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Sound System culture relies on rural Jamaica for survival

Published:Thursday | September 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Bass Odyssey Sound back in the day.
Bredda Hype sound system in performance.
File Oliver (left) and Sky Juice of Metromedia Sound pose with their World Clash Trophy.

Curtis Campbell, Gleaner Writer

In light of an article published in The Sunday Gleaner on September 7, 2014, titled 'The good, the bad and the ugly of dub splicing', where the practice of dubplate splicing and sound system culture in Jamaica was explored, sound system operators have come forward to clarify the view that Jamaica's sound system and clash culture is dying.

The article pointed to Japan and Europe as places that have adopted the sound system culture and have managed to establish strong support in circles familiar with Jamaican music. However, Jamaican sound system operators are now asserting that the culture is very much alive in Jamaica, but only in rural parts of the island.

The sound system operators believe rural Jamaica still has some of the most prolific sound systems in the world. However, the media's focus on Kingston and the Corporate Area has led to the belief that the sound system culture is no longer flourishing.

According to St Elizabeth-based sound system operator, Anthony Keming, the sound system culture is so alive in the parish that there are at least 15 notable sound systems in every five miles.

Keming, who represents Bredda Hype sound, says persons who reside in the parish rely heavily on sound systems to provide for their families.

"A lot of people in St Elizabeth depend on parties for sending their children to school. Even if somebody dies, we play sound system, farm workers return from abroad and they want to celebrate - we play music, it's just our way of life," he said.

Keming says the partying ways of the citizens ultimately led to a rise in the number of sound systems in the parish over the years, and inevitably led to clashes, because each new sound system would eventually want to become the dominant one, so as to become more marketable in the eyes of event organisers.

"Recording artistes can tell yu, St Elizabeth sound systems purchase the most dubplates in the country, because new sounds always emerge and they want to prove a point," he said.


"Kingston has a lot of pouch DJs, but in St Elizabeth, if a man even start out as a pouch DJ in a few years' time he will start to build his own sound system. We are trying to uphold the culture of our music so we keep it authentic. Most pouch DJs don't even use dubplates ... when a real sound system plays, it is like a school, because we play music from old school come straight to present. Pouch DJ just come play some tune fi half hour and leave and then a next one pick up and play the same set of songs," Keming said.

"Not everywhere in St Elizabeth has cable, so the youth are not really brainwashed into American culture like in Kingston. They are more about the roots, sometimes we string up the sound at some place where you not even see much houses, and by dance time the entire place is filled with people," he added.

Another sound system based in rural Jamaica is the iconic Bass Odyssey. However, unlike other rural sound systems, Bass Odyssey has managed to develop a fanbase for itself in Kingston, due to its numerous clash victories and its relatively long existence in dancehall. The St Ann-based 25-year-old outfit has been crowned champion sound system of the world twice, and has won numerous other titles. Bass Odyssey's name is almost synonymous with sound clashing and has earned the credentials to critique a culture it helped to mould. However, booking agent for the sound system, Dwayne Walford, was not too quick to throw his Kingston associates under the bus.

"You have a few town sounds, like Metro Media and Stone Love, still holding up the culture. But at the same time, we have to understand that the pouch thing is less expensive, that is why in Kingston it is so popular. The city is more populated and have a lot of working class who seek quick entertainment, so the demand is great, and that is why you have mostly pouch DJs in Kingston," he said.

Kingston-based selector Sky Juice, in speaking with The Gleaner, offered a different reason for Kingston's situation. The Metromedia frontman and current World Clash Champion says the lack of venues, coupled with the Noise Abatement Act, has cost sound system operators in Kingston dearly.

"In country they have lawns (venues) that are not very close to residential areas. Country is not commercial like town and the people don't block up the roads with dem vehicle. More lawns needed in Kingston, because as yu mek little noise dem call di police. Di man dem not making no sound system in Kingston because it don't mek sense yu have a big sound inna yu yard and cant play it, and me respect di law. Suh, as a police sey turn it off, a dat mi duh... the way the system set, it don't easy for sound systems in Kingston," Sky Juice said.


Record producer Wayne Lonesome agrees with Sky Juice, as he says the venues in Kingston are too expensive to acquire, unlike rural areas which are more affordable and attract less production costs. Therefore, a sound system culture is easier to develop and protect in rural areas.

In 2013, State Minister in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford had promised to identify zones in which music could be played within specified time limits, including a 24-hour zone which he classified as Zone D. However, the minister is yet to identify such areas that will become part of his planned zoning system.