Mighty Joshua and The Zion #5 (photo by Kenneth L Howard, KLH Photo)
If you’ve lived in Richmond for a little while, there’s a very good chance that you know Joshua Achalam. The jovial frontman for Mighty Joshua and The Zion #5 is the perfect person to jump-start the Friday Cheers season tonight with The Soul Rebels. Perpetually smiling, Achalam is the embodiment of Richmond.
A Virginia Commonwealth University psychology graduate, Achalam worked his way through college at a Carytown clothing shop. After a life-changing (his words) event, he decided to fully embrace his love for reggae, starting his first band called Jah Revelations and playing African percussions. Soon afterward came Antero, another reggae-inspired group. Then, a singing gig. When an opportunity presented itself to write his own music — just a couple of songs — while a touring musician, Chris “Peanut” Whitley, sat in as a substitute keyboard player, Ashalam took it. The two hit it off and started writing together. Before they realized it, they had an album. Their first gig: the Hampton Coliseum.
“One day no one knew who I was and then all of a sudden everyone in the Virginia Reggae community knew who I was. It was pretty intense,” Achalam says. A Virginia Reggae Ambassador award recipient in 2015, Ashalam likes the high energy and connection reggae provides for him to his audience and translates that into his personal life as community awareness and outreach. He is active globally with multiple nonprofits including the Makindu Children’s Program in Kenya.
As for the band, its first album, self-titled “Mighty Joshua,” was released in the beginning of 2016 and features the single “Full Circle.” The release has been successful and the band is on the road in short bursts with three or four shows at a time and is booked solid for May. The group stays grounded through its busy schedule with meditation and a little bit of fun. The aforementioned keyboard player, Chris Whitley, is an avid storyteller and entertains them while on the road with old reggae memories. Whitley stills tours with Corey Harris.
“We usually pause before playing for a little group meditation,” Achalam says. “There is so much work up to the point that you strike your first note, so it’s nice when we can hold hands and center ourselves for even one to two seconds to remember why we are here. If we miss our moment together, I just hug each individual and tell ‘em that I love ‘em! Because I do. I recognize the sacrifice they all make to get to that point.”
Expect the bongos, didgeridoo, Native American flute, voice, bass guitar, guitar, drums, keys, organ, piano and a whole host of other percussion instruments to warm you up before The Soul Rebels take the stage with their heart-bumping eight-piece sound.
“There is a lot of love in Richmond; however it’s an artist town, so sometimes people are not easily impressed, but if they love you in this city, they love you hard. We have a small, but very strong fan base in Richmond,” Achalam says.
Mighty Joshua and The Zion #5 will kick off this year’s Friday Cheers series tonight (May 6) at 6 p.m. with The Soul Rebels’ New Orleans funk at 8. $5. 788-6466 or venturerichmond.com.