Reigning as the king of the soundsystem in his native London, throughout the UK and all over the world, the mighty Jah Shaka returns to control the late-night Dancehall for our 25th Anniversary festival this year. As is the tradition here, he will be performing over Comanche High Power's custom sound system, shaking the hall with his own productions, dubplates and the best of the UK steppers sound, a genre which he practically invented.
The first Jamaican sound systems began 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, to cater to the expats who took up residence in the various cities, most notably London.
The two most important elements of a Jamaican style sound system, particularly in the UK, are selection of records and sheer volume, emphasizing an apocalyptic amount of BASS. Most sessions (reggae dances) are held in hidden, often private, basement venues of inner cities, where they usually begin no earlier than midnight, don't really get going until 3 AM, and can finish about the time the sun comes up. While it may sound strange that they are hidden away, the sound emanating from the premises makes it clear something special is going on, even if one cannot immediately figure out where, exactly, and the obscure locations help shield the dances from intrusions by uninvited authorities (e. g. the police).
During the 1970s, Jah Shaka, whose nom-de-dj is taken from the African King Shaka Zulu, served an apprenticeship with the Freddie Cloudburst sound system, and then started something entirely new: a cultural, Rastafarian-oriented sound system in the UK. His taste in conscious music with a message combined with his exclusive and extremely heavy dub plates (soft wax/acetate platters with special mixes or altogether unique tracks) played at maximum intensity has ensured his permanent legacy as one of the UK's top Selectors.
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 Commandments of Dub albums of thunderous proportion. He began working with Jamaican artists Johnny Clarke, Max Romeo, Horace Andy, and Prince Allah, as well as local stars Junior Brown and Vivian Jones, producing singles as well as LPs for those and many other reggae artists. In addition, he formed his own ensemble, the Fasimbas, and produced many records featuring them and his own vocals as well.
But for many, the essence of Shaka's work is Shaka himself, towering over the turntable, seemingly in a trance but always ready to intone conscious interjections while changing to the next platter, and the sounds that blast from his own custom made amplifiers and speakers.
That brings up another unique aspect of his performance: while many selectors work with two turntables so as to blend one record into the next, "Shaka style" has come to mean using only one turntable and filling the time in between tracks with Rastafarian-centric speeches, delivered while he set up the next record for play. As any selector knows, this is a real art form, to not let the vibes die down while changing records is quite a difficult task, one that Shaka has perfected.
Another well-known Jah Shaka trademark is to let the record begin with only the treble coming through the speakers, and then, with a dramatic punch and feel, he will unleash the bass at the appropriate time, usually to the enthusiastic approval of his gathered crowd.
Not one to be content with only a musical message, 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. The man truly puts his money where his mouth is and his contributions to various societies is recognized the world over.
The return of the mighty warrior Jah Shaka is sure to be a highlight at this year's Dancehall, and as always he promises to bring exclusive dubplates and productions to run on Comanche's custom sound system. When Shaka meets Comanche, walls will shake and the floor will quiver with the massive vibrations!