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Feed the beat

Henna Roso’s debut album fights hunger with music

Henna Roso performs at Cain’s Ballroom

Phil Clarkin

Many Americans think of hunger as an issue that mostly impacts families in developing countries—but as of 2018, 1 in 4 Oklahoma children is at risk of not having enough to eat. Fifty-four of Oklahoma’s 77 counties contain areas designated as food deserts, according to a 2017 report by the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. 

Enter Henna Roso, a musical collective trafficking in elaborate, virtuosic, jazz, funk and soul songs that sound improvised and deliberate all at once. Beyond the music, this crowd-pleasing and eclectic funk band has aspirations of starting a movement—to end hunger. In the past three years, the band has helped provide more than 65,000 meals across the nation.  

Oklahoma, like many other parts of the U.S., has been experiencing a crisis of food insecurity for decades. Henna Roso is dedicated to drawing attention and resources to this crisis, and with the release of their first album, aptly titled Feed the Hungry, the band is prepared to take their message to a much wider audience. Their stunner of a debut will drop during a special release show at Cain’s Ballroom on Sept. 6. Proceeds from each ticket sale will provide 40 meals from the Community Food Bank of Eastern 

“I always wanted to be able to combine some kind of community service outreach with music,” said bassist Taylor Graham. He co-founded the band with Justin Dupuis in their house in Norman in 2016, but his spirit for volunteerism goes back further.  

“It started when I did a little stint in Colorado. I started volunteering at the food bank in Fort Collins. Then I learned more about hunger and just how widespread the issue was,” Graham said. “It just kind of made sense at one point to try and do food drives every show and dedicate a portion of every show to food banks. When I came back to Oklahoma, I got in touch with Justin and we started writing songs. That’s how it started.”

The two had vastly different musical backgrounds, but they found these differences only strengthened their collaboration. “Justin is very technical and deliberate,” Graham said. “His compositions are intentional. My songs are more rough, funky and raw, and I think that’s where our sound hits—in the middle of the two styles. He has a jazz degree and understands melody and chord structure in a way that my little mortal mind can’t always follow, but I appreciate that difference more now. I think it’s helped us both grow.”

Feed the Hungry, Henna Roso’s debut album, sounds like a tour of 20th century American music blended in a way that feels both counterintuitive and purposeful. Dupuis’ luminous guitar tone kicks things off on the opening track “Dsus Walks.” His heady guitar phrases are the musical equivalent of a boxer’s rope-a-dope, and soon Bobby Moffett’s warbly West Coast synthesizer leads the rest of the band into a nod inducing-groove that seemed impossible only seconds earlier. 

This album is a study in dynamics and contrast. Nicholas Foster’s drum lines are at times straight and minimalistic, at times vertiginous and dense. Kristin Ruyle adds lively percussion to the chunky groove centered rhythm section underpinning these songs, and Andy McCormick’s alto sax inhabits a wide melodic space with the warmth, power and emotion of a human voice. 

Feed the Hungry also features a pair of compelling guest vocals from R&B singer and solo artist Faye Moffett as well as Anthony Ferrell of the Greyhounds. Both of these numbers point back to the musical heroes who largely inspired the project. Graham describes the late ‘60s and ‘70s as the best period of music ever made. 

“When I think of all of my favorite artists that’s when they were kind of all coming to maturity,” he said. “When you have the Beach Boys and you have the Beatles and Stevie Wonder, just what it takes to be heard and be relevant, I just think the bar was set incredibly high. A lot of the artists rose to the occasion and made their own sounds.” 

Beyond these musical ambitions, Henna Roso wants Oklahomans to understand how much power we have to end food insecurity in our communities. “I want people to recognize how incredibly widespread this problem is … I want people to understand how incredible food banks are. A dollar can go so far. A lot of them are doing four meals per dollar, and sometimes they’re being matched by donors. So just understanding that financial power and how far it can go if you put it in the right hands.” 

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Feed the Hungry Album Release & Food Drive
Cain’s Ballroom, 423 N. Main St. 
Sept. 6, 7 p.m., $10–15
Henna Rosom, Branjae, Dane Arnold & The Soup,Roots of Thought

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