27 April 2011

Hip-Hop Histories 2- The Sound System

The sound system concept first became popular in the 1950s, in the ghettos of Kingston. DJs would load up a truck with a generator, turntables, and huge speakers and set up street parties. In the beginning, the DJs played American rhythm and blues music, but as time progressed and more local music was created, the sound migrated to a local flavor. The sound systems were big business, and represented one of the few sure ways to make money in the unstable economy of the area. The promoter (the DJ) would make his profit by charging a minimal admission, and selling food and alcohol.

It was not uncommon for thousands of people to be in attendance. By the mid 1950s, sound systems had eclipsed live musicians in any combination for the purpose of staging parties. By the second half of the decade, custom-built systems began to appear from the workshops of specialists such as Headley Jones, who constructed wardrobe-sized speaker cabinets known as "House[s] of Joy". It was also around this time that Jamaica's first superstar DJ and MC, Count Machuki (b. Winston Cooper) rose to prominence. As time progressed, sound systems became much more powerful and far more complex than their predecessors, which were as simple as record players with a single extension speaker.Competition between these sound systems was fierce, and eventually two DJs emerged as the stars of the scene: Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd, and Duke Reid.

The popularity of a sound system was mainly contingent on one thing: having new music. In order to circumvent the release cycle of the American record labels, the two sound system superstars turned to record production. Initially, they produced only singles for their own sound systems, known as "Exclusives" or Dubplates - a limited run of one copy per song. What began as an attempt to copy the American R&B sound using local musicians evolved into a uniquely Jamaican musical genre: ska. This shift was due partly to the fact that as American-style R&B was embraced by a largely white, teenage audience and evolved into rock and roll, sound system owners could no longer depend on a steady stream of the singles they preferred: fast-shuffle boogies and ballads. In response to this shift in supply, Jamaican producers introduced to their work some of the original elements of the Jamaican sound: rhythm guitars strumming the offbeat and snare-drum emphasis on the third beat, for example. As this new musical form became more popular, both Dodd and Reid began to move more seriously into music production. Coxsone Dodd's production studio became the famous Studio One, while Duke Reid founded Treasure Isle.

As sound systems continued to gain in popularity through the 1960s and 1970s, they became politicized in many instances. Many sound systems, and their owners, were labeled as supporters of a particular political party (such as the PNP or the JLP), but most of the sound systems tried to maintain political neutrality. Nevertheless, as a cultural and economic phenomenon, the sound system was affected by the vast socio-political changes taking place in Jamaica at this time.

Beautiful early eighties TV documentary focussing on two legendary sound systems based in the Wandsworth area of south west London, the original Champion Sound Sir Coxsone and the upcoming Young Lion who went on to create sound system history by winning seven Cup Dance Trophies. This is truly a treasure featuring rare footage of many of the characters involved in both sounds including David Rodigan, Lloydie Coxsone, Festus - mixing dubs for an upcoming dance - Blacker Dread, Levi 'Reggae Reggae Sauce' Roots, Bikey and the rest, and Young Lion crew including the great Bunny Reds whose youthful exuberance and enthusiasm makes him the star of this show. Great stuff. Note: Picture quality variable / fuzzy.

Clive Campbell (born April 16, 1955), brought this form of sound system culture with him when he immigrated to New york from Jamaica. Also known as Kool Herc, DJ Kool Herc and Kool DJ Herc, The Jamaican-born DJ is credited with originating hip hop music, in The Bronx, New York City. His playing of hard funk records of the sort typified by James Brown was an alternative both to the violent gang culture of the Bronx and to the nascent popularity of disco in the 1970s. In response to the reactions of his dancers, Campbell began to isolate the instrumental portion of the record which emphasized the drum beat—the "break"—and switch from one break to another to yet another.
Using the two turntable set-up of the disco DJs, Campbell's style led to the use of two copies of the same record to elongate the break. This breakbeat DJing, using hard funk, rock, and records with Latin percussion, formed the basis of hip hop music. Campbell's announcements and exhortations to dancers helped lead to the syncopated, rhymed spoken accompaniment now known as rapping. He called his dancers "break-boys" and "break-girls", or simply b-boys and b-girls. Campbell's DJ style was quickly taken up by figures such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. Unlike them, he never made the move into commercially recorded hip hop in its earliest years.Herc had become somewhat of a folk hero in the Bronx. Herc began to play at the nearby Twilight Zone club, the Havelo club, the Executive Playhouse club, the PAL on 183rd Street, and high schools such as Dodge High School and Taft High School. Rapping duties were delegated to Coke La Rock. Herc's collective, known as The Herculoids, was further augmented by Clark Kent and dancers The Nigger Twins.

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