Project Description

ROOTS NATTY ROOTS

Inevitably the dreams, energy and optimism of independence soon gave way to the post-colonial realities of poverty, corruption and gross inequality across Jamaica but especially in the rapidly expanding shanty towns of simmering Kingston. It was these realities, weaved into the growing awareness of Rastafarianism (turbo-boosted by the visit of Emperor Heile Selassie to Jamaica in 1966) and Garveyism, chiming with the trends of Afro-centric black consciousness in the US.

By the late 1960s on the out were feel-good tunes about dates, dancing; on the way in was reality music, roots music – bass- heavy and uncompromising. In a vast field it is hard to pick out particular game-changing tracks, many of the themes of roots have been explored in earlier genres. Members of the Skatalites were Rasta, a pre-teen Delroy Wilson hymned The Lion Of Judah to give but two examples. For some observers Burning Spear’s Door Peep Shall Not Enter and The Abyssinians’ Satta Massa Gana (both recorded at Studio One in 1969) signalled a new mood and direction in Jamaican music.

As the 70s unfolded, and social and political conditions worsened, roots music caught fire with producers like Niney, Bunny Lee, Joe Gibbs, Lee Perry and the Hoo_kim brothers picking up the torch from the likes of Prince Buster, Duke Reid and Lesley Kong. Roots music innovated. Picking up techniques tested on his Hometown Hi-Fi in the late 60s (essentially dropping out the vocal from the rock steady hits of the day and running the rhythm into heavy echo, delay and reverb) Osbourne Ruddock aka King Tubby dubbed up a million rhythm sides by the likes of the Aggrovators and The Observer AllStars and a new sub-genre -Dub – was born.

While established stars – the Ken Booths and the Alton Ellis’s – adapted seamlessly into roots, new reputations were made: the all-conquering Johnny Clarke, and lower profile names like Lacksley Castell, Pablo Moses and Michael Prophet all cutting timeless roots tracks. It was also an era in which small independent producers, booking studio time and cobbling together musicians recorded some of the finest roots music of the era – Yabby You’s Judgement On The Land, Augustus Pablo’s Up Warricka Hill, Sonny Washington’s Black Skin.

For me, Roots and Culture is the 1970s, clubbing, parties and dances at the Town Halls of London – Acton, Wandsworth, Brixton where the great sound systems of the day – Sir Coxsone, Moa Ambassa, Fatman, Quaker City (from Birmingham my favourite) Jah Shaka, would string up for afternoon sessions, early evening sessions and all-night cup sessions. Clubs like Four Aces, Noreik, Bali Hai, Nightingale – trekking from Shepherds Bush to North and South London with your mates and sharing the cab money to get you back home in time for work the next day.

The memories of 1976 Notting Hill Carnival, coming out at Ladbroke Grove station (when it was open on both days) and walking up to Cambridge Gardens (parts of it was still being built at this time) towards Portobello Road – under each arch were different sound systems, the noise, the colours, the food, the smoke, but having great times and being happy.

Also buying records from the local record shops, Greensleeves in Shepherds Bush and Dub Vendor in Ladbroke Grove, always wanting to hear the versions of the records I chose and always liked the instrumental dub versions especially King Tubby and Scientist mixes.

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”

STEVE WAX - Deptford Dub Club, Deptford