After months of build-up and anticipation, the moment had finally arrived for David ‘Ram Jam’ Rodigan to touch down in South Florida and take the helm of the sound system decks at Dubwise Miami on November 6th. Now a multi-country event, Dubwise sessions have popped-up in New York, California, Trinidad, Jamaica, and Miami. Indeed, it was certainly a big deal for the self-proclaimed original reggae selector and soundclash champion, David Rodigan, to appear live and direct with his precious box of dubs at his side in the Magic City. After all, it was Rodigan who had the unforgettable clashes with legendary Jamaican JBC broadcaster, Barry ‘Barry G’ Gordon, in the 1980s. Rodigan’s ‘Life in Reggae’, as chronicled in his autobiography, has spanned well over 40 years and has surely put an indelible stamp on not only the landscape of reggae, but also on the genre’s distinct and far-reaching sound system culture. The moniker, ‘Ram Jam’, was given to him as a result of his affinity for the rock steady instrumental performed by Jackie Mitoo, who was a famous Jamaican keyboard player. To many Jamaicans and reggae music lovers the world over, Mr. Rodigan is a household name and someone they have been hearing about since their years as youngsters growing up in the U.K. and Jamaica during the 70s and 80s in particular. Seemingly, as long as many of them can remember, Rodigan’s name has been imprinted in their minds as well as resonated in their eardrums.
In the 1950s, around the time of David Rodigan’s birth in the U.K., there was a large-scale influx of immigrants from the Caribbean Diaspora that was also accompanied by the introduction of Trinidadian calypso and Jamaican mento music into the British music scene. The two genres meshed well with American jazz, which was not only popular on the islands, but also in the U.K. at that time. That musical mix lent itself to the rise of sound systems in the U.K., which were made popular in Jamaica by pioneering operators, namely King Jammy and King Tubby. In tandem with the sound systems, the Jamaican concept of the sound clash soon became a part of the U.K. musical terrain and served as a testing ground for DJs (‘sound men’, ‘sound boys’ or ‘selectors’) on the sound systems. The DJs clashed against each other or played their best selections for audiences in an attempt to win approval of crowds that would gather on street corners around London, for example. Sound systems, which are massive audio setups to which turntable decks, amplifiers, and stacked-up speakers are strung together, naturally took root in the U.K. as a result of the growing Caribbean population there.
Back in Kingston, Jamaica, meanwhile, King Tubby, who built his first sound system in 1957, stood at the forefront of transforming the music making process as a Dub Inventor and musician along with the likes of King Jammy and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. It was that Caribbean inflected, musical milieu that gave rise to David Rodigan, who during that era in Jamaican music was starting to make a name for himself across the U.K. as a sound man. He played against a number of sound systems in Jamaica, and had several memorable clashes against Barry G ‘the Boogie Man’. Back in those days, Barry G was the juggernaut of Jamaican radio and simply had that unmistakable aura or ‘it factor’ so to speak. And it was Barry G who invited Rodigan to be on his radio show and they both ended up engaging in live, on on-air sound clash that lasted for many hours. Once the dust cleared, the legend of ‘Ram Jam’ Rodigan took flight in earnest many believe based on his strong showing and astute knowledge of reggae music and its history. And in 1998, Rodigan prevailed over the British-based sound system, Luv Injection Sound, in one hell of a sound system battled that took place in Birmingham, U.K. In the wake of his sound clashing dust-ups back in the days, Rodigan has ever since been touring the world back-and-forth exalting Jamaican culture and playing reggae music with a fanatical love and passion.
In 1968, King Tubby’s ‘Hi Fi’ sound system enlisted Ewart ‘U Roy’ Beckford, who hailed from the Kingston area of Jones Town, as the set’s MC or hype-man. In that capacity, it was U Roy who then became known for pioneering and popularizing a rhyme chatting style on the sound system microphone, characterized by short phrases which became known as sound system ‘toasting’. In turn, the founding fathers in dub music, such as King Tubby and other sound system operators in Jamaica, began not only formulating ‘riddims’ (or beats) that carried heavy baselines, but also the ‘versioning’ of those tracks–often as instrumentals on the b-side of songs they produced. It was on those instrumentals that U Roy was said to ‘ride the riddim’ from start to finish with his unique rhyme chatting song segments. Also in 1968, a young lad named Clive Campbell, who was a resident of the nearby Kingston Community of Trench Town (the home neighborhood of reggae icon Bob Marley), left the island and moved to the Bronx in New York City.
A few years after he settled in the Bronx, Clive Campbell, in 1973, threw a block party under the name of DJ Kool Herc at his 1520 Sedgwick Avenue apartment complex. The party centered around a sound system that DJ Kool Herc had built and, the party also featured ‘toasting’ segments just like what DJ Kool Herc recalled U Roy doing on King Tubby’s Hi Fi sound system back in the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. In using two turntables, DJ Kool Herc introduced a technique called the ‘Merry-Go-Round’. At that, hip hop in the United States was born as, in essence, DJ Kool Herc had introduced his American friends to rap at that block party dubbed the ‘Back to School Jam’ on August 11, 1973. Apart from DJ Kool Herc, who has since become widely recognized as the ‘Godfather of hip hop’ by way of his presentation of the genre’s rap, turntable mixing and sampling elements, it is noteworthy that major contributors to the hip-hop movement back then were fellow Jamaicans, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio USA pays homage to the trio in an exhibit.
And as a salute to U Roy aka ‘the Originator’, internationally acclaimed dancehall artist, Shabba Ranks, in his song titled Respect (recorded in 1993), famously toasted: “Cool…Cool…U Roy done rule…U Roy is the Godfather of the deejay school.” Shabba Ranks was a deejay (toaster) from another West Kingston area, called Seaview Gardens, not too far from the Waterhouse community which was home base to the sound systemsKing Jammy and King Tubby. Dancehall titans Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, King Yellow Man, and Vybz Kartel all came forth from that region as well as many other legends in Jamaican music. In the early ’70s, going into the ’80s and ’90s, the community of Drewsland was also said to have had a big impact on dancehall as well and was an oasis of talent. Notable early figures of dancehall who frequented Drewsland to chat their lyrics on sound systems as well as work in the recording studios in the area were deejays, such as General Trees, Eek-A-Mouse, Super Cat, Josey Wales, Charlie Chaplin, and Ninja Man. And even in the present times, the top dancehall deejays in Jamaica oftentimes are rooted somewhere in West Kingston.
According to Kool Herc, when it comes to American hip-hop, the whole chemistry of it came from Jamaican toasting with U Roy as the lead pioneer of the vocal style and technique, which was renamed as rapping once he brought the style to the Bronx borough of New York City . More than that, the atmospheric, instrumental-heavy music with extended running times and production sampling, has grown far beyond its initial Jamaican roots and is nowadays a part of modern music in practically all forms. And many of those innovations are rooted in the legacy of sound systems such as King Tubby’s, King Jammy and Scratch Perry as dub music founders. Without a doubt, that is something lovers of the musical forms of ska, reggae, dub, dancehall, hip hop, EDM, and reggaeton (Latin or Spanish reggae) should be thankful for.
Where Jamaican ska, dub, reggae, dancehall, and sound system culture is concerned, one might posit that Rodigan is a pillar of sorts, especially when considering his rock solid career as a radio DJ, personality, and sound system selector (who could clash with the best of them), that has endured for so many decades. Over that span, he has played on highly acclaimed radio stations, including Radio London, Capital 95.8, Kiss 100, and BBC Radio, just to name a few. What’s more, Rodigan has garnered innumerable awards and accolades for his contributions to music. In 2012, he was even granted, by Prince Charles, the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire–a very prestigious award in the U.K. for services in broadcasting. Needless to say, Rodigan has served as a much heralded platform for the growth and popularity of reggae music through radio outside of Jamaica. And he is surely, a member of the upper-echelon of Jamaican sound men and has a permanent place in the annuls of Jamaican music and sound system history with countless thanks and gratitude, of course, to the aforementioned pioneers and originators that came before him and sparked his longstanding love affair with reggae music.
At Dubwise Miami, flashlights from cellular phones lit up the venue which is nestled behind the Coyo Taco restaurant located in the eclectic Wynwood Arts District of the city. Once he got behind the decks and settled, Rodigan was greeted by members of the legendary Third World Band from Jamaica, Stephen ‘Cat Coore’ and Richard Daley. It should be noted that Third World recently has recently released an album titled, More Work to Be Done. The packed house was a testament to the fact that it was a sold out show for sound system luminary David Rodigan, and the audience went beserk when ‘Ram Jam’ launched into his musical set by plucking several of his top choice selections from his bottomless dub basket while shouting his signature call Hey! Hey! Hey!
Photos by Nick Ford, who lives and works in South Florida.