Reggae Day analyses sound systems
Since the 1950s, sound systems have been an integral feature of Jamaica's culture. They played an important role in exposing the world to Jamaican music, and by extension Jamaican culture. However, in recent years there have been concerns that the sound system culture is quickly dying.
At least one sound system owner has come forward refuting those claims.
Yaniq Walford of the popular Bass Odyssey said the Jamaican sound system culture is very much alive. Speaking at a conference commemorating the 21st anniversary of International Reggae Day at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel last Wednesday, Walford addressed the issue.
"Although it is not what it once was, sound system culture is not dead or on life support," she said. Walford pointed out that sound systems have become synonymous with Jamaican culture, and for that alone it will live on forever. "It is hard to define what a sound system is and people often misunderstand it, but what they won't get wrong is where it came from. Jamaica will always be the home of the sound system, and that alone can sustain it."
She noted, however, that in a digital age, there are changes that need to be made if sound systems are to be sustainable. "Sound systems need help and the laws of the land are not offering that," Walford said, pointing out that the Noise Abatement Act is doing more harm than good for the sustainability of sound systems.
Walford went on to explain that the majority of sound system operators' earnings are from dance bookings, and the Noise Abatement Act has pushed more people to look towards cheaper alternatives when hosting events. "People would rather get a DJ with a laptop to play a few tunes at their parties than book a sound system, because it is cheaper and parties ending at 2:00 in the morning doesn't help. People are not going to pay more money for a sound when the party a go lock off
2 a.m., but if the time was extended people will feel like they're getting more value for their money," Walford said.
She also pointed out that DJs referring to themselves as sound system operators are hurting the brand, as it helps to damage the authenticity. "They need to stop calling themselves sound system operators. If you don't operate the equipment, hire a team, or at the very least have some boxes, then the title doesn't go for you," she said.
Music industry veteran Gussie Clarke agreed, extending the quality issue to recordings. "Jamaica has a value and a sound we should try and preserve. People are producing mediocrity and passing it off as music and if we are not careful Jamaica might lose the very thing that defined us," Clarke said.
Walford also made reference to payola, stating that it is also present in the sound system arena. "The money pull-up thing that has emerged is hurting the business. People come out to the dance to hear music, but when a man a pay selector fi play one tune over and over it eliminates the variety that a sound system should offer," she said.
This year's International Reggae Day (IRD) celebrated the Jamaican sound system movement for its impact on the development and internationalisation of Jamaican music and culture. IRD 2015 Awards were slated for iconic Jamaican sound system innovators King Jammy, Stone Love Movement, Merritone Music, Prince Buster's Voice of the People, the late Louise Fraser Bennett and the Jamaica Sound System Federation on behalf of the entire sound system movement, as well as Japanese sound
system Mighty Crown.