Christafari has been recognized as a rare reggae group made up of musicians who are vibrant, born-again Christians, and is respected as a collective of premiere musicians. The cohesive group has retained a flexible affiliation with its dozens of former members, and in 2004 the band received three awards from the Urban Gospel Industry, including Best Artist, Best Production, and Best Album for their 2003 release, Gravity. Christafari has performed on four continents, in countries including Costa Rica, Guatemala, Kenya, Sweden, and Suriname.
At the center of Christafari is founder Mark Edward Mohr, born in the early 1970s. The son of Edward and Margaret Mohr, Mark Mohr is a former substance abuser who used marijuana and alcohol at a young age and eventually graduated to LSD and crack cocaine. He remained adrift in this abusive lifestyle until, after a nine-year addiction and several suicide attempts, he was finally able to break free, experiencing a religious conversion at age 17.
Mohr's conversion was made more difficult because, in the midst of this addiction, he moved with his parents to Jamaica, where the use of marijuana is respected as a religious practice. There, while learning the Patois dialect, Mohr was drawn to the reggae genres known as roots and dancehall. Through extended meditation and commitment, however, he was able to reject the drugs and violence and concentrate on his musical career and the goal of establishing a Christian reggae band.
After returning to the United States Mohr began musical collaborations with a few friends from Orange County, Huntington Beach, and Smith Bay. Among those founding members was lead vocalist Erik (Earth Man) Sundin, the son of Salvation Army missionaries who had settled for a time in Jamaica. With the band underway, Mohr reinforced his good intentions by enrolling as a Christian education major at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Although he did not earn a degree, he became an ordained pastor and in 1997 began a project to establish a church in Montego Bay, Jamaica. In 2004 he completed the development of a postmodern church in Trinidad. Called The Gathering, Mohr's church holds weekly prayer meetings for a congregation of 100 members.
Saxophonist and bassist Johnny Guerrero was an alumnus of Boston's Berklee College of Music. Born in the early 1960s, Guerrero grew up on the hard city streets of Los Angeles. A singer and songwriter, he joined Christafari from 1993 to 1998, serving as a versatile, all-around instrumentalist. Guerrero co-wrote many of the tracks on the 1996 Christafari album Valley of Decision. Other members who were part of Christafari for a time included drummer Ken (Mr. Mention) Yarnes, a graduate of the music school at California State University at Long Beach; Marky (Rage) Sandiford, a composer/arranger and native of Barbados; and guitarist Bill (Painta-man) Kasper.
The Christafari family expanded, adding new members and growing in diversity. Drummer Glen, from Den Bosch in the Netherlands, brought the savvy that belongs to the offspring of musical parents. His father, a guitarist, played drums and sang, and his mother was also a versatile musician. Also joining Christafari were vocalists Letitia Iona Ugwuek and Wendy Marin, keyboard player Boby Cressey, and guitarist Hugh DeFrance. Mohr married Vanessa, a dancer and choreographer with the group, in the 1990s. After the two divorced, Mohr met Avion Blackman in 2001. One of 23 siblings raised in Trinidad, she was the daughter of an accomplished musician. A bass player and vocalist, Blackman was a natural musician who found a comfortable niche in the Christafari family. She and Mohr were married in July of 2003.
Critics have attributed Christafari's appeal to its unique posture as a reggae band that caters to Christian music fans. The group earned its niche in reggae circles during the eleventh annual Sunsplash Tour in 1995. In the company of the headline band Aswad, Christafari caught the attention of a quarter of a million people from 46 cities across the continental United States.
Excited by Christafari's innovative Christian twist on reggae, Gotee signed the band in the early 1990s and released a debut album in 1995, called Soul Fire. With the benefit of the public exposure and positive reviews showered on Christafari during the Sunsplash tour, the album sold impressively. Christafari opened in October for DC Talk at the University of Nebraska and at Vanderburgh Auditorium in Evanston, Illinois, prompting praise from Michael Tait in the Evansville Courier, who said of Christafari's unique brand of reggae, "No one else in our sub-market of Christian music is doing that kind of music."
Christafari's 1996 album, Valley of Decision, made headway into the top 15 tier of the Billboard charts, retaining that position for more than 32 weeks. The album's title track rose to number seven, holding solid for 22 weeks. After earning an additional slot on Billboard 's Top Ten Reggae Albums chart, Valley received a nomination for album of the year at the Tamika Reggae Awards. Early in the year the band taped a special concert for Z Music Television in Rome, Georgia, and was seen in performance at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, that summer. The band rounded out the summer with a stop at the Powerlight Fest '96 in Springfield, Illinois, and made an appearance at the Native American Christian Youth Conference at the University of Albuquerque in New Mexico.
January of 1997 brought a rare opportunity for Christafari to perform at one of the presidential inaugural balls in Washington, D.C. They later made an appearance as one of seven elite bands at California's Reggae-on-the-River Festival in June. They performed at Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston, Texas, for Reggae Rockin' on the Bayou, and were in Spokane, Washington, in September.
With lively syncopated rhythms and a diverse membership, Christafari became a staple of entertainment at Christian festivals nationwide from 1998 into the 2000s. A second Olympic appearance, this time at the winter games in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002, was followed by a warm-up at the Fun in the Sun Festival in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, during spring break.
For the Record …
Members include: Boby Cressey , keyboards; Hugh DeFrance , guitar; Glen (from Den Bosch, Netherlands), drums; Wendy Marin , vocals; Avion Blackman Mohr (married Mark Mohr, July 2003), bass; Mark Edward Mohr (born c. 1972; married Avion Blackman, 2003), lead vocals; Letitia Iona Ugwuek , vocals.
Group founded by Mark Edward Mohr and Erik Sundin, 1989; eleventh annual Sunsplash Tour, 1995; signed with Gotee Records, early 1990s; album debut, 1995; opened for DC Talk, University of Nebraska and Vanderburgh Auditorium, Evansville, Illinois, 1995; Valley of Decision, appeared on Billboard top 15 albums chart for over 32 weeks, 1996-97; concert special for Z Music Television in Rome, Georgia, 1996; performance at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA in 1996, and Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT, in 2002; performed at presidential inaugural ball, 1997; performed at festivals and on tours in the United States and abroad, 1996–; established Lion of Zion Records, late 1990s.
Awards: Urban Gospel Industry Awards, Album of the Year, Best Artist/Group, and Best Producer, all 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Lion of Zion Entertainment, 1508 Grosvenor Ct., Antioch, TN 37013, phone: (615) 360-7664, fax: (615) 360-8084. Website—Christafari Official Website: http://www.christafari.com/.
Among the highlights of 2003 was an appearance in Riverside, California, with rhythm and blues performer Jimmy "I Can See Clearly Now" Cliff, and with the classic reggae band Inner Circle. Deborah Evans Price of Billboard called Mohr "one of Christian music's most talented artists and engaging personalities." International venues in 2004 included an appearance at the at the four-day Parachute Festival at Mystery Creek in New Zealand, and at the Christian Arts Weekend in Belfast, Ireland.
In the late 1990s Mohr established a private record label called Lion of Zion. Two Christafari albums, Reggae Worship: First Fruits and WordSound&Power, appeared on that label in 1999. Both DUBSound&Power and a Spanish and Portuguese iteration called Palabra Sonido y Poder were released in 2000, followed three years later by Gravity.
(Contributor) Reggae Worship, Vol. 1, Frontline Records, 1993.
Soul Fire, Gotee, 1994.
Valley of Decision, Gotee, 1996.
WordSound&Power, Lion of Zion Entertainment, 1999.
DUBSound&Power, Lion of Zion Entertainment, 2000.
Reggae Worship—The First Fruits of Christafari, Lion of Zion Entertainment, 2000.
Palabra Sonido y Poder, Lion of Zion Entertainment, 2000.
Gravity, Lion of Zion Entertainment, 2003.
Gravity Version—Performance Soundtracks, Lion of Zion Entertainment, 2003.
The 14 Days of Gravity: About the Songs Audio Commentary, Lion of Zion Entertainment, 2003.
Billboard, March 30, 1996, p. 15; June 28, 2003, p. 24.
Boston Herald, July 8, 1995, p. 20.
Evansville Courier (Evansville, IN), September 23, 1995, p. 6B; October 10, 1995.
Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI), February 16, 1997, p. F5; April 25, 1999, p. B.5.
News from Indian Country (Hayward, WI), July 15, 2000, p. 22B.
Omaha World, October 8, 1995, p. 1E.
Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), August 22, 2003, p. AA.16.
Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA), September 19, 1997, p. 17.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), June 14, 1997, p. 7.B.
State Journal Register (Springfield, IL), July 25, 1996, p. 9.
Tampa Tribune, July 4, 1998, p. 7.
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