The two most important elements of a Jamaican sound system are selection of records and sheer volume, emphasizing an apocalyptic amount of BASS. Most sessions (reggae dances) are held in the most run down parts of cities such as Kingston, New York, Toronto, or London. They usually begin no earlier than midnight, don't really get going until 3 AM, and can finish any time before dawn. The first Jamaican sound systems began in Jamaica in the late fifties, a time when, coincidentally, a large number of Jamaicans were leaving their Island for England. Naturally, Jamaican "Sounds" sprang up there too.
In the mid-late sixties, Jah Shaka, whose real name remains a closely guarded secret, and whose nom-de-dj is taken from the South African King Shaka Zulu, was inspired by and interested in the thoughts and actions of individuals as Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, and George Jackson. During the 1970s, after an apprenticeship with the Freddie Cloudburst sound system, Shaka started selecting on his own, and in the process created something entirely new--a cultural, Rasta-oriented sound system for the UK. His taste in Conscious music with a message combined with his exclusive and extremely heavy dub plates played at maximum intensity has ensured his permanent legacy as one of the UK's top Selectors.
Atlanta's Abu Shaka (no relation) describes Shaka at the controls: "To be in attendance of a Jah Shaka session is no less than experiencing the sight of the Grand Canyon or seeing a volcano erupting at a safe distance! It is truly a spiritually elevating experience. Shaka waves his spiritual spell, ever urging the faithful onto further fierce displays of ecstasy. The huge rhythms booming out of Shaka's splintered old boxes offer no respite to the dancers' tireless enthusiasm. I've been here for nearly five hours now, and some individuals have been at it since before I got here with barely a breather, and the walls are running with sweat and condensation.Truly, this is no place for the weak-hearted. The bass is King. The bass hits your chest, that's where you "hear" it rather than your ears, they are under assault from the treble, which is threatening to take your scalp off. Your ribcage resonates alarmingly and your pants appear to shift around your legs as if in an effort to escape the fearsome ROAR that is all around. Awesome! (reprinted with kind permission from the Reggae Festival Guide)
By the close of the 1970s Shaka added music production and recording to his dj/selecting career. The 10 Commandments were rewritten musically by Shaka, becoming 10 Commandment-dub albums of thunderous proportion. He began working with '70s JA heroes Johnny Clarke, Max Romeo, Horace Andy, and Prince Allah, as well as local stars Junior Brown and Vivian Jones. But for many, the essence of Shaka's work is Shaka himself--humble, skanking, trance-like, and the sounds that blast from his speakers. Shaka has set up the Jah Shaka Foundation to assist with projects in Jamaica, Ethiopia, and Ghana. Shaka has managed to distribute medical supplies, wheelchairs, library books, and carpentry tools to clinics, schools, and radio stations.