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The sound system industry provided jobs for the ordinary Jamaican

Published:Sunday | March 10, 2019 | 12:00 AMSade Gardner - Gleaner Writer -

The heels are long gone, the last sound system is packing up and patrons are heading to the exit where the ‘soup woman’ and ‘jerk chicken man’ eagerly wait to satiate tormented appetites. This is the usual tale at any dance session or party – men pointing you to the nearest parking spot, vendors providing necessary snackables and the enthusiastic voice that belts ‘Taxi?’ all congregate.

Since its development in Jamaica in the 1940s, the sound system industry has created a platform for many individuals to earn an income and even build various businesses. Errol Bennett is one such beneficiary, and has operated Fugitive Speaker Repairs in Cassia Park, St Andrew, for more than two decades.

“I got in this business as a teenager. I wanted to learn a trade, so me go ‘mongst me brother who fixed amplifiers for radios and watched him,” the 62-year-old told The Sunday Gleaner. “He ended up in a shop with a man weh fix speakers, so me watch the man cause it was too much things to learn for fixing amplifiers, so I ended up loving the speaker trade.”

After perfecting the craft, Bennett established his own sound system dubbed Emperor Lion, based in Papine, St Andrew, and started fixing his own speakers. As his popularity grew, he said that he also repaired speakers in Drewsland for major sounds like Black Scorpio.

“Dem days people used to come to me because I could build the boxes, too. me a build sound from little 12-inch speaker boxes,” he said. “Me build a whole heap of sounds, but eventually, me neglect the sound ting cause there was too much competition, and a di man wid di money did have the talk, so me just go full time pon the speaker repairs and recording music.”

Low-income earners benefit

Though he has spent most of his career wiring several studios in Jamaica, Martin Mitchell has also benefited from the sound system industry, having repaired amplifiers for sounds like Stone Love, Sky Disco, and Sparkles Disco.

“I think the sound system industry has provided most of the money for the ordinary person in Jamaica,” he said. “The cigarette companies and the drink companies make the most money, but for the ordinary low-income person, I think the sound system industry and nightclubs are a very important part of their livelihood.”

The often overlooked ‘box man’ also plays a pivotal role in the industry as he is responsible for setting up several speaker boxes and ensuring that they are properly tuned. The venerable Jamrock sound system had a crew of 14, including four box men.

“This is a business that really provides for people. my sound has six selectors, four box men, the truck driver, an engineer, the deputy and myself, and everybody makes a living from this,” Jamrock principal Hugh ‘Redman’ James said.

When Maurice ‘Jack Scorpio’ Johnson’s sound attained popularity in the 1970s, he said that he was able to provide employment for several people beyond his Drewsland community.

“We employed about 12 persons, so sometimes you woulld have up to six DJs and singers and five box men, other people who maintain the sound and people who drive the truck. it helped a lot of ghetto people,” he said.

Johnson added that there were also additional benefits for persons not affiliated with a sound. “Any event that takes place, especially when there is a popular sound playing, you’ll find that a lot of higglers come and sell peanut, cake, orange, and banana,” he shared. “These higglers can use the money and send their kids to school, and it help a lot of people who are unfortunate. Dem dying fi the sound string up so dem can sell likkle corn, beer ... . it’s happening now, but it used to happen more in the early 1970s to 1990s.”

Lloyd ‘King Jammy’ James added: “Sound system is an industry by itself that create jobs for a lot of youths and people. Back in the day, you wouldd have the man who clean down the box, man who lift up the box, string up the sound, all kinds of people.”