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By SCOT PEARSON

Music fans in Raymond got a double treat this past weekend as Project Lionheart made their way through town and provided two shows in the area.

Scheduled at the Pitchwood Ale House last Friday night they electrified the crowd and got locals dancing to their Alternative Hip-Hop sounds. They followed up the performance the following day with a family friendly all acoustic performance at the Raymond Theatre.

"We love coming down to Raymond," said Project Lionheart founder Caleb Cunningham.

The music of Project Lionheart is not new to the area and those who are fans of the band have seen them play the past couple of years at the Willapa Harbor Days Festival during the Battle of the Bands. And, if you missed their most recent performance, not to worry, they will be coming back this year during the finale of the festival.

"We first learned about Raymond from our bass player Chris Brummell," said Cunningham.

Brummell, a lifelong friend of Pitchwood owner Kaley Hanson, graduated from Raymond in 1997, attended Evergreen State College, and later found himself playing in the Seattle music scene.

"I had played with a few bands in college and then went to Seattle. I ended up playing with another Seattle artist. Kaley said he was going back home to get the Pitchwood going, so I bought his home up North and he went to Raymond."

It was about the same time that Project Lionheart was going through a transition as a band and was looking for a new rhythm section. Brummel, along with keyboardist Art Borders, joined the Project.

"We played the Willapa Harbor Festival a couple of times. We once took a third place in the Battle of the Bands and most recently took a first. Raymond is kind of like coming home for us," said Cunningham.

Project Lionheart is family and friends, and when they get an opportunity to make the journey out of Seattle, they feel more relaxed in Raymond, and have found that the community has a great attitude toward music and offers the group that true small town feel.

"I started the group in 2008 and we cut our first album, Art of Resistance. The idea was to have a core group and then feature other artist on special songs," said Cunningham.

That worked for a while for the group, but an illness in the band took away their lead guitar and part of the drive from the group; so they had to make some decisions.

"We wanted the group to continue, so we took on some new members to help create our sound. We had just finished our second album, Shoe Box Radio in 2011, and a couple of years later working, on our third release, is when Chris and Art joined in with us," noted Cunningham.

The soul of the band is steeped in West African influences, and during warm up, if you listen, you can tell a distinct Bob Marley feel to how they play, but it is not all a Wailers influence for Project Lionheart.

"I grew up with classical rock and roll from my father, and I started listing to groups like Wu Tang Clan and Hieroglyphics Crew," said Cunningham.

Though many different artists have been influential for the group.

"Larry (Larry Alves, guitar), and I use to skateboard together and we would listen to the music that was on skateboard videos. In my house I was not allowed to watch things like MTV; so we heard the music that was on those videos."

Other artists as well have been an influence on Cunningham and the band, including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, James Brown, and of course, Bob Marley and the Wailers.

"In about 1998, I took a trip to West Africa and fell in love with that sound. What we play is more like a fusion of many musical influences with a hip-hop beat."

With early changes in the group they have found that looking outside for opportunity to fuse more music together has slightly changed the sound of the group, and is making them stronger, bolder without losing their message.

"I believe in empowerment through music; music that means something," said Cunningham.

One additional way that they are showing that empowerment was to open a part of the show to local artists. During the acoustic show at the Raymond Theatre, a duo from Raymond High School, (HYPERLINK "https://www.facebook.com/aphansisay") Alan Phansisay and Rayce Newman, played through the intermission (HYPERLINK "https://www.facebook.com/aphansisay") with Phansisay on a ukulele and vocals, Newman vocals. The pair filled the quick intermission with a few songs of their own. There was even a dedication song as Newman sang and Phansisay did a little time on the piano. The audience was very receptive, as well was the band, noting the talent of the young musicians.

The acoustic version of Project Lionheart, a stripped down version of instruments and sets, left Cunningham straddling a djembe drum and Alves moved from his seven string electric guitar to an amplified 5-string acustic.

The group had to perform without their keyboard player, who had another gig at the same time. But the vocals of Fama Ndiaye, mixed with Cunningham's syncopated messages, brought out a true enrichment to the audience.

"I believe that we are at a time in music that we can infuse a little more from other genres and people are more accepting of what we are doing," said Cunningham.

Taking time during the winter to write, the Raymond performance was their first performance since December of last year. But it was hard to tell as they played off each other and mixed well with so many different instruments over the weekend.

"I wrote out some lyrics and then give it over to the band. They work on a rhythm and before long we have a new song ready," commented Cunningham.

Brother to lead female vocals Ndiaye, Gora Diop, percussion, performed both nights playing congas. With many of their songs heavy in percussion, the balance over both nights, with Diop and Cunningham, (moving from a full drum set to the dejembe and snare with a little smash symbol), was smooth and transcending.

"The goal for Project Lionheart is to make music that is not that complicated, make it easy to understand," said Cunningham.

At one time signed to Sound Records, the band is now independent.

"We were with Sound records from 2009-2011, and there was a big push to get our sound out. But now we are an independent group and are doing all the work ourselves."

And in the current age of new artists that means plenty of uploads to the Internet, playing as much as you can with a day job, and taking time for family, like those in Raymond.

"The support from the community has been great. It is fun to come back and see old friends. It seems like more and more people, that I knew, are returning to Raymond. They ask me to come back too, but not today," said Brummel, "I am glad Kaley is making a go of it at the Pitchwood, and very happy to help him make it happen in our small way."

If you are looking for anything Project Lionheart, you can find them at Project Lionheart .com, which will connect you to links for music downloads, or search YouTube or many of the music download sites like Amazon, itunes or BandCamp.

"We know what we are looking for in the future - but then we don't know. It is where the music takes you."

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