Miami Reggae Festival 2021 took place in Opa Locka, Florida at the City’s Marketplace and coincided with Jamaica’s Independence Day weekend in celebration of the country’s 59th anniversary of its independence. So too, the event made a ‘Call for Healing the Community’ through sound system culture. In that spirit, Miami Reggae Festival 2021 centered around Jamaican music and the country’s much storied sound system culture. Sound systems—which are massive audio setups to which turntable decks, amplifiers, and stacked-up speakers are strung together— began to sprout across the Jamaica’s musical terrain in the 1950s.
Oftentimes, sound systems have been analogized to as mobile discos/radio stations that traveled from community to community in Jamaica to promote and play music fresh out of the studios on the island, underground music that was in demand but not yet playing on the radio, or to ‘buss’ out up-and-coming artists to the mainstream. Against that backdrop, sound systems served as a testing ground for DJs (‘sound men’, ‘sound boys’ or ‘selectors’) on the sound systems. What’s more, sound system selectors DJs often 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 not only in Jamaica, but also abroad.
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. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who passed away just recently at the age of 85, was a central pillar and the genius who many say set the groundwork for dub music, which sound systems latched onto as the vehicle for formulating riddims and recording artists.
Reggae singers and dancehall artists also also aligned themselves with sound systems to broadened their listening base through voicing their new songs and dubplates on popular riddims or attending the dancehall sound system sessions where entire communities would gather on a lawn to listen to the latest tracks of their favorite artists. The reggae singers and dancehall artists would also appear in person to give live performances on the sound system by toasting/rapping their lyrics. In fact, Clive Campbell, popularly known as DJ Kool Herc used the sound system concept in throwing a block party under the name of ‘DJ Kool Herc and the Herculoids’ at his 1520 Sedgwick Avenue apartment complex in the Bronx, New York City. 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.
The photo reel below aims to capture the highlights from the event, which included live performances from world-class and heavyweight sound systems, such as: Downbeat; Stone Love; Adonai Sound; Overproof Sound; King Addies; Bass Odyssey; Metro Media; Poison Dart; Warrior Sound; King Waggy Tee; Soul Supreme; and King Champion. The legendary and iconic Jamaican dub poet, Mutabaruka, handled the MC duties for the festival. Kudos and ’nuff respect’ to foundation sound system, ‘Downbeat the Ruler’ and its veteran selector and founder, Anthony “Tony Screw” Rookwood, who was given a well deserved award on stage from the City of Opa Locka for his tireless contribution to reggae. Born in Jamaica, Tony Screw launched the world-renowned Downbeat sound system 50 years ago in New York City’s Bronx borough.
All photos taken by Nick Ford, who lives and works in South Florida.