Brand New Retro: Zebra – Ireland’s First Reggae Band

Posted 9 months ago in Brand New Retro

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Zebra were a six piece multiracial reggae band from Dublin who were part of the vibrant music scene here in the late 1970s. Regularly billed as ‘Ireland’s Only Reggae Group’ or ‘the First Irish Reggae Band’, Zebra gigged the Irish college circuit and at Dublin venues like the Magnet on Pearse Street, McGonagles on South Anne Street and the Dandelion Market on St Stephen’s Green.

Now, 45 years later, Temple Bar Gallery & Studios have published Zebra’s Afterimage, a fold-out fanzine that includes a very interesting and lengthy retrospective of Zebra by its founding member Stephen Rekab who concludes that, “We were just another middle-class student amateur band…we were amateur hippies.” Influenced by Joni Mitchell, Bob Marley, Third World and Lee Scratch Perry, Rekab formed Zebra in 1978, not because of the punk revolution – which inspired so many new bands at that time – but simply as a means to play his protest songs, and play them specifically at the Anti-Nuclear Festival at Carnsore Point, Wexford. The band got to achieve this ambition, playing at the 1979 festival in front of 5,000 people. Zebra also performed at the prestigious Dark Space Festival, a brave and ambitious music & film event which showcased upcoming young Irish bands at the Project Arts Centre in February 1979. John Peel and Terri Hooley caught Zebra’s set and liked them. Hooley agreed to put a 12” single out on his Good Vibrations record label and paid for a session at Lombard Studios where a nervous and stoned Zebra recorded Repression and 931.

Repression 12” single label

When Repression came out in Autumn 1979, it was one of the first Irish 12” records ever released and the only 12” on the Good Vibrations label. Listening back to the song (it’s on YouTube – search for ‘Zebra Repression’) Rekab said “I still hate the sound of the drums and the thinness of the instruments in the mix…it doesn’t have a chorus, the structure is really strange, and it’s more like a chant. In terms of songwriting as a craft, it’s not a great song. But on the other hand, in terms of expressing what was going on in me at the time, it was a successful effort.”

The record sleeve cover wasn’t a success though – Rekab hated it. He wanted something stylish along the lines of “Roxy Music, Matumbi, or Steel Pulse” and briefed his bandmate Bernie to design to this aesthetic. They then sent the finished artwork to Hooley in Belfast, unaware of the shoestring DIY methods carried out at Good Vibrations, where record sleeve covers were run off on a photocopier and folded into sleeves by the groups themselves. Appalled by the “really flash cover” and annoyed at Rekab’s lack of awareness about the punk ethos at play, Hooley proceeded to “sabotage the sleeve”. “He reversed the sleeve cover to red and included the tagline ‘Ireland’s only Reggae Band’ and a really ugly scrolling font. I think he even increased the price to highlight his disgust.” Rekab distanced himself further from the project and never spoke to Hooley again. “In the end, it broke my heart to realise how mutual ignorance and lack of communication had ruined my dream.”

Repression 12” single sleeve – courtesy of Temple Bar Gallery.

The dream may have been ruined but, in their short 540 day life, Zebra did get a 12” single released – and on Good Vibrations too! The sleeve designer may not have been Peter Saville, but it was Terri Hooley! When the record first came out Hooley said he couldn’t give it away – but it is now a collectors’ item. A Japanese collector reportedly paid €700 for a copy about ten years ago, but a recent sale on Discogs fetched €52.50. For just €6, however, you can find out much more about Zebra by picking up a copy of the excellent Zebra’s Afterimage publication at the Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. As well as the words (transcribed from a conversation between Rekab and Michael Hill), the fanzine features a digital collage and drawing by Alice Rekab and photographs by Louise Meade.

Zebra’s Afterimage: Alice Rekab x Stephen Rekab will launch in TBGS on Wednesday September 6 with performances by Ahmed, With Love., Julia Louise, KnifeFist and E The Artist (Daranijoh Sanni).

Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro


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