Arguably one of the most prolific Argentine reggae stars, Dread Mar I is also one of the most recognisable. Physically, his strong Argentine face is surrounded by a cascade of dreads; vocally, his smooth soulful singing wouldn’t sound out of place on a Motown record. His synthesis of pop and reggae has brought him to the forefront of modern Argentine music, but his life did not start so seamlessly.
Before his moniker of Dread Mar I, Mariano Javier Castro was a young boy from a poor household in Lanús in the Buenos Aires Province – also the birthplace of Diego Maradona.
Not unlike Maradona, the young boy used his skill to work his way up to nationwide fame. But there is where the comparisons end. Instead of inducing fanatical favour in his followers, the singers reggae beats and smooth soulful voice inspire calm and laid-back Caribbean ambience. And instead of spiralling downward into a drug addiction, Mariano has used his alias to preach peace, unity and respect of man in line with his Rastafarian beliefs.
Born in 1978, he moved with his family to Maipu, Buenos Aires, where his father opened his own bakery. Mariano helped out in his father’s business until he caught his first music break singing for Argentine reggae band, Mensajeros.
Referring to his upbringing and how it made him successful, he has said in interviews that hard work and a proactive attitude was key: “No one moves for you, you have to move for yourself. No one will come to your house and say ‘this is for you,’ at least for me this didn’t happen.” Yet, once things did start happening for the young man from Lanús, they really happened.
2005 was when his career took an up turn. Besides being the lead singer of Mensajeros, he also became a stable member of one of Argentina’s most famous bands, Los Cafres. He then left both to pursue a solo career and produced his first album, ‘Jah Guía’ before the end of the year.
In 2006, Dread Mar I’s status on the Argentine reggae scene grew when he played alongside Peter Tosh and the Wailers at the Bob Marley Day Festival in Buenos Aires’ Luna Park, playing to an 8,000 crowd. This same year he released his second album ‘Hermanos’, with a new band behind him named Los Guerreros del Rey.
After that, Dread Mar I turned out albums like they were hot-cross buns at Easter. In 2008 he released his third album ‘Amor-es’ and played more than 60 shows in less than 8 months, touring around Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
But it wasn’t until his 2010 release, and fourth album ‘Viví en Do’ that he really shot into the limelight. The album contains what is arguably his best-known song – ‘Tu Sin Mi’ – an ode to a lost love that has notched up an impressive 30 million YouTube views. It’s the song where the singer croons “Y ahora estas tu sin mí” (easily mistaken for “you’re a star” by many a expat/tourist in the BA clubs).
Due to his soulful, R&B style vocals and romantic lyrics that trademark each song, Dread Mar I has often been labelled lover’s rock reggae. He personally disputes this claim, insisting his lyrics deal with social and spiritual themes, leaning towards roots reggae, the genre-home to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh and the Wailers.
Even the name for his first album points to his Rastafarian beliefs, as ‘Jai Guía’ means Jah (a Hebrew term used by Rastafarians to mean god, or lord) Guide. On this album, his spiritual side is ever-present, particularly in the song ‘Inspiración’, where he sings about the inspiration of embracing nature.
Talking about the musical change and popular response he received with ‘Viví en Do’ in a recent interview with Clarín, Dread Mar I suggests his new success is the fusion genres. “Being independent, we could cross barriers that other bands could not cross,” he said.
Although the album was considered more pop than reggae by some critics, the reggae star fought back pointing out: “I make music for all, not just the ghetto.”
“Reggae is evolving all the time: always something new, something more modern,” he said, defending the evolution of his music into the popular mainstream. He attributes his success to being open to trying something different, and not sticking to one genre: “I make songs that entertain you, that make you think differently, get you out of your routine.”
Dread Mar I is currently touring around Latin America with his latest album, ‘Transparente’, which was released at the start of June. The new album contains 22 new songs, all written by the Argentine singer/songwriter.
Genre: Roots Reggae
Dates active: 2005-present
In their own words: “Reggae is for everyone, it tries to unite, not separate.”
Most Famous Song: Tu Sin Mi
Best lyric: “Live today, live well, live forever, with your body and mind” – Inspiración
Most famous for: His 2010 turn into a (reggae) pop star
Best to listen to: When the sun is shinning and the weather is sweet, yeah.