In the 70s at the time when I was about 13 years old, it was normal to have a sound system or two playing somewhere in Port Antonio, Jamaica. It was our culture, and the sound system ruled the dancehall. It was interesting to see a truck rolling in loaded with equipment, including those huge speakers and a crew ready to setup up the sound.
It was going to be an exciting night, and the bass also ruled the dancehall—Jamaicans like drum and bass and not to mention the rub a dub style. Make me think about the song, Rub a Dub Style by Michigan and Smiley.
Food and Drinks
Staples of the dance were also goat head soup, red stripe beer, Heineken beer, dragon, and Guinness stout. These were essential elements that defined the dancehall.
When the music started early to set the stage; however, later in the evening, things usually become more interesting. The selector and the DJ were finally in place. Both are stars. However, the riddim is King.
The dancehall environment is loved by some, hated by others. Dances at the time went on until 05-0600 am in the morning. People living close by hardly got any sleep. In those days, noise complaints usually fell on deaf ears.
Reggae and dancehall riddims are built into the psyche of a Jamaica. Riddim sounds from Studios such as Studio One, Treasure Isle, and others were creative – competing to provide good music to the masses. Real baseline rhythms could be heard on sound systems from ska, rocksteady, reggae, and dancehall. Of course, as neighbors of Trinidad and Tobago not too far away, we were influenced by calypso and soca music. Byron Lee and the Dragonaires was a significant contributor in this area.
The live of the Sound System
It was a time when certain music received limited playtime on air. Many households didn’t own record players. So, the sound system was the conduit for getting real Jamaica music out to the people. It sounds Systems competed for the latest music and would travel with their DJs to perform on the latest riddim many DJ were or later become music artists.
When we think about reggae rhythms, artists/producers like the Sly and Robbie come to mind.
Studios that facilitated the early and later production of Jamaican music included Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle, Sir Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One, Federal, Xterminator, Dynamic Sounds, Randy, King Tubby’s, Harry J, Black Ark, Digital B, Channel One, Joe Gibbs, Jammy’s, Tuff Gong, Black Scorpio, Music Works, Penthouse, Hitmaker Studio, and Big Ship. All these have a history of contribution. There also came a time when the idea of one riddim was born. Studios/producers would create a riddim and allowed several artists to recorded on it. This gave many artists a jump start. Having a great riddim increased their chance of success if they had good lyrics and a good arrangement.
Prince Jammy. Bobby Digital, King Tubby’s, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Dule Reid, and many others that grazed the skyline when it comes to reggae/dancehall riddims sounds found a place in the hearts of many Jamaican people.
The interesting thing about certain reggae music, like good wine, it tastes or sounds better with the years. It lives on through time. The music early music of jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh, for example, is still be listen to – their lyrics is very much even alive today. It is great to see the global influence of Jamaican music and culture. It was a way of thinking that encompasses the mind in unique and attractive styles.
The lyrics often reflected the real struggle faced in the street by the average man trying to survive. It points out the tragedy of poverty and the challenges that it breaks yet still points out the resilience of the people who continuously work to find a solution. How can one forget the roots of Burning Spear “Do you remember the days of slavery” Jacob Miller’s “Tenement Yard” Singing about the challenges of living in a tenement yard – with people around you sometimes with the inability to pay rent, hiding from the rent collector, etc. The struggle is real.
Many new songs are also made on older riddims that are already etched in the minds of the people long after the originals were recorded. So, many reggae artists are lucky in the sense that they can use a riddim from the past. Sometimes there is confusion because a good song could be lost when a good riddim is overused.
Artists are also less compensation in the long run when they do not fully own the rights to their music. JACAP, The Jamaican Association of Composers/Authors and Publishers Limited, provides an avenue where the artist can be compensated. The only applies the artist is registered as creators of their work. Unfortunately, many rhythms for the rhythms are written at the time when they were not adequately protected intellectual protection. As a result, the artist of the creator never got compensated as they should. Fortunately, no new systems are in place to protect the rights of the creators and allowing them actually to reap the benefits of the work, and this has been a positive move in the right direction for future generations of artists.
With the advent of digital media, it had become easier to produce riddims. So, there was an explosion in the number of riddims. Not all having the same quality. However, there was no longer a full dependency on the studios with expensive equipment to produce good riddims. Now artists could efficiently work on their creation, creating what they preferred. This also provided an opportunity for the artist to own all the music provided that it was correctly registered and give them a chance to be creative independent of the leading recording studios and provide an outlet for the music by putting it out there to the world. The music of Jamaica has evolved, yet it continues to have a global impact and has lifted the spirits of many around the world.
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