dUb, Higher Learning

On Sound System as tool against oppression

How have the protest anthems of the classic era of reggae been transformed into support for Jamaica’s tourist industry?
Stephen King tackles such general questions of co-optation in his monograph a revision of his dissertation that at times suffers from an overly academic presentation, particularly when he attempts to fit data to the categories of his particular social movement theory.

The study attempts to “comprehensively trace how Jamaica’s protest music has changed both lyrically and musically over a twenty-one year period, and how the Jamaican government has attempted to silence or co-opt these voices of protest”.
King concludes with a look at how Rastafari claims for social justice in reggae have been co-opted first in the service of the island’s emergent nationalism and then to assist Jamaican tourism.

King locates the roots of reggae in ska (1959-65) and rocksteady (1966-67), the two musical forms that preceded it. It was ska, a music that blended mento , the indigenous Jamaican version of calypso, with American jazz and rhythm and blues, that reflected the optimistic mood of the country during the run-up to Jamaican independence.
As economic conditions worsened for the majority of Jamaica’s blacks during the mid-1960s, the more aggressive lyrics of rocksteady gave voice to the frustrations and alienation of the island’s under- and unemployed ghetto dwellers.
And then there was the advent of reggae in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, the period that is remembered as the high- water mark of Rastafari influence on an emergent Jamaican nationalism. Reggae, of course, began as a Rasta-inspired music that not only articulated the pan- African vision of the movement and its demands for social justice, but that celebrated the cultural practices and symbols of Rastafari.

King does a credible job in mapping the general contours and themes of these musical developments against the backdrop of a changing Jamaican society. In the course of this he shows how the roots of Rastafari musical protest are organically intertwined with the development of both preceding forms. While this is hardly newsworthy to many aficionados of Jamaican music, King provides some interesting examples that illustrate how critical commentary and protest themes, however restrained, existed within ska lyrics from the outset.
The occasional presence of Rastafari drumming, biblical references (e.g., River Jordan, Mount Zion), and allusions to repatriation through the idiom of the “promised land” were all important resonances in
this music that portended the development of popular music as an important communicative medium for the Rasta movement.

King describes rocksteady as a music that is more aggressive, that speaks more directly to the collective frustrations and suffering experienced by the island’s lower classes. Frequently, this music celebrates the “Rude Boy” or new male ghetto rebel as he has been memorialized in popular discourse.
Prince Buster’sToo Hot” and Derrick Morgan’s Tougher Than Tough” are both examples of this figure, an individual who sought social and political justice with a ratchet (knife) or a gun.
King points out that rocksteady lyrics tended to condone more aggressive protest against the oppression of the “sufferah” class, while in specific cases evoking linkages with the general Rastafari critique of the “Babylonian” neocolonial system.

Of critical importance to the dissemination and popularization of this music, King notes, were “sound systems” developed to carry high-fidelity playback equipment to rural and urban dances throughout the island.
This portable technology, he argues, enabled the development of a community of dissent by transporting music to sites where “the voice of the poor could be heard without interference by local authorities”, a development that continued from the era of ska through reggae to the present. It is certainly true that
sound systems served to strengthen an already extant discourse of protest, but King fails to recognize that long before sound systems, the Rasta movement itself was about creating alternative spaces for face-to-face communication in which counter-hegemonic discourse was reproduced and disseminated.

Text from:

Review: UNDERSTANDING A MODERN ANTIQUE: CHALLENGES TO REPRESENTING RASTAFARI IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Author: John P. Homiak
Source: NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids, Vol. 79, No. 1/2 (2005)

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dUb, Higher Learning

On reggae and hip-hop

DJ Kool Herc: ‘When I extended the break, people were ecstatic, because that was the best part of the record to dance to.’

DJ Kool Herc, the chief architect of hip-hop, was born Clive Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica. At the age of twelve, in the winter of 1967, Campbell moved to Bronx, New York. The year he migrated to America, sound-system culture in Jamaica had a ubiquitous presence in Kingston’s lower-class neighbourhoods.
As a twelve-year-old preteen now living in the Bronx, Campbell already possessed a persistent reggae and sound-system consciousness having experienced the innovative music of
Prince Buster, the Skatalites, Don Drummond, and dancehall deejay U-Roy.

At eighteen, Campbell attempted to recreate the Jamaican dancehall experience in the Bronx by spinning the latest Jamaican reggae records at neighbourhood parties, but his young African-American audience was not feeling the reggae beat and did not comprehend the Jamaican patois rhymes of sound-system MCs known as toasters.
As DJ Kool Herc, Campbell shifted to playing funk records, but his reggae background caused him to favour funk with heavy-weight bass lines and lively percussive drumming. Kool Herc’s record selections were transmitted through hi-fi stereo equipment that spoke with the same awesome power and sonic quality of a roots Jamaican sound system.
The selector, as a deejay is called on a reggae sound system, though using one turntable-the norm during the ’60s and ’70s- was still capable of altering the arrangement of a tune spinning off a record on the turntable platter. The selector skillfully inflicted a completely different sound context on a roots reggae recording by manipulating the controls on the sound system’s amplifier to briefly remove the bass on a tune, accentuate the singing of the song’s vocalist, and highlight the harmony of trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. The selector would create tension in a live remix by bringing back the bass booming like a compact implosion.
By the ’70s, the selector had the ability to vary the sonic texture of the recording by creatively deploying reverb and echo chamber to repeat the sweetest elements of a vocal or horn solo and as a special sound effect that dramatized certain aspects of the recording with a live feel.

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Kool Herc’s approach to creating something fresh from pre ­recorded funk on vinyl was different because he used two turnta­bles. But his approach was similar in that he shared the same objec­tive as the selector, which was to do a live remix of the record to heighten the entertainment of his audience. He extended the intox­icating rhythmic feel of percussive conga, bongo, or trap drums sizzling the break of records like Mandrill’s “Fencewalk,” the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache,” and the live version of James Brown’s “Give It Up, Turn It Loose” by playing the same record on two turntables using a sound mixer to seamlessly prolong the per­cussive breakbeats.

Herc pioneered the innovative use of two turntables and a sound mixer as active instruments that became more than passive facilitators, more than just pieces of electronic equipment that merely played what was recorded on vinyl.

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These electronic instruments were now used to rearrange pre­recorded music to suit the immediate needs of the disco and the dance floor. When DJ Kool Herc rocked a block party, dispatching African­ American funk with the overwhelming sonic power of a reggae sound system, no other deejay dared to compete.

Kool Herc’s party flyer



Text from:
Dubwise : reasoning from the reggae underground
Chapter: Raggamuffin Rap: The Interconnections of Reggae and Hip-Hop
Author:
Klive Walker, 2005.

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