By Chris Jay 10/11/2012
It’s a question that bands debate long into the night after shows and practices: How can some local bands pull large crowds while others spend years gigging and still struggle to get even a handful of friends out? There are a lot of reasons, of course, talent being a big one, but let’s face it — we can all name at least one amazing local artist whose nonexistent draw is baffling. Sometimes, though, a relatively new band can seem to have instant drawing power. In 2012, without question, Ventura County’s breakout act has been the seven-piece South Oxnard reggae band, Dirty Rice.
The rapid rise of Dirty Rice is as unlikely as can be. Two brothers, Maualuga and Mataio Valoago and their three cousins, Pika Maiava, Nasau Galeai and Henry Otineru, along with two close friends, Shirley Moore and Charleen Morla, got together to play a few songs at a birthday party for two of the members in 2010 at Sam’s Saloon. It was supposed to be a one-night-only gig, but a funny thing happened, friends and family practically begged the band to play again. With offers for parties and gigs, and with no game plan whatsoever, Dirty Rice was happily forced into being. Where most bands hit a wall when it comes to bringing crowds after a few shows, being a seven-member family band had its immediate benefits. At a Dirty Rice show, you’re likely to see an age range from little kids to senior citizens and everyone in between, who all have some relation to the band. Venues took quick notice of the strong turnouts and suddenly the one-night-only band was fielding offers from virtually every venue in town. As the band’s ultra-friendly guitarist Henry Otineru humorously admits, “Things have happened fast. A year ago, I had no idea what a back line was or what sharing cabs or advancing a show meant. It’s been an extraordinary learning experience.”
One thing that helps with Dirty Rice’s meteoric local rise is its chosen genre. Ventura, being a Southern California beach town, has always been reggae-friendly territory. Reggae shows at the Ventura Theater are always massively attended, legends like Pato Banton and H.R. from Bad Brains appear from time to time at small venues like Golden China, and the last local band to develop a major local following was Rey Fresco, whose sound is very much reggae-flavored. Local festival and outdoor events that are always looking for acts that can draw crowds and keep them dancing, drinking and eating, have always been eager to book reggae bands. Dirty Rice has benefited from that as well, scoring coveted slots at the Ventura County Fair, Spencer Makenzie’s Block Party, the Aloha Fest and the California Beer Fest to name a few. The band, which earlier in the year kept performances limited, lately has been very busy but is clearly aware of the dangers of overbooking. “We’ve taken a lot of advice from other bands and we’re trying to be really careful not to burn out our audience,” says Otineru.
In between balancing day jobs, a necessary evil when members range in age from 31 to 41, the band is looking to broaden its base. While the first release, a three-song demo, tied for top honors in the local music recording category in VCReporter’s Best Of poll, the plan is to head into the studio with Armand John Anthony next month to make a proper full-length. They’re also eager to take their energetic and positive live show outside Ventura County borders, with recent performances at the House of Blues in Anaheim and their first trip up north to Fresno State Fair this weekend. Dirty Rice has plans to grow in 2013. Whether they’ll have the same trajectory outside out the 805’s borders remains to be seen, but as Otineru puts it, “We’re thankful for the blessing and the opportunity. No matter what happens, this past year has been like a dream for us.”