The eclectic New York City band Survival Soundz -- once described as an ultra-Black Talking Heads -- fused a wide range of Afrocentric musical influences into an enticing urban brew that found a devoted following in the '90s urban underground scene. The band initially started out as the brainchild of two Caribbean transplants, bassist Jomo 'Itembe' Jones and drummer Jamaki Knight, who had moved from their native St. Croix to New York in the late '80s to attend The New School as undergraduates. In 1989, they discovered sampling and formed the hip-hop duo Rude Kulcha, recording an album, Freedom Boots, with the help of featured musicians such as Afrika Baby Bam of the Jungle Brothers, Bernie Worrell, and Warren Hayes of the Allman Brothers Band. Songs such as "Revolution Cries," "Soul Skanking," and "RaggaDelic Moisture" earned substantial underground airplay and acclaim and set the groundwork for the self-coined concept, RootzBOP, a term used to describe the underlying oneness of all musical forms -- the sound that manifests itself as an amalgamation of musical genres. Shortly thereafter, with the intention of moving beyond samplers and studio musicians, Jones and Knight set out to expand Rude Kulcha into a true live band.
Guitarist Tesfa Zawdie had met Jones and Knight in 1990 while playing lead guitar with Watusi and rhythm guitar with Mau Mau. He joined them in early 1992, bringing a new band name, Survival Soundz. The following year Joshua Levitt (soprano & tenor saxophone, flutes, keyboards) was added to the lineup, as was alto saxophonist/clarinetist Andrew 'Groovie' Joseph, whom Levitt and Knight had met at the Warren Smith Composers Workshop and quickly asked to join the group. Survival Soundz played the New York City underground circuit throughout the early '90s at spots such as SOB's and Birdland, developing a strong reputation and honing both their RootzBOP concept and their sound. Lead vocalist Carla Gomez, formerly of the Atlanta band FA, rounded out the lineup in 1994 and completed the band's stylistic transformation to Survival Soundz. The group continued playing throughout New York for the next few years, developing original material, sharing bills with artists such as Public Enemy, Roy Ayers, Goodie Mob and Montell Jordan, and also acting as a backing unit for the likes of Dr. Octagon and the Last Poets.
As 1997 rolled around, tired of doing the normal gigs around New York and at the Lyricist Lounge, Survival Soundz began their own forum, Avant Yard, a multimedia extravaganza promoted by the band on one Saturday every month at the TriBeCa gallery ThoughtForms, and featuring artwork, DJ sets, and live performances from Survival Soundz and whatever guest artists showed up, from Mos Def to Black Thought to spoken word poets Jessica Care Moore and Saul Williams. That same year, they contributed to the Mutant Sound System compilation, Mutant Beatz, as well as the first volume of Land of Baboon. The next year they composed the interludes that appeared between songs on Lyricist Lounge, Vol. 1 and also recorded their debut longplayer, RootzBOP Melodies, produced and released by the band itself through its website, www.survivalsoundz.com.