Guest Blogger, Marco Werman: Notes From a Sound System

Posted on December 8th, 2008 by Marco Werman

I just came back from ten days in Kingston, Jamaica where I was collecting program material on the Alpha Boys School, an orphanage that was founded in the 19th century by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy (to be aired on Frontline/WORLD later this Spring). Hard to believe for me, but it was my first time on the island. I got an amazing overview of where Jamaican music is at in 2008.

But I write to share a sublime musical experience I had in the Kingston working-class neighborhood of Rae Town. As you may know, Sound System-style street parties (with massive banks of loudspeakers that are more comfortingly bassy than ear-splittingly treble) happen pretty much every night of the week around Kingston, starting with Uptown Mondays at a shopping plaza in New Kingston with current dancehall hits, and going right through the week.

The neighborhood of Rae Town has, for the past 20 plus years there, thrown a Sunday night dance and party. The local paper the Gleaner describes it as an oldies night, and the people reflect that, sort of. There are 70 year-olds, all the way down to much younger people. Classes mix: doctors and lawyers from uptown mingle with an array of characters out of Fellini. The crowd shows up around midnight. The people slowly line up along both sides of the main street running through Rae Town, almost like a dance showdown, and everyone begins a slow groove to the music. Grillers with jerk chicken, fish and pork are common, as are sellers of ganja who wander around with small bouquets of the herb still on the stem. As the crowd builds, so does the music.

It’s the music that really drew me in that night: mostly old school reggae and dub and anything ska: “Fiddler on the Roof” ska by the Soul Brothers, “Norwegian Wood” ska by Jackie Mittoo, you name it. There was also a seductive selection of oldies like Dionne Warwick’s “Wishin and Hopin,” Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” (a kind of plea to the hood that crime and poverty can be licked), Dionne Warwick’s et al “That’s What Friends Are For” (a neighborhood anthem, in which the DJ dropped the sound right before the chorus, leaving the entire block singing out loud), Maxine Brown’s “Oh No Not My Baby.” And the walls of speakers sent all this great music vibrating through my bones and making me feel inspired and happy, and isn’t that what music’s supposed to do? It was the best party I’ve ever been to. I find dancehall monotonous with a capital M. And maybe Rae Town put me in a time warp, a flashback to the great old days of this music that is disconnected in many ways to the fast and furious business of dancehall. But what a great scene and sound that was last Sunday in Rae Town. It’s wonderful to be reminded that the Loudest Island in the World isn’t just about the size of the sound system. It’s also about some of the coolest music ever made and the whole world of sound that boomeranged into it.

-Marco Werman, Music Editor, PRI’s The World

Editor’s note:  I’m a big fan of all things NPR- and for world news from your NPR affiliate, there’s none better than PRI’s The World.  It is an honor to include Marco’s piece (written a few months back) in our new Guest Blogger series.  Here’s an older post I did, linking you to several of the stories Marco did from the above mentioned trip to Jamaica. Ska Online: The World Loves JA Music


Comments (1) Dec 08 2008

Dave Hillyard Hits Jackpot

Posted on April 2nd, 2008 by JJ Loy

The concept of the newest release from The Slackers’ sax man, Dave Hillyard is nothing short of genius. We’ve heard his talent for composition, not only with The Slackers but also on The Rocksteady 7′s first two records. Anyone who’s seen him live can attest to the mind blowing effect his solos can produce, and that was captured on Way out East, Hillyard and the Rocksteady 7′s 2007 live record.

Now we have a new way to experience Hillyard’s Bop via Jamaica-style of Saxophone. Dave Hillyard Plays the Hits of Jackpot finds our hero riding the riddims of 13 classic reggae tracks from the Jackpot catalog. Like the DJ’s of the old sound systems, Hillyard improvises and reinterprets the songs on the fly, but instead of toasting with his voice… well you get the idea.

The idea was conceived by Glen Adams (original Upsetter, original Hippy Boy, original Augustus Pablo and sometimes Slacker). All of the original tracks are either produced by Bunny Lee or Lloyd Charmers, with the current production credits going to Glen Adams and King Django.

The whole record has a very familiar feel to it, and the new recordings fit seamlessly into these classic tracks.

Check out some of the cuts at Dave’s MySpace
And grab a copy of the disc over at JumpUp! -I did.

Comments (0) Apr 02 2008

Ska Online: DJ Sleeper Spins the Real Rare Reggae

Posted on December 11th, 2007 by JJ Loy

I’m not one for competition. I’ve let everyone beat me in almost every game I’ve played, save bowling and Boggle. As far as my “competition” in the Ska and Reggae Podcast game- I’m not too proud to recognize their achievements. Podcasters like Gabe Pressure and the fellas at Music is Our Occupation, are some of my most vocal listeners, after all.

It’s with this supportive spirit that I rcomend to anyone reading this, Sleeper’s Record Shack. Host/producer Mick Sleeper has a massive Reggae wax collections, and uses that as the foundation for his show. Episodes tend to follow a theme, be it a musical style or a single artist. Some of my favorite episodes have been, Far East Sound, Cuban Missle Crisis, and Motown Meets Trenchtown.

These episodes will have familiar artists but the tracks are fairly rare, and unless you have a hefty collection yourself, you are sure to be impressed with Sleeper’s selection. However, the element that completely sells this show, in my opinion, is Sleeper’s delivery. If you thought I sounded square on the air, you’ve got to hear this classic Kingston DJ style chat, read in a Ward Cleaver-type diction. I’m telling you, Sleepers Record Shack is worth a listen just to hear the intros, but the music will keep you until the progress bar hits zero.

Comments (1) Dec 11 2007

Marley explains the Jamaican Music styles

Posted on December 5th, 2007 by JJ Loy

I know you know the difference, and you know that I know the difference, but if you know someone that doesn’t- you should show them this video.

It’s Bob Marley off-handedly clarifying the beats that differentiate Ska, Reggae, and Rocksteady, in a ’70′s interview.

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Comments (2) Dec 05 2007