Band attempts to incorporate world into its tribe

By Larissa Gula

One World Tribe

Thunderbird Cafe

4023 Butler… One World Tribe

Thunderbird Cafe

4023 Butler Street

April 9 at 8 p.m.

$8 in advance, $10 at the door


Kennedy Thompson’s band plays all his favorite styles of music — fulfilling a childhood dream of his.

Today, Thompson’s Erie-based collective One World Tribe boasts an eclectic lineup of 12 regular musicians and occasional guests, with a repertoire encompassing hip-hop, reggae, funk and Latin.

“The whole concept was that we would bring many different styles together that were related in some way,” Thompson said. “At the very least, I wanted very diverse [people] with a strong grasp on [the styles], or to find a master in one of those styles.”

Growing up in Detroit, Thompson was influenced by the music he listened to — especially Santana — and his cousin, who played the drums. His interest in performing only increased when he began studying music himself.

“I wanted to be able to play a lot of what I liked in different genres,” Thompson said. “Putting a lot of genres under one roof, so to speak. It took me a year and a half to get the right members.”

Band member Frank Singer, who plays guitar, keyboard and drums, had briefly spoken to Thompson in 1993 when the two met in Pittsburgh. Singer received a call from Thompson two years later. “We’re staring rehearsal,” Thompson said. From there, the band kicked off.

Part of OWT’s mission is to conflate different genres, tastes and  musicians. Singer believes the band’s continued soldarity underscores its major theme: coexistence.

“Our backgrounds are very different,” Singer said. “So we have managed to coexist things that many people in this country argue can’t coexist, like our religious and spiritual backgrounds. But as for topics [in our music] we have things from love to peace and political freedom and diversity and everything else.”

At first, the group performed covers of the bands that inspired them, and it later moved into composing its own music. Thompson said the process is different for every song. Sometimes everyone contributes, and sometimes only one person writes a song. But OWT has never had to sit down and discuss what messages may come through in their music.

“It’s kind of always been understood,” Thompson said. “We want to play music that uplifts man. Music that brings people together, because music is a universal language.”

Member Ron Williams, aka Preach Freedom, stressed that even though there’s “no discrimination” about song topics in the band, they try to make their music family-friendly and uplifting. In other words, instead of just complaining about issues in their songs, they try to push for solutions, he said.

Williams has also taken a strong liking to teaching in classrooms as a guest musician. Raised on Motown and gospel music, Williams is talented with multiple instruments, playing “anything I put my hands on.”

“I’m always in communities working with children, since I know this is a gift that can help people,” he said. Referring to the redemptive power art held for him when he was surrounded by gang violence on the street, Williams said, “I came up in the ’80s and ’90s, so music saved my life. And to show people there’s other things they can do artistically, I talk to them.”

Music is a powerful tool that allows people to “forget,” he said.

“In this diverse country of ours, when it comes to music, people don’t mind a person’s background,” he said. “Music doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from. It has allowed me to fit with people. People listen to you and I recognize that. I try to use music for humanitarian reasons.”

Recently, Thompson has started working as a director and CEO for Billionaire Records. So far, he said, his new job has helped OWT with its own music.

“Working with a lot of different artists helps me in the band because I have resources to pull,” he said. “In the last album there were bands making guest appearances, which was cool. We had a whole new arsenal to the album.”

Going on 16 years of playing with the band, Singer said its chemistry endures.

“Kennedy made connections with people who may never have met,” he said. “The band is about something. We have fun this way.”