers of Song: The Dumbells and other Canadian Concert Parties of the First World War (WLUP, 2012). A high school dropout, Dr. Wilson completed his PhD in 2013 and is an adjunct professor of History at the University of Guelph. By extension of his academic career, Jason has been a recurring historical expert on various television programmes and documentaries that have aired on CBC, Discovery, ESPN, Nat Geo, NBCSN, TSN and UKTV.
Wilson is no stranger to the CBC, where he has guested on many national and local programmes, including Metro Morning, Fresh Air, The Current, Ontario Today, Big City, Small World and Mama Yama.
CBC's The National featured a special mini-documentary titled The Grateful Dread that showcased Wilson's life story. His career was also the subject of a radio documentary produced by Brinsley Forde for BBC Radio 6 Music. The BBC also broadcast a live performance of Wilson’s in March 2018. Jason's work on the Dumbells — Canada's famous concert party of the First World War — was also featured on CBC’s The National in 2013. Jason lives with his wife, Alana, in Stouffville, Ontario, with an assembly of furry creatures.