Santee Street runs through one of the great commercial neighborhoods in the Western Hemisphere: Los Angeles’s Fashion District. The Santee Alley, a pedestrian thoroughfare connected to the back gates of countless clothing shops, bustles with salespeople hawking merchandise from all over the world. Bridal gowns, wigs, American blue jeans, dresses from Africa and Asia, cheap shoes, expensive handbags – it’s all there. It’s a melting pot and a meeting-place, and about as good a demonstration of the multicultural essence of Los Angeles as anybody could ever find.
It’s also the backdrop for the “Speak Life” video by fearless pop-soul innovators HEЯITAGE. The duo, which consists of singer-guitarist Hannah Eggen and saxophonist and vocalist Gianluca Gibbons, didn’t pick Santee Alley by accident: not only do these musicians have deep roots in the world of street fashion, they’re cosmopolitan, too. They’re based in Southern California, but they’re both native Bermudians, and they make music that reflects their background. New wave, hip-hop, reggae and Caribbean music, electropop, blues, Afrobeat and punk – it’s all part of the unique sound they’ve developed. They’re currently completing a debut set with producer Tommy D. Daugherty [Prince, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, many others], and it’s scheduled for an early 2019 release; until then, “Speak Life” stands as an example of the kind of heat this pair can generate.
And although they’ve written plenty of dazzling songs of their own, “Speak Life” showcases their interpretive skills. Fans of contemporary reggae will recognize the song as the powerhouse closer of Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley’s 2017 set Stony Hill. Marley’s original is intimate, driven by hand percussion and acoustic guitar; HEЯITAGE reimagines the song as a sleek, mysterious exercise in contemporary R&B, complete with skittering hi-hat, low, ominous analog synthesizer, and a moody sax solo. Yet the fundamental optimism of “Speak Life” – its message of empowerment against the odds – is present in both versions.
Brandon Lee’s beautifully-shot clip for HEЯITAGE’s “Speak Life” echoes Damian Marley’s memorable video. In the Marley clip, the reggae singer wanders through the colorful streets of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, periodically turning the camera on the residents in a gesture of solidarity and identification. HEЯITAGE does the same in Los Angeles. Eggen and Gibbons are completely at home under the neon lights and gaudy shop signs of the Fashion District – they seem to know everybody they pass by on the street. The action even stops to allow a vendor to make a pitch for the shoes he’s selling. Gibbons stands by his side, a huge, welcoming smile on his face.