How Jamaican is Jamaica NY

How the Jamaican sound system culture conquered the music world

© Kane Hibberd / Red Bull Content Pool
From Sir Coxsone to DJ Kool Herc - the sound system culture played a major role in music history. We take a look at the roots and influence of Jamaican musical culture.
The idea of ​​the Jamaican soundclashes originated in the 1990s. A wide variety of crews competed against each other on turntables with huge speakers. The phenomenon spread relatively quickly all over the world - starting in the Caribbean, through America and Japan, to Scandinavia. The multitude of world clash events proves how far the sound system culture has traveled since then. And it all started in the 1950s on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica.
In the beginning it was American R&B ...
When the first sound systems were built in the 1950s (a pair of speakers plugged together that hit the streets of Kingston with American R&B albums), reggae and dancehall was nothing more than an itch in the eye of the sound system pioneers. Duke Reid and Sir Coxsone were the ones who made a name for themselves with their victories in the so-called Soundclashes. Back then, the clashes were still unofficial battles between two sound system set-ups that were placed relatively close to each other.
The Jamaican reggae star Luciano knows why: “The Jamaicans love competition. They like to prove to themselves that they can outdo someone else. It's just in their nature. "
But everything got rolling quickly ...
In the 1960s and 1970s, DJs became as important as the music itself. They picked the best to create new and refreshing Jamaican music. King Tubby, Joe Gibbs and Lee “Scratch” Perry are just a few of them - Tubby himself began with creating “specials” and exclusive tracks to be played by his or other systems.
With the rise of dancehall and DJs like Yellowman, Tenor Saw and Burro Banton, it turned into something completely different. Live singers and MCs were invited to talk down the rival sound systems and test new music. This also paved the way for the so-called dubplates: existing tracks were cut and shouted out for the respective sound system.
Sound systems have always been a team affair
The loudspeakers could not escape the Jamaican competition either. After the whole thing got more and more out of hand, there were suddenly loudspeakers that towered over the audience with a height of 3.6 meters. Naturally, this ambition was only possible in a team, in so-called sound system crews, who took care of the booking, built their own amps and speakers and organized everything else.
Great Britain took over the sound system culture ...
Jamaican migrants in the UK gathered in homes and basements to throw blues parties in the 50s and 60s. This again required a sound system, while party-goers had to pay admission to offset the costs. Lloyd Coxsone's "Sir Coxsone Outerniational" was one of the better known systems in Great Britain at the time and had some worthy successors with "Jah Shaka", "Channel One", "Iration Steppas" and "Saxon Studio International".
The big names in Jamaican music came to play with these sound systems, which in turn had a huge impact on DJs like Yellowman. In Great Britain, the sound system culture dominates the Notting Hill Carnival and, not least, has had an enormous impact on rave parties, festivals and - of course - the Red Bull Culture Clash.
Tony Screw was a selector and built one of the first reggae sound systems in New York with “Downbeat International” in the 1970s. DJ Kool Herc had just as much influence. Born in Kingston, Clive Campbell (Herc's official name) witnessed Jamaican dancehall parties. After moving to the Bronx, Herc built his own system while laying the foundation for hip hop. The "Herculords" had an immense influence, for example on "Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five" or "Zulu Nation". The rest is music history.