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Watu Utungo (from left): Robert Mason (keys), Eddie Bayard (sax), Lee Savory (trumpet), James Gaiters (drums), DJ Krate Digga

James Gaiters grew up in a musical family, raised by his pastor father and musician mother. So it’s no surprise Gaiters has always been a musician, or that he’s currently working on a music education degree from Ohio State University.

“At this stage in my musical life, I’m interested in investigating several musical influences,” Gaiters says. “I’m interested in the common thread of black music, regardless of genre.”

That investigation and melding of genres including jazz, R&B, soul, hip-hop and gospel is the idea behind Columbus band Watu Utungo, a Swahili term that translates to “rhythmic people.”

The 3-year-old band is working on an album. We caught up with the local musicians following their Broad & High Presents performance to learn more.
—Emily Thompson

Broad & High Presents: “Black Man’s Dawn” by Watu Utungo

Meet the Musicians

James Gaiters

Fave local acts: Honey and Blue, T.Wong, Bobby Floyd
Fave local venue: Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza

Eddie Bayard

Lee Savory

DJ Krate Digga

Robert Mason

Broad & High Presents Web Exclusive: “Wait” by Watu Utungo

Fill in the Blank

If you like ___, you’ll like Watu Utungo.

James: Gumbo.

When I’m not performing, I’m ___.

Krate: I feel like when I’m not performing, I’m preparing for the next performance.

___ is Central Ohio’s best hidden gem.

Krate: You know, it’s a restaurant – Nida’s Thai on High Street.

Do you get the same thing every time?

Krate: I usually get their duck.

The best food in Columbus is ____.

James: The best food that I’ve had is at Black Point restaurant. They have this butter cake. It’s like a meal and dessert and breakfast, all at the same time. You get that, it’s lights out. But you have to get it after your dinner. Black Point slaps.

Pineapple on pizza is ____.

James: Too much.

Krate: It’s one of the greatest creations known to mankind.

Broad & High Presents Web Exclusive: “Soul Cries Out” by Watu Utungo

On the Message of the Music

How does history play into your music?

Krate: You know, history influences and kind of informs the experiences. The experiences then are related, in part, through the music, through the visuals. There’s the visual elements where there’s playing actual musical inspiration, whether it’s the specific genres. All those things kind of are within the lineage.

And then there’s a whole ’nother level of how we kind of interpret those things. So even though we’re all of the same cultural demographic, we’re from different age ranges. Growing up, we had different primary musical influences, so to speak.

So my experience through the scope or the voice of hip-hop is going to be translated a bit differently than that same experience James may have had through a gospel voice or, with Rob, through a jazz voice or through Eddie through a jazz voice.

All those things are different layers that – I don’t want to say “filter” in the context of removing parts – but they kind of all add a flavor, so to speak, through our individual voices, through our life experiences and our musical experiences and how we bring that to the bandstand and then bring them all together as to have a cohesive message when we speak out on the bandstand.

Broad & High Presents Web Exclusive: “Things Have Got To Change” by Watu Utungo

And it’s more than history. You also draw from contemporary visuals and address issues that are rooted in history but are still relevant today. How does that play into what you might want people to take away from seeing you guys play live?

Eddie: For me, it’s a simple, like, spiritual.

Krate: So we speak about these historic beings and these things that were part of history. But like, King was killed in ’68. And then Trayvon in 2012. So like, other than the timestamp, what’s the real difference? So when we talk about history, there’s still that context of like, yeah, some of these things are from years ago and some of these things are from a week ago.

James: We are artistically trying to make sure that we’re aware of what’s going on and, you know, the fact that, the last song we played, “Things Have Got To Change” – will we see it in our lifetime? I don’t know. But we continue to vibrate on that message.