At first glance, Hampton reggae singer EVER-G doesn't look like a man devoted to upholding the musical traditions of Jamaican legends Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
No dreadlocks dangle down his back. He's not surrounded by a cloud of intoxicating smoke.
Even at second or third glance, the man born Everett Streete still doesn't fit the reggae musician stereotype. He works as a payroll specialist for the Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Instead of embracing the reggae-endorsed religion Rastafarianism, he worships and sings in the choir at Bethany United Methodist Church.
Listen to the music, though, and his identity instantly clicks into focus. Amid deep grooves, a soulful voice and spiritual messages, you find a reggae ambassador of the first order. On Thursday, April 19, he'll give a free show at Peninsula Fine Arts Center as part of the Art After 5 series.
Streete — a Jamaican-born singer, songwriter, and guitarist — wants you to listen to words spilling from his mouth and the melodies radiating from his soul.
If his appearance or lifestyle confuses some people, well, so be it.
"Somebody said to me, 'EVER-G, if you had dreadlocks you would be way ahead of where you are right now.' I don't know if that's true or not," said Streete, a Jamaican accent flavoring his words.
"I have to be true to who I am. This is who I am. I'm not going to pretend to be what I'm not. What you see is what you get. WYSIWYG," he said, laughing.
Instead of presenting an image, Streete delivers a musical message of peace, love and unity.
"I don't like pretentious people and I try not to be pretentious about anything," said the 54-year-old singer, seated at the kitchen table of his modest Hampton home. A picture of Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper hangs on the wall above him.
"I'm real about who I am. I'm real about my music," Streete said. "What I've found is people who listen to my music really enjoy it, and not just for dancing. It has a message that can resonate with most people. There is something there they can identify with."
Over 10 years and five albums, EVER-G has established himself as one of Hampton Road's leading reggae artists, someone who's blazed a trail as a self-sustaining, independent performer.
While he hasn't stepped into the national or international spotlight, he's earned regional respect for his consistent quality and total devotion to his positive message.
Seko Blackstarliner of Newport News, a DJ and founder of VirginiaReggae.com, said EVER-G manages to stand out among the other musicians on the robust local reggae scene.
"He's a very, very good songwriter," Blackstarliner said. "His lyrics are good stuff. He speaks a lot on love, always stresses that. He's done a wonderful job getting his music out there. He's done more than we can expect of him. It really comes down to us giving him the support, him and others like him."
Everett Garey Streete was born March 27, 1958, in Jamaica. The youngest of seven children, he grew up in the island nation's western region. His home was in the Cash Hill district, not too far from Montego Bay. His father was a farmer who grew yams, coconuts and bananas.
He grew up in the Methodist church and started singing there as a youngster, following his mother's example. "My mother sang with one of the most beautiful altos you've ever heard," Streete said.
By high school, he'd been bitten by the reggae bug. He played in a band with fellow students, a habit he continued when he attended college at the Jamaica School of Agriculture. After graduation, he worked as a high school science teacher before getting a job as a technical consultant in the capital city of Kingston.
There, something went wrong that led to his arrival on American shores in 1984.
"I almost got killed because of my job," Streete said after a long, thoughtful pause. He said he had uncovered irregularities, and management of the company seemed poised to mete out retribution.
"I was fearing for my life," he said. "I just decided, 'I've got to go. I'll see what's out there for me.'"
Streete came toWashington, D.C., where he initially stayed with a cousin who was studying dentistry at Howard University.
Of course, the music followed him.
He eventually played reggae with Washington bands including Unconquered People and Positive Vibration. At the time, the reggae scene there revolved around clubs such as Tacoma Station Tavern, The Kilimanjaro and The Roxy.
At one of those clubs, Streete met fellow reggae musician Vincent "Biggs" James of Hampton. James was playing with the band Bottom Lion at the time. They became friends. Streete eventually decided to move to Hampton. He and James started a musical collaboration that led to the 1999 album, "World Peace."
The two musicians worked on a number of projects together before James broke away to play in the eclectic band Seed Is.
James said he's always admired Streete's sense of focus.
"You look at him and he has a serious look on his face a lot of the time," said James. "You can't judge a man by his outer appearance. I don't believe you have to wear red, gold and green to convey a message. He's like a broadcaster. He has a message to deliver and that's what he does. It's a positive message."
Fans and friends say that EVER-G's musical broadcast rings through loud and clear.
Barbara Berdeguez, who has worked with Streete at the housing authority for a decade, counts herself among his most loyal fans.
"His music is very touching, very revealing. It just touches my soul," Berdeguez said. "In this world today, it just makes you believe that things can be better. When your heart is heavy, you can listen to it and it's so inspirational. It brings you back up."
Songs such as "The Answer is Love," "Can't Steal My Joy" and "Shine My Light" express optimism and human warmth.
"I get emotional when I think about his music," Berdeguez said. "That's what it does for me. It puts things in perspective. It really does."
Hearing those kinds of reactions keeps Streete enthusiastic about reggae. Although each of his five releases have sold hundreds of copies, not thousands, he keeps his eyes on the prize.
"Some musicians get a record deal. Other people try and eventually just give up. But giving up wasn't part of my plan," Streete said. "When I made mistakes, I learned from them. I don't know if it was trial and error, but I learned that you have to stay consistent. If you believe in what you're doing and are true to yourself, I believe success will come sooner or later."
The advice he offers to younger musicians is simple.
"You have to be serious about what you're doing and believe you have a quality product that somebody would want to hear, want to invest in," he said. "If you don't believe in what you're selling, then nobody else will. Hard work, dedication, consistency."
Of course, you also have to know exactly what you want to communicate to your audience, he said.
For EVER-G, the central theme is one common to Christianity and Rastafarianism.
"God is love," Streete said. "I don't care who you are or what you believe in, love is something that's universal. It's something we could all use some more of."
Want to go?
Who: Reggae musician EVER-G at Art After 5
When: 5 p.m. Thursday, April 19
Where: Peninsula Fine Arts Center, 101 Museum Drive,Mariners' Museum Park, Newport News.
Admission: Free, donations welcome
Information: http://www.pfac-va.org, 757-596-8175. For more on EVER-G, visit evergmuzik.com
EVER-G's talents as writer, producer, arranger and singer shine through on his five self-released CDs.
"Jah Love" (2010)
"Christmas Mood" (2007)
"World Peace" (1999)
Watch a video of EVER-G performing and talking about his music at dailypress.com/ever-gCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times