Trojan Presents: Dancehall - 40 Sound System Favourites

Sensimelia - Black Uhuru
Cool Out Son - Junior Murvin
Fort Augustus - Junior Delgado
Sitting And Watching - Dennis Brown
Rope In - Cornell Campbell
Next To You - Gregory Isaacs
Merry Go Round - Junior Delgado
Smiling Faces Sometimes - The Tamlins
Rob And Gone - Barrington Levy
Sweet Sugar Plum - The Wailing Souls
Joe Grine - Madoo
Heart Made Of Stone - The Viceroys
Why You So Craven - Israel Vibration
Oh What A Feeling - Gregory Isaacs
Look How Me Sexy - Linval Thompson
Hot You're Hot - Sly Dunbar
Peace And Love In The Ghetto - Tristan Palmer
Old Broom - The Wailing Souls
No Competition - Freddie McGregor
Blood Stain - Peter Broggs
Roots With Quality - Third World
Good To Be There - Chalice
My Whole World Is Falling Down - The Tamlins
Boxing Around - Cornell Campbell
Revolution - Dennis Brown
Sweetie Come Brush Me - John Holt
Johnny Dollar - Roland Burrell
Lover's Race - Sugar Minott
Halfway Up, Halfway Down - Dennis Brown
Cool Down The Pace - Gregory Isaacs
Gun Shot - Anthony Johnson
Lend Me Your Chopper - Johnny Osbourne
My Woman - Barrington Levy
A Trouble You, A Trouble Me - Ini Kamoze
Settle Down Girl - Tristan Palmer
Devil's Pickney - Sugar Minott
Those Tricks - Carlton Livingston
I've Lost My Sonia - Cocoa Tea
Rub A Dub Sound - Sugar Minott
World A Music - Ini Kamoze

'The chance to create a new style everyday. That's Dancehall style...' Barrington Levy.

Reggae music is never straightforward. Every time you think you have it worked out something else comes along and completely changes your perspective. As Ini Kimoze sings on the closing track there's a whole world of music... 'a world  a reggae music'.

The much maligned 'dancehall style', which dominated the music for the first half of the Eighties, was more inward looking than the so-called international sound of the Seventies, but was nowhere near as simplistic as its many critics claimed. What was released on record during this period was largely determined by what was happening on the sound systems. In many ways this harked back to the late Fifties and the beginnings of the Jamaican music industry when, faced with the drying up at source of suitably tenacious American Rhythm & Blues records, the sound system operators began to make their own recordings. created specifically for the sounds to play as acetates or 'soft wax', they were not originally intended for commercial release, but the demand was so great that entrepreneurs who had once played records now began to make records. Twenty-five years later what was happening live and direct in the dancehalls was once again determining the form and content of the records being produced in Kingston.

'Forget your troubles and dance... forget your sorrow and dance'.
'Belly Full' - Bob Marley & The Wailers 1975.

The international success of Bob Marley & The Wailers had led many people to believe that all Reggae music had to be based around the tenets of Rastafarian ideology. If the music did not adhere to this strict blueprint it was deemed unworthy of consideration and so, during the Seventies, many had jumped aboard what Max Romeo tellingly describes as the 'Rasta bandwagon'.

'It all changed it 1975 when Bob Marley bust and now Reggae came to the forefront of international attention... And suddenly you had artists growing their locks and trying to sing like Bob Marley because they thought that would make them successful...' Pete Weston.

But it was somehow overlooked that many of Bob Marley's greatest songs were also about love and the cathartic joys of music and dancing. His premature death in 1981 was followed by a gradual diminishing of the importance of Rastafarian ideology within the music and the critics regarded this new music as lightweight and inconsequential. The term 'Dancehall' now began to be widely used to describe the music coming out of Jamaica. However, its early stirrings had begun in the previous decade.

It was not long after the introduction of two-track recording in Kingston in the mid-Sixties that the capital's record producers had realised the economic advantages of using the same rhythm track to further instrumental, deejay and various vocal versions. And you only had to pay the musicians once! This was not solely cynicism on their part, as the record-buying public loved countless cuts and further versions. Herein lay the roots of dub... but that's another story.

'We couldn't afford for every song to get a different set of musician so we started using the same rhythm over again'. Bunny 'Striker' Lee.

The music that Sugar Minott recorded at Studio One on Brentford Road in the latter half of the Seventies was a major influence on the formation of one of the popular aspects of the Dancehall style. Not only an extremely expressive singer, Sugar's strength was his facility for writing brand new songs for Coxsone Dodd's vintage rhythm tracks that sounded as if they were the original versions. His breakthrough hit in 1979, 'Oh Mr DC' upgraded the Tenors' 'Pressure And Slide' into a ganja anthem, and became a key record in the development of this new style of music - Sugar was affectionately known as 'The Godfather of Dancehall' for the rest of his dazzling career.

For a while, for a song to be popular it had to be on a readily recognisable rhythm, no matter how tight the fit, with the track usually plundered from the vast vaults of Treasure Isle or Studio One.

'By 1983, indeed, it was unusual for anyone to have a Jamaican hit employing a completely original rhythm track'. Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton.

The ever-evolving Dancehall style not only looked for inspiration in the past. It also looked to the here and now.

'I was in England in 1981 and 'Gun Man' by Michael prophet was everywhere... everywhere I went I heard it play so I said to myself 'I need a gun tune too'. Anthony Johnson started to sing for me and I said 'I've had enough love songs! Give me that 'Gunshot' tune!' It was an instant hit...'  Jah Thomas.

And, as always, there was more than one direction available. Throughout the history of Jamaican music one or two session bands have dominated and defined a particular era. Obviously, the Skatalites with Ska, Lynn Tait & The Jets and Tommy McCook & The Supersonics with Rock Steady, the Upsetters and the Dynamites with Reggae, the Soul Syndicate, the Now Generation, Skin, Flesh & Bones, the Aggrovators, the Revolutionaries... you get the picture. But there was only one particular aggregation that mattered in the Dancehall era - the Roots Radics. The undisputed key band of the period, the Radics' heartbeat were the Morewells' rhythm guitarist Eric 'Bingy Bunny' Lamont and bass guitarist Errol 'Flabba' Holt, along with Wycliffe 'Steely' Johnson on keyboards, Lincoln 'Style' Scott and Carlton 'Santa' Davis on drums, veteran keyboard supremos Gladstone 'Gladdy' Anderson and Ansel Collins, and Noel' Sowell' Bailey, Winston 'Bo Peep' Bowen, Earl 'Chinna' Smith and Dwight Pinkney on guitars. Their highly individual music, raw and uncompromising, was in constant demand and every producer, every singer and every deejay, whether established or up and coming, demanded their very own piece of the Radics' Dancehall action.

'Most of the time I used the Roots Radics. I'd pay them before a session so they'd work better with money in their pockets! In one session we made ten different rhythms and seven of them were hits...' Jah Thomas.

The niceties of crossover international Reggae was stripped away; cut down and shorn off like the dreadlocks of the Rasta bandwagon riders. The sound that the Radics created and their bare, spare sparseness eventually came to full fruition when new technology and computer built rhythms completely changed the pattern of Reggae in the second half of the Eighties.

The tireless work of drummer Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare was yet another decisive factor in the making of the Dancehall style. The musicians' job in Kingston's studios was to be heard and not seen, but the duo soon became better known than many star performers. Known simply as Sly & Robbie, and on occasion even Drumbar and Basspeare, they were among the very first to see the possibilities of using electronic instruments to actually make Reggae music. Sly's inventive use of syndrums and the Simmons electronic drum kit were truly revolutionary. He decided not to simply use them to add to the existing sound, but began to build an entirely new musical vocabulary with these machines. His obsession with electronic drums had come from an unlikely source, 'Pop Musik' by M, which had reached Number Two in the UK National Charts in April 1979.

'We were trying to put things in the system that weren't there before and incorporate other stuff from outside of Reggae. i was on tour with Peter Tosh listening to the radio and I heard this record 'Pop Musik'. I thought that little thing is wicked! Si I bought the syndrums and came back to Jamaica with them. Brought them down and tuned them up. The first tune with that pattern was 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' with Black Uhuru. I couldn't programme it so I had to play it! Then 'Love & Devotion' with Jimmy Riley. there's three tracks for syndrums on Junior Delgado's 'Fort Augustus' with a syndrum playing the riff.' Sly Dunbar.

So while some sought inspiration in Jamaica's rich musical history, others looked for it in the present and as Sly & Robbie were looking outside of the Jamaican mainstream, the Roots Radics were busy turning the music inwards... it's never straightforward is it? it is customary to categorise Jamaican musical history in easy shorthand: Sixties Ska - very good, Rocksteady - good, Sixties and Seventies Reggae - good, Roots Reggae - very good, Eighties dancehall - not so good and the beginning of the end, Digital - not so good either and Nineties Ragga and all that followed - no good at all. The truth is as far away from these easy definitions as could be possible, but these opinions are gradually changing and the records on this set defy any kind of attempt to neatly categorise and condemn it. Its supposed lack of sophistication conceals a wealth of subtlety and invention that has been overlooked too often in the past. One of the most creative and exciting periods in Jamaican music, the rest of the world id finally catching up with the raw simplicity of the Dancehall style.

Harry Wise - April 2011
All material © Trojan Records