King Klepto/Killamanjaro/Sound Trooper. Starts out as a nice dance and turns into a soundclash. CLASSIC!!!
The anatomy of a Jamaican sound system
Isolating the different aspects of a sound system can be rather tricky, so it is best to approach this task with a few basic concepts in mind. It has already been stated that in the Jamaican sense of the expression, "sound system" (sometimes written soundsystem), includes human beings as well as machinery. Our North American definition of sound system, on the other hand, might be restricted to material components only. A Jamaican sound system can be thought of as a musical group or band. In such a group there are essential roles that must be filled (playing instruments, singing, etc.), but in the broadest sense, the members are not limited to a specific number, nor must there be a strict minimum (perhaps at least one person). A sound system requires that certain roles or "jobs" be taken care of by any number of individuals. Thus, rather than thinking that each role demands one person, one should appreciate the flexibility and potential for multi-tasking that occurs within the human aspect of a given sound system. Stricter requirements exist when dealing with the material aspect of a sound. In this arena, one encounters more consistency throughout various events.
1.2.1 Material components
The simplest aspect of a sound system to understand is its material composition. No matter who owns it, brought it, rented it, or set it up, a typical modern sound system setup consists of the following: turntables (at least two), DJ mixer, headphones, microphone (at least one), public address system/amplifier, and an array of very large speakers, especially for the lower frequencies (these are known as boxes or bass bins). A record collection is obviously the final material component needed to make a sound system function.
Behind the scenes of the material, the ownership of the physical sound system and records is slightly more complicated. Historically, the equipment and record collection were acquired and owned by the sound system's promoter (ex. Coxsone Dodd), and traveled from dance to dance. Any operators of the sound system at a given dance were hired by its promoter. The sound as a whole was hired through the promoter as well, who collected most of the profit. Thus, the quality of the sound (physically) and the record collection were symbols of the promoter's prestige. In modern times, at least in Montreal, the non-record materials (speakers, etc.) are not typically part of a given sound system. It has become the duty of the venue management or the event organizer to provide and maintain the physical setup. The individuals that are part of a sound are now simply responsible for bringing records and performing (some might prefer to use their own turntables or microphones). Therefore, when one currently refers to a sound or sound system, one can be talking about a group of individuals with records and various talents that perform at various events. One could in fact be talking about a single individual. The record collection, while still being a symbol of prestige, is typically owned by whoever is playing it. Any managerial or promoter type person who might be associated with a modern sound system occupies a primarily administrative/marketing role. The creative input of a modern sound system promoter is thus reduced.
1.2.2 Human components
With respect to the human element of a sound system, several roles can be isolated which are necessary for a proper performance. These are: sound man (or box man), selector, mixer (or disc-jock), and deejay. Some sound systems also include dancers as part of their performance, but the core roles are the four listed above. It is important to keep in mind that these each of these roles need not correspond to a specific individual on a one-to-one basis. One person may fill a combination of several roles. In essence, the human element features the connection to the sound system's audience, bringing static media alive in a unique performance.
1.2.3 Sound man
The sound man (or box man) role involves the setting up and maintenance of the physical sound system. In the early days, promoters hired sound men to specifically take care of their equipment at dances. This involved checking connections, making sure sound could be heard and was balanced, and protecting the equipment from damage (although in some cases, this last role was taken over by armed guards). A sound man could become a permanent member of a sound system, being exclusively associated with it and its promoter. Today, this role is almost entirely absent from a typical sound system, as the maintenance of the physical setup is usually the responsibility of the venue. Some places have a sound man as a permanent member of their staff that stays on the premises to take care of the performance, while others hire a temporary one or leave it up to the promoters.
The selector (or selecta) chooses the records to be played. Someone who fills the role of selector must provide a proper flow of songs based on the relationship between the musical statement he wants to make and the will of the audience. This role is perhaps the most subtle, as it must rest on the negotiation of crowd reaction and personal expression. The poles of intention and expectation clash through this negotiation, and subsequently feed off each other. A good selector should not act as if he is detached from the audience's desires, nor should he let the audience completely dictate the sequence of songs. Thus, two levels of appreciation are set up: that of the performer (selector, other members of sounds) and that of the receiver (audience). Rarity, originality, and sequence or thematic flow of records are all factors which heavily influence appreciation by "professionals," that is, those involved in the performance. Popularity, "danceability" and content (both musical and lyrical) tend to figure more prominently in the spectator or layman's appreciation. These features are not strictly associated to either of these levels. For example, a selector might be impressed with another's performance through observation of the crowd's reaction. In essence, the selector must string together the thematic flow of the dance while navigating time limits, mood changes and observed behaviours.
The mixer (or disc-jock) aspect of the sound system is commonly combined with the role of selector into one individual. Nevertheless, it can be isolated as a necessary role distinct from the selector, and has been known to be the sole domain of one particular person within a given sound system. The word mixer simply refers to the role of stringing or mixing together various records in sequence. Disc-jock (a more modern term commonly used in hip hop), a derivative of disc-jockey, describes one who physically manipulates records according to various techniques (mixing being one of them). The word mixer is flexible and can be used to describe one who does a variety of technical manipulations as well (described in the next section). In essence this role builds on that of the selector by adding a technical level of creativity to the mental work of the selector. A good mixer must essentially make the chosen records flow into each other nicely. This can be done in a basic way by pitch-shifting the record (using a dial or slider on the turn table) which speeds up or slows down the tempo of a record in order to match that of one currently being played. This procedure, known as "beat-matching" is currently used in many different musical scenes, from funk to techno. Since many reggae songs have similar rhythms, beat-matching provides a smooth, almost imperceptible transition between songs, contributing to the establishment of a "vibe" or atmosphere. Since song selection obviously contributes to the "mixability" of two given records, the selector must keep in mind the job of the mixer when selecting a sequence of records to play. This intimate relation between mixing and song choice is perhaps the main reason that the mixer and selector roles often coincide with one individual. When this occurs, the label selector is the one that is applied. Therefore, it is common to associate technical manipulations with the selector of a sound system. Within the sound system community various selector-types can be known as "better mixers" or "better selectors," that is, one person's stronger point is their record selection, whereas another's is their technical ability.
Last but not least, the deejay role is the sound system's direct connection to the audience. The expression "MC", used in hip hop culture, is equivalent to the Jamaican deejay, but is more informative. As a Master of Ceremony, the deejay's role is to animate the dance, keep the atmosphere interesting, and "bring alive" the recorded music. This can be done by adding toasts, thematic commentary, "nursery doggerel" or even percussive mouth-sounds to records being played (see sections 1.5.2 and 1.5.6). Toasting is a form of salute or recognition and is important in that it connects the audience with the performance. Moreover, it can convey respect or admiration for certain performers whether they be present at the dance or heard through records. Thematic commentary (talking about what is being heard what is being seen, or what has happened in the world) serves as a self-reflexive narrative which can crystallize emotions, trends and symbols in an entertaining and potentially subversive way. Nursery doggerel is a form of altered nursery-rhyming (see tracks 10, 12) and is indicative of the post-modern nature of the deejay performance. It can be combined with lyrical snippets, slogans, "nonsense" words (scatting), movie dialogue, and advertising to form the content of a deejay's spoken-vocal flow (see track 8). These textual tidbits are reconstructed by the deejay in a personally relevant way resulting in a Lévi-Straussian bricolage that hints at how the individual's mind is working to perceive the environment (La Pensée Sauvage, 1966). An important part of a deejay's prestige comes from the references he might use in his performance and the crowd's familiarity with them. A common strategy is to use lyrical references from popular songs and reformat them into one's own performance. The way in which he strings these references together, perhaps twisting their meaning in order to form an incisive comment, also contributes to his appeal and respect. If all of this can be done in a humourous or entertaining way, the deejay's success at the dance is almost assured.
1.2.7 Division of labour
While all of these roles are necessary for a successful sound system, it is important to remember that they need not be filled by separate individuals. With the separation of equipment and talent, it is currently possible to have a sound man, selector, mixer and deejay in one person (although forcing the talent to be the sound man is often indicative of poor club management). This solo manifestation can be seen in sounds around Montreal such as Little Thunder. However, groups of individuals called crews are more commonly associated with sounds. Earthquake Sound Crew is a local example of this. Because of this modern emphasis on the talent rather than the audio equipment, the word "system" is more commonly dropped from the original expression leaving the word "sound" to describe an individual or a collective. Therefore, the material "system" is no longer a part of a sound's prestige. The only material element which is important for today's sounds is, of course, the record collection.
Typically, individuals involved with sounds fall in either of two categories: selector or deejay. Here, the selector is the multipurpose technical guru who usually owns, chooses, and manipulates the records. The deejay handles the microphone and directs the proceedings of the dance. This dichotomy is apparent in other musical cultures such as hip hop and jungle, where performers are either musical-types or vocal-types (DJs or MCs). Some crews have multiple people in each domain who take turns as the performance flows. For example, having two deejays in a sound system creates another level of interaction which entertains the crowd. The use of alternating selectors (sometimes called a "versus") also causes intrigue and heightens the competitive aspect of the performance. The interplay between the two different selectors and their material adds another dimension to the performance which further draws the crowd's attention and participation. The competitive aspect is especially highlighted if one of the selectors is clearly favoured over another.
1.2.8 The sound clash
The competitive level rises considerably if these alternating selectors are from different or rival sound systems. This phenomenon is often organized and referred to as a sound clash (or DJ battle in hip hop terms). In this event the crowd becomes the collective judge of the overall performance, declaring a winning sound based on the criteria of each role described earlier. It is interesting to note that this "clashing" aspect can be found in some West African musical traditions such as that of the Anlo-Ewe of Ghana (Avorgbedor, 1994: 112). It has become an important part of many record-based musical scenes, namely reggae, hip hop and electronica from house to drum ‘n' bass. In the dancehall world the clashing aspect is an important tool for drawing in crowds and building up prestige. While it symbolizes a battle, it is not necessarily a simple reflection of the violence inherent in a given society. For the Ewe as much as the Jamaicans, musical clashes are a good way to establish power relations within the musical community as determined by the tastes of the crowd (Stolzoff, 2000: 10). Thus, sound systems ritualize their inherent competition in a way that includes their audience. This gives the receptors an opportunity to influence the production of the performance.
1.3 Specific techniques of the sound system
Each basic creative role in the sound system has certain specific strategies or techniques associated with it. The set of these techniques can be divided into two domains -one that is technical and the other vocal. These correspond to the selector/mixer and deejay respectively. The various techniques used by these members of a sound system occur through a relationship between the selector and deejay which is the backbone of the dancehall performance. Communication is important between these actors as it would be between members of a live musical group. However, while a typical band's on-stage communication might often be implicit or hidden from the audience, the deejay-selector exchange is explicit and an integral part of the performance.
The deejay often acts as the "voice of the dance," expressing his particular thoughts and desires with regards to the progression of the performance. More than just idle chatter, the deejay's comments can serve as a litmus test for the state of the dance. They can also fill a more creative role when then are focused on the selector. Deejay chatter which involves "directing" the selector's actions is codified into recognizable commands or requests which correspond to a technical procedure which is executed by the selector/mixer. Some of these are listed below:
1.3.1 Haul and pull up! (haul and pull)
This command requires the selector to physically pick up the needle off the record and return it to the beginning of a song. This is perhaps the oldest technical trick that emerged in the era of single turntables. In order to replay a song from the beginning during this era, one had no choice but to stop the record and physically place the needle at the beginning. Nowadays, the dual turntable setup allows for more sophistication in this procedure, as one record can be playing while the haul and pull is executed on the other. The significance of this procedure relates to the idea of crowd pleasing. In the early days, crowds who reacted strongly to a particular record were treated to a second hearing through a haul and pull. This, combined with anticipatory deejay chatter of the "Are you ready for it again?" type built up the energy at the dance. In some cases, a haul and pull can be thought of as a teasing maneuver when only the beginning of a song is heard before the needle comes off the record. This creates tension and anticipation as the crowd's appetite is whet with a brief musical tidbit (Stolzoff, 2000: 54). In some cases, tension can be heightened by playing a snippet of a recognizable song, and then replaying the whole piece only after a couple of other songs have been played.
Also known as a backspin, this technique involves spinning a playing record backwards with one's hand. The actual sound of the reverse-spinning record is meant to be heard clearly, and is part of the mixing procedure. For maximum effect, the rewind must be done in time, so the rhythm is not broken from song to song. The rewind typically refers to a controlled, slow manipulation of the record which causes it to rotate backwards. In order to achieve this, the selector simply places his fingers near the center of the record and rotates them in a reverse direction. This creates the same effect as the haul and pull, but in a more dramatic fashion. The idea in both cases is to return to an earlier part (or the beginning) of a record. The deejay often lays down chatter on top of the rewind, adding to the tension buildup. Another way of rewinding a record is to do it in one fell swoop, creating a much faster backward sound. In this technique, the selector appears to slap the record back in one motion. This is most often used as a sound effect or transition between two records. Again, timing is crucial to the flow of the mix.
1.3.3 Deejay-selector interplay
It is important to remember that the physical techniques mentioned above are ones which are associated with deejay commands having the same name (for example, the deejay command "rewind!" asks the selector to execute that manoeuver). This does not necessarily mean that they can only be executed at the request of the deejay, but it usually means that if the deejay tells the selector to perform any of them, it should be done. The relationship between the deejay and selector is underlined in the way the requests are phrased. If a haul and pull is desired by the deejay, he would typically refer to the selector as "my selector," in the form "Haul and pull up, my selecta!" This way of speaking tends to reinforce the bond between the two roles, while affirming the deejay's position as that of conductor or director. It should be noted, however, that historically the deejay's role has evolved considerably from the beginning of the sound system to the present. In earlier times, the record playing aspect was most central to the performance and the deejay's job was to add flavour to it. By the time of dancehall music, the deejay became the central focus of the show and assumed a more directorial role. In some cases, the records came to serve the lyrical performance, as in the use of versions (track 11), that is, instrumental versions of exisitng songs (see section 1.5.3; track 8). These provided a base for different vocal performances in the dancehall (see section 1.5.4; tracks 12, 13). The Jamaican sound system's use of versions has also structured other music scenes where the separation between music and vocals is at their core (hip hop, for example, with the split between MC and DJ). This dichotomy resulted in the development of each craft in a relatively separate way. However, in order to complete a performance and fully please the audience the two worlds must inevitably merge. A smooth interplay between the deejay and selector is as crucial as the harmony between musicians and singers. A disjointed performance where the selector's manipulations clash with the deejay's chatter or requests, quickly destroys any kind of "vibe" or energy at the dance.
1.3.4 Bass Drop
While it is commonly accepted that the deejay is responsible for conducting the show, some technical manipulations are more dependent on the will of the selector, and do not necessarily correspond to deejay requests. In fact, the selector can have input on the course of the performance by subtly manipulating the records in conjunction with deejay's vocal flow. An example of this type of technique is the bass drop. This essentially involves taking away the bass from the record by turning a knob on the mixer. This leaves the song quite thin, especially since the bass frequencies are typically amplified to the extreme at sound system dances. A variation of this technique is to "cut" or take away the music entirely using the mixer's fader, leaving the crowd in a state of greater suspense. The idea is then to reintroduce the bass or music at a moment of maximum tension, such as just before a verse begins. During this break in the song, the deejay can embellish the sense of tension with chatter and anticipate the striking return of the song to its full range. This is typically a live technique but it has worked its way into the studio to be featured on recordings since the late 1960s. When it was first played at a dancehall, the format of dropping out bass or rhythm and having deejay chatter come in before reintroducing the song caused a sensation among stunned crowds who were not expecting to hear sound system techniques on record. This phenomenon is important because it is one of the first instances where the influence of the sound system was clearly heard on recorded media produced in the studio.
Another important and influential selector technique known as "juggling," involves stringing records (that have the exact same rhythm) together in a seamless fashion. This creates a continuous flow or "groove" that extends the rhythm indefinitely. This is akin to American disco dance mixes whose nonstop groove is meant as a service to the dancers. Juggling is important because it shifted emphasis away from the deejay and back to the selector as the efforts of the sound system became geared to the needs of the dancers. It also included the crowd in the performance on a greater level through its emphasis on a non-stop dance beat. This type of dance eventually replaced the vocalist-driven dance in the late 1980s (Stolzoff, 2000: 109). Juggling also came to be featured on recordings and spawned the phenomenon of one-rhythm albums, in which one instrumental track provided a nonstop back-beat to various vocal "versions" of the same piece (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 451).
1.3.6 Calls and sound effects
Other sound system features which eventually found their way onto records include calls and sound effects. Calls made by the deejay are forms of toasting that involve expressions of respect. These are interspersed throughout the performance and are used in reaction to people, records or events that the deejay feels deserve special mention. Such expressions which include shockout!, big up! and legal!, are shouted in order to convey some sense of respect or admiration. For example, the deejay might call shockout! to some members of the crowd whom he feels are worthy of being singled out for praise. This essentially conveys the feeling of "you're special" (this specific call is an older one according to Prymtym). Big up is a common expression that has worked its way into mainstream language among the youth. It is commonly used in conjunction with someone's name in the form of a respectful salutation, as in "Big up to Prymtym." It can also refer to objects or places which the deejay feels the need to mention and to praise. Legal! is a unique expression common to the dancehall that has specific historical origins. It derives from the presence of police or military personnel at dances in Jamaica. Originally, the deejay would call out a respectful legal! (as in members of the law) to the militiamen around the dancehall, inviting a gunshot salute in return (or vice-versa). The call was later used as a metaphor to suggest that something reflects the power of a police or militia officer.
Sound effects which can be commonly heard at dances and on recordings include firecrackers, air horns and gunshots (real or imitated). These are essentially used to heighten the energy of the dance and reflect the celebratory nature of these events. They can also serve as a communication tool for the audience in reaction to the performance. Historically, gunshots either came from lawful persons as a salute, or from gangsters seeking to disrupt the dance (referred to as licking a shot in Jamaican slang). Their inclusion on the records serves as a reminder of live events and adds to the intensity of a piece. Imitation of a gunshot, through the expression boh!, is commonly used by deejays and crowd members alike in order to convey appreciation for a particular thing. Certain expressions in the dancehall dialect link the concept of lethality to the quality of the music or vocals. In this way, a performance or piece of music that "kills" or is "murderous" is a good one. The association of violent imagery with quality or success is common in dancehall culture, as illustrated by the expression "I'm like a gunshot heading toward a target" in Stolzoff's chapter on the career trajectory of a dancehall artist (Stolzoff, 2000: 151; also see track 14, featuring the expression "sound killer"). The expression mash up, used to describe a successful performance which gained much crowd support, further illustrates the association of success with violent imagery in dancehall culture (ibid: 159).
1.4 Time: the proceedings of a sound system dance
Throughout the fieldwork in Montreal, it was observed that sound system dances tended to be scheduled in the same way as events at a typical nightclub. They always occur at night and officially begin at around 10:00 p.m. (doors open). Much like a regular club, the sound system venues rarely attract many people this early on, although it has been known to happen. On a typical night if there is no extremely popular attraction such as a singer from Jamaica, people start to congregate at 11:30 or midnight. The event lasts until the universal 3:00 a.m. bar closing time in the city, at which point people start to slowly dissipate. Much of the night's success is judged by the crowd participation. A good night features a large audience which is receptive to the performance (i.e., dancing, interacting with artists). This is so crucial that much of a deejay's chatter is aimed at getting the crowd's energy and confidence built up so that they may dance and enjoy themselves. Teasing techniques, such as playing the beginning of a song only, are often used as strategies to get the crowd's attention and get people on the dance floor. An event in which everyone is surrounding the perimeter of the dance floor (which was observed) is not considered successful. Along the same lines, it is important for the female audience members to feel comfortable and confident, and having a circle of men surrounding the dance floor is not encouraging. It seems the participation of females is especially important since many deejay comments revolve around the presence of ladies at the dance. Songs are often dedicated to "the ladies" or played on the condition that females get involved in dancing. Females are saluted more than males as they enter the venue (usually by male deejays).
1.4.1 Song choice and set breakdown
In addition to deejay chatter, song choice is important in connecting with the crowd. According to Prymtym, modern dancehall music is essential to every current sound system performance. Field observations supported this claim, in that it is that type of music which tends to elicit the most intense crowd reactions. However, different styles are commonly played at dances in the city. Prymtym arrived at a breakdown of a typical selector's 30 minute set: 10 minutes "vocal music"; 10 minutes "roots & culture music"; 10 minutes "dancehall" (see section 1.0). Vocal music refers to "classic" sounding reggae songs which are very melodic, contain lighter, up-tempo rhythms and lyrics usually about love and relationships. Roots & culture reggae is deeper, more drum and bass oriented, and contains themes of Rastafarianism and resistance (track 1). Dancehall usually refers to the modern, hip hop influenced sound, sometimes called ragga, which currently dominates Jamaican music (track 6).
This sequence of styles characterizes a typical set, as the first two styles consist of a "warm up" to the heavier dancehall portion. Even if there are many selectors who take turns throughout the night, this progression is usually repeated each time a new person takes the turntables. However, as the night progresses it is common to observe that the dancehall portion of the set gets larger, or that the other types of music are dropped altogether. Some types of dances referred to as "oldies dances," reverse this situation and concentrate on the more "classic" sounds of early roots or dancehall reggae (tracks 1, 5, 8, 9, 10). These are rarer than standard dances but do occur in the city from time to time. They tend to draw older and more varied crowds, whereas the modern dancehall events tend to appeal to younger people primarily from the black community. This feature of the modern dancehall audience combined with the North American environment of Montreal tends to bring out quite a few hip hop songs at dances around the city (track 14). It is common to hear some of the latest American rap or r&b hits mixed in with the dancehall music in a selector's set.
1.5 The significance of the Jamaican sound system
With regards to Jamaican music, the sound system can be seen as having two distinct roles. The first is referred to as a mediator and the second as a creative force. The mediation aspect, that is, the conveying or diffusing of recorded music, is the oldest and most fundamental role of the Jamaican sound system. Since their inception in the late 40s, sound systems have been the major diffusers of music in Jamaica. They are the main connection between the studio and the audience. In this way the mediator role of the sound system can take on a second meaning, that of an intermediate level between production and reception, a sub-framework on which the music is presented. However what is especially unique about the Jamaican sound system is its creative role in the Jamaican musical complex. This role is fulfilled by the human component of the sound system and acts both on the technical level of the recorded music media (by the action of selectors) and the vocal level through talk-over or toasting by deejays. Recorded-music perfomances which feature other types of music such as techno, do contain the technical level of creativity imposed on the static media (records) by disc-jockey manipulation (mixing, cutting, frequency altering). However, the added feature of talking over records by Jamaican deejays is what makes these sound system performances truly original. In addition, some technical aspects of Jamaican sound system manipulations are unique to the genre and will be discussed in detail in the next sections. While first appearing in live sound system performances, these creative aspects took Jamaican music in an interesting direction when they reached the studio. Here, the studio - sound system - audience connection gained a new dimension, reorganizing the framework into sound system - studio - sound system - audience. Thus, the mediator turned back to influence the production of the music it was exposing to the audience.
1.5.1 Early days: the sound system as a mediator
In the beginning, the sound system was simply a vessel for recorded music to be presented to Jamaican audiences. The first types of music which caught the attention of urban, lower class youths in the post-war era were jazz and blues from the U.S. Before this craze, it was not uncommon to see live bands playing around the island in indigenous styles such as mento or imported ones such as swing. The rise of the sound system in the 40s and 50s contributed to the decline of the live band format during social gatherings in Jamaica. Dances became the domain of the new technology as a result of a few specific historical facts. Firstly, the types of music played by live bands in Jamaica in the 40s encountered severe competition from the fresh sounds of the U.S. due to their lack of connection with the urban realities of a growing number of Jamaicans. Secondly, the economic issues limited the live band's commercial appeal. It was much cheaper to hire a sound system which employed one or two men and could play the non-stop music people wanted to hear all night long (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 11). Since people wanted to hear American r&b and club owners didn't want to pay for full a band's concert, much less their ticket to Jamaica, the sound system became king of the dancehall. Economic factors also shaped the reality of the first sound systems in a significant way. In the early years, the popularity of a given sound system was entirely due to its record selection. To keep ahead of the game a sound system (or simply, sound) had to have the latest records and have exclusive access to them. This required frequent trips to the U.S. in addition to mail orders and special requests from record dealers (ibid: 17). Consequently, only a few individuals could manage a successful sound system, thereby creating an elite group of sounds early on in the scene. The most popular sound system operators were known as the "big three": King Edwards, Duke Reid, and Clement "Coxsone" Dodd. Their systems dominated the dancehall scene in the 1950s and 60s and sparked tremendous competition which often erupted in violence (ibid: 14). These individuals built, promoted and managed their sound systems, hiring others to man them during dances. At their peak, these promoters could own several different sound systems that operated simultaneously in different locations (ibid: 13). The bottom line was that one had to win over the audience to his own sound and this was usually accomplished by jealously guarding records. Certain strategies were employed to ensure a record's exclusivity, such as renaming the songs or scratching off the record label (ibid: 17). Gang warfare was also employed to disrupt rival dances and sway audiences to one's banner (ibid: 14).
1.5.2 Growing prestige: from the sound system to the studio
As the owners gained notoriety for the quality of their record collections or sound equipment, the hirelings who actually ran the sound systems also began to acquire their own prestige. The jobs necessary to run a sound system intitially involved setting up and maintaining the equipment, choosing the records and playing them. The earliest sound systems had only one turn table, eliminating the possiblitly of overlapping mixes and any creative input involved. However, creative additions to the sequential playing of records came in the form of deejaying or disc-jockeying (ibid: 11). The Jamaican definition of this term is closer to our radio-broadcast definition. A disc-jockey on a typical radio station supplies the chatter, the inter-song commentary or information regarding what is being heard, or what's happening in the outside world. He or she does not necessarily choose what records are being played. A more modern definition of disc-jockey or DJ exists in North American culture that is borrowed from hip hop terminology. A DJ in hip hop (and other types of modern music) is one who selects, plays and manipulates records. This is not congruent with the Jamaican sense of the word deejay. Early Jamaican deejays were influenced by the disc-jockeys of American radio whose quick-witted chatter added spice to the sequence of records being played (Davis/Simon, 1982: 33). Their craft became known as toasting or talk-over, since their speeches were usually comments based on individuals at the dance and were incorporated into the actual playing of a record. The first known "talker" was Count Machuki who was initially hired for the sound system known as Tom the Great Sebastian and later for Coxsone's famous Downbeat. In addition to disc-jockey style wisecracks over the music, Machuki spiced up the sound of records by adding his own percussive "peps" and by producing the sound chick-a-took with his mouth against the microphone (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 19).
Sound system owners eventually became producers who used the studio to put together bands for original recordings. Ska's first and only all-star group, the Skatalites, was produced by one of the original sound system owners, Coxsone Dodd. Dodd is a perfect example of the few musically savvy individuals who converted their vast experience with sound systems and knowledge of African-American music into a uniquely Jamaican expression (with the help of talented musicians). Many others followed him into the studio, producing their own bands and releasing records. Coxsone's legacy is legendary and so is his studio/record label, Studio One (ibid: 39). Since his experience first started with sound systems and then took him into the studio, one could say that the sound system began influencing the production of music at this early stage. However, the studio productions with bands like the Skatalites were akin to the traditional way of making records, that is, simply recording a live band in a studio (Liner notes, Foundation Ska). The "studio sound" had not yet reached its full potential in Jamaican music in the time of ska.
1.5.3 Version: the sound system becomes a creative force
The creative influence of the sound system on Jamaican music production can be appreciated on a higher level with the emergence of reggae and subsequently, dub. Reggae instrumentals formed the basis of early dub pieces. These instrumental versions, simply referred to as versions, were usually "b-sides" of released singles (45 rpm records) featuring the same song without the vocal track. Dub producers typically used these as the basis for their craft, adding effects and dramatic pauses or "breakdowns" to the music. Sometimes they used live bands to record instrumentals and then deconstructed the piece by using the original tracks from the mix (Davis/Simon, 1982: 106). In the sound system setting, versions allowed for more vocal improvisation on the part of the deejay. One of the pioneers in the use of versions in conjunction with deejay chatter was U. Roy (fig. 6, p.42), starting in 1969 with the song Wake the Town. This piece contains a typical deejay-style introduction, that is, the highly quoted line "Wake the town and tell the people... ‘bout the musical disc coming your way!" U. Roy's second release, Rule the Nation (track 8), boasted a spoken introduction that underlined the growing importance of versions in Jamaican music and culture: "This station... rules the nation... with version!" <>. The singular word version came to represent a concept or phenomenon where many different versions of a song were produced using the same instrumental recording. Different versions of a piece could contain singing, deejaying or dub-style manipulations (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 453). This general process can be referred to as "versioning" or making different versions of a piece.
1.5.4 Development of vocal styles in the dancehall
As the vocal part of the sound system deepened into a performance in its own right, different categories of vocal style emerged giving rise to some basic classifications. In terms of a vocal performance with a sound system, one must distinguish between the singer and the deejay. By the 1980s, singers came to be featured at dancehall events, singing over versions as opposed to live bands. These individuals became known as "dancehall-style" singers (Stolzoff, 2000: 170). Their style is more melodic than that of the deejay, whose emphasis is more rhythmic in nature. Furthermore, the singer's lyrical language was closer to standard English than that of the deejay who employed Jamaican patois. This reflects the fact that a dichotomy had been created between the deejay style which was only locally popular, and the sung style which had more international or "crossover" appeal (ibid: 98). An example of a dancehall singer is Sugar Minott (see track 10). Singers are vastly outnumbered by deejays but their conversion to the dancehall setting underlines the importance of the sound system performance in Jamaican music (ibid: 168). Because of the proximity of the dancehall singer to the craft of the deejay, many singers' style contained hints of deejay-like improvisation or commentary. In some cases the rhythmic, rap-like art
of the deejay became equally fused with the melodic range of the dancehall singer. This mix of styles produced the hybrid sing-jay, a popular style coined by artists like Tenor Saw (see tracks 7, 10; fig. 5, p.42) (ibid: 171).
Whatever their particular style, sound system vocalists' performance essentially consisted of various combinations of singing, rhyming and toasting laid over instrumental versions of existing songs (which had originally featured vocals). These instrumentals eventually acquired a life of their own, being produced, bought, sold and traded solely for the purpose of deejay-type vocal performances and other versioning. They came to be known as riddims, a term which underlines their role as rhythmic accompaniment to vocals.
1.5.5 The legacy of version: specials, dub plates
The legacy that U. Roy had begun by using versions had blossomed into a Jamaican music staple by the 1980s. The song Pass the Dutchie by Musical Youth contains a deejay-style introduction based on U. Roy's famous quote that clearly illustrates version's expanded status at the time: "This generation... rules the nation... with version" (emphasis added). As the new craze spread, support for more traditional acts such as Bob Marley and the Wailers' brand of live roots reggae, diminished. Marley's death in 1981 is considered by some to be the symbol of the decline of roots and culture music and the rise of the deejays (ibid: 100). These new heroes of Jamaican music offered the crowds songs rife with humour, sexuality and violence, woven with threads of rapping, rhyming and word-play. In addition, this was all done over instrumentals that the crowd could recognize as existing popular records. However, this dimension also created the expectation of original riddims. Thus, the element of surprise with respect to instrumentals became an important
addition to the deejay's performance. This need to dazzle the crowd gave rise to specials which are recordings that are made exclusively for use by a sound system. These had come about earlier in the development of the sound system, as producers sought to increase the prestige of their sound by creating truly exclusive records. Specials fit the needs of the deejay extremely well in that they allowed for truly unique performances, many of which often talked about the quality of one's own sound system (see track 12). Today they dominate the performances of the most popular sounds (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 453).
It was not long before deejays or singers who had accumulated much respect in the sound system scene were brought into the studio to record their talents. The early 80s saw a boom in dancehall-inspired records, many being re-mixes of classic records featuring the new vocal style of sung-rapping and commentary. Original riddims were also created, adding a fresh wave of instrumentals for use by Jamaican music's new superstars. In this era, dub plates, or acetate records, became a popular medium for disseminating original tracks for use by sound system deejays or record producers. These were a quick, cheap way to spread instrumentals around and could end up in record shops along side the quintessential vinyl 45s (ibid: 449). A sense of do-it-yourself performance permeated the Jamaican music scene in this era due to the fact that any aspiring deejay could buy instrumentals and sing over them. At the same time any producer could make an impact by producing his own riddims and by inviting deejays to add vocal tracks. Thus, an important precedent was set in Jamaican music which would later go on to profoundly affect other musical cultures such as hip hop: the separation of music and vocal recordings, mirrored by the split between the deejay and selector arts (Stolzoff, 2000: 98). This opened the door for the re-mix to become an important musical phenomenon.
1.5.6 Version, vocalists, and the rub-a-dub style
It so happened that one of the most popular instrumental styles of reggae which coincided with the rise of deejays and versions was rub-a-dub. Because of this timing many early deejay/singer recordings were laid over tracks of this style. In addition, many of the lyrical themes of these recordings dealt in a self-reflexive way with the concept of rub-a-dub, its popularity, its appeal and its international status. Therefore, the vocalists who recorded over this style encouraged its spread not only by using it as an instrumental basis, but by elucidating how, why, and where it is so popular in their texts (ex. "Rub-dub-music is international!" see track 9). The style became so popular that early dancehall events were sometimes referred to as "rub-a-dub dances" (ibid.). Two perfect examples of this phenomenon are the songs Rub-a-Dub Market (track 8) by the legendary deejay-singer Tenor Saw, and Rub-a-Dub Sound (Tune In) by the equally prestigious dancehall singer Sugar Minott (track 9). These pieces both clearly illustrate the rub-a-dub instrumental sound with its heavy, stutter-stop bass pattern and "one-drop" bass drum emphasis (ibid: 130). Furthermore, the lyrics of both songs deal with rub-a-dub itself and its status at the time. The lyrical style, particularly in Sugar Minott's song, is also typical of early deejay/singing vocals in that it contains tidbits of what is called "nursery doggerel" or nursery rhyme references (Mulvaney, 1985: 92), specifically from The Butcher, the Baker and The Candlestick Maker in this case. These types of references were often tied into the song through word play and illustrate the "mental sampling" that occurs as deejays weave together lyrical flows from disparate elements of their knowledge and experience. In this golden age of the deejay some artists became known for their stage presence and crowd-working skills as much as their vocal talent. Outrageous performers such as Yellowman and Eek a Mouse gained notoriety for their humourous, often teasing remarks, as well as their manipulation of scat or "nonsense" words (Davis/Simon, 1982: 124). Amidst all of this levity some "conscious" messages worked their way into song lyrics but these were not as heavily associated with Rastafarianism as in the case of roots reggae. More general messages of awareness and spirituality came through in songs like Lots of Sign by Tenor Saw.
1.5.7 Particularities within dancehall musicAll of the version-driven music described so far falls into a category which could be called "early" or "classic" dancehall. This style is markedly different from what would be referred to as "dancehall" today. Early dancehall recordings featuring deejay-singers whose sound system experience was translated into the studio, tend to feature vocals which have an important melodic quality to them in addition to their unique rhythmic emphasis. Being a contemporary of rap, modern dancehall features lyrical flows in which the rhythmic aspect has taken over the melodic development. Thus, an early dancehall vocal performance is typically closer to a song, while that of a modern dancehall (or ragga) is closer to a rap (see track 5). Throughout dancehall's development in the 1980s electronic riddims emerged and all but replaced the use of "classic" instrumentals recorded by live bands. Initially, digital equipment was used to duplicate the classic reggae rhythm. However, the rhythmic emphasis shifted in modern dancehall/ragga in the late 80s. New riddims contained a more syncopated, heavy bass-laden pattern which caught on rapidly (see track 5). The basic patterns of these new rhythms were drawn from traditional Jamaican styles such as buru and mento (Stolzoff, 2000: 107). These form the basis of most records played at sound systems to this day as well as that of aspiring deejays' performances. This electronically generated, sample driven riddim style created an explosion in the sheer number of instrumental tracks available as production became easier and cheaper (ibid: 106). Re-mixes now swamp the sound systems as the crowd's expectation shifts to include quality, as well as originality, in the highly post-modern production arena. The sound system still remains the testing ground for new talent, new instrumentals and new re-mixes, and acts as a connection between the studio and the people.