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Monday, 27 January 2014 23:00

Reggae WIll Never Die

The veteran British DJ on how Jamaica’s new roots reggae movement is keeping the sound alive.

The latest installment in Ministry of Sound’s Masterpiece series comes from David Rodigan, the legendary British broadcaster, radio host and headliner of last year's RBMA Sound System at Notting Hill Carnival. To celebrate the release, we asked David to detail the new roots reggae movement coming out of Jamaica.

You’re no stranger to putting out compilations and mixes. Why this one now?

“To be honest, I’d closed the door on doing any more. But I took this on because it enabled me to do something I’ve never had the opportunity to do before, which is to select songs that mean a lot to me stretching back to my youth. I wanted to go for songs that were very significant when I was growing up. The final CD, however, largely throws forward to current and futuristic music. I wanted it to be reflective of things that are happening now. By choosing these songs, I was saying: this music has a future; it’s not going away.”

What is happening now?

“In the past two years, there’s been a transition in Jamaica with the rasta revival movement. Young artists and bands, such as Jah 9, Kabaka Pyramid, Protoje, Raging Fyah, Taurus Riley, Pentateuch and Chronixx, are taking reggae by the scruff of the neck. They are going back to bands playing together in studios and coming up with songs of weight and depth. They’re true to the roots of what made true reggae powerful, as a music that stood up for human rights and against injustice and oppression. It’s about living a life of purity and of rejecting capitalism. That’s why I called that third disc Stepping Out Of Babylon.”

Was there a time when reggae coming out of Jamaica wasn't doing that?

“We've had a lot of negative press and attitudes created by elements within the music in the past – the glorification of gun violence and of a lifestyle that is vacuous and shallow, for example. It's impacted heavily on its image and has tarnished the respect that our music has gathered. The essence of the music was always about uplifting people. The negativity that entered into rap music is equally depressing and tedious. I know so many people who used to like rap who tell me it died in ’92. People like Jay Z name-checking brands in his records – that’s what Jamaican reggae would refer to as a ‘Babylonian’ attitude towards the world.”

In what ways are today's roots revivalists different to the last?

“They are writing original songs and creating original rhythms. And they've got something to say about the society in which they live and about what they are experiencing. They live and breathe the culture: performers like Chronixx, who is at the vanguard of the movement, doesn't just talk the life, he lives it. He is a spiritual Rasta man, he lives on an Ital diet, and his music reflects that.”

Why will reggae continue to thrive?

“First of all, it has amazing voices. The thing that always enthralled me about the music was the quality of some of the voices. Jah 9 is an example of this in the new movement – she's a politically motivated, powerful songstress. Also, reggae’s rhythmic structure: it's unlike any other form of music. It has this almost back-to-front structure and this ‘drop and wait’. And more important than anything else, it has been responsible for some magnificent songs.”

How do you manage to stay relevant yourself?

“I do so because I thirst for new music and to see people who've got talent being recognized. It’s something I've always loved, from when I was a boy looking out the back window to see if anyone in yards next to me were dancing to the songs I was playing on my record player. That was the beginning of me wanting to be a DJ and to see The veteran British DJ on how Jamaica’s new roots reggae movement is keeping the sound alive.

The latest installment in Ministry of Sound’s Masterpiece series comes from David Rodigan, the legendary British broadcaster, radio host and headliner of last year's RBMA Sound System at Notting Hill Carnival. To celebrate the release, we asked David to detail the new roots reggae movement coming out of Jamaica.

You’re no stranger to putting out compilations and mixes. Why this one now?

“To be honest, I’d closed the door on doing any more. But I took this on because it enabled me to do something I’ve never had the opportunity to do before, which is to select songs that mean a lot to me stretching back to my youth. I wanted to go for songs that were very significant when I was growing up. The final CD, however, largely throws forward to current and futuristic music. I wanted it to be reflective of things that are happening now. By choosing these songs, I was saying: this music has a future; it’s not going away.”

What is happening now?

“In the past two years, there’s been a transition in Jamaica with the rasta revival movement. Young artists and bands, such as Jah 9, Kabaka Pyramid, Protoje, Raging Fyah, Taurus Riley, Pentateuch and Chronixx, are taking reggae by the scruff of the neck. They are going back to bands playing together in studios and coming up with songs of weight and depth. They’re true to the roots of what made true reggae powerful, as a music that stood up for human rights and against injustice and oppression. It’s about living a life of purity and of rejecting capitalism. That’s why I called that third disc Stepping Out Of Babylon.”

Was there a time when reggae coming out of Jamaica wasn't doing that?

“We've had a lot of negative press and attitudes created by elements within the music in the past – the glorification of gun violence and of a lifestyle that is vacuous and shallow, for example. It's impacted heavily on its image and has tarnished the respect that our music has gathered. The essence of the music was always about uplifting people. The negativity that entered into rap music is equally depressing and tedious. I know so many people who used to like rap who tell me it died in ’92. People like Jay Z name-checking brands in his records – that’s what Jamaican reggae would refer to as a ‘Babylonian’ attitude towards the world.”

In what ways are today's roots revivalists different to the last?

“They are writing original songs and creating original rhythms. And they’ve got something to say about the society in which they live and about what they are experiencing. They live and breathe the culture: performers like Chronixx, who is at the vanguard of the movement, doesn't just talk the life, he lives it. He is a spiritual Rasta man, he lives on an Ital diet, and his music reflects that.”

Why will reggae continue to thrive?

“First of all, it has amazing voices. The thing that always enthralled me about the music was the quality of some of the voices. Jah 9 is an example of this in the new movement – she's a politically motivated, powerful songstress. Also, reggae’s rhythmic structure: it's unlike any other form of music. It has this almost back-to-front structure and this ‘drop and wait’. And more important than anything else, it has been responsible for some magnificent songs.”

How do you manage to stay relevant yourself?

“I do so because I thirst for new music and to see people who've got talent being recognized. It’s something I've always loved, from when I was a boy looking out the back window to see if anyone in yards next to me were dancing to the songs I was playing on my record player. That was the beginning of me wanting to be a DJ and to see 

Published in General Reggae News

Expand your fan base
"I've been blown away with what's happened to me over the past three years. The two things that brought me to a younger audience were being sampled on the Breakage Feat Newham Generals single, Hard, and the other was being asked by the dubstep DJ Caspa to appear on his album. Before that, if you weren't deeply into the culture of reggae, you wouldn't have heard of me. That exposure has been a game-changer and I've had so much love from young people, university students and festivalgoers. Now there are twentysomethings tweeting me things like, 'I wish you were my dad!'."

Give your performance a twist
"I've been getting on the mic and introducing the tracks since the 80s. I couldn't stop myself from talking about music I was excited by and, because there was a tradition of that in reggae culture with an MC introducing a song, I was subconsciously continuing that tradition. I also have a reputation for bouncing around when I DJ and there's a famous You Tube clip of me in the 90s going for it after I dropped a version of Sleng Teng. One day, I was stopped by a guy on Berwick Street, who said: 'Oh my God. You're the bloke, the bloke who does that ridiculous dance.' He said he ran a training course for sales people and that he played my clip to them to as an example of what true enthusiasm can achieve."

Your passion is what counts
"I've had some pretty tough crowds, especially when I first started to play in Jamaica. When I walked onstage, you could hear the jaws dropping. I remember one of the first soundclashes I did was in May Pen in southern Jamaica at the big annual country fair. There were thousands of people and at night there was a big dance. Within minutes there was a big crowd staring straight through me. They had assumed I was a black man from England. But they realised that I had a genuine passion for their music, and they were proud to know that a man from another culture and part of the world came to their country and played their music with knowledge."

Stand for something or fall for anything
"I resigned from Kiss FM after 22 years because reggae had been marginalised there [his Sony award-winning radio show had been pushed back to midnight to accommodate Craig David's] and I felt that that was unacceptable. By resigning I was being true to my principles. In the end it hurt: this was the one reggae show on the station, which had already been shrunk from two hours to one hour. So I said, 'You know what? No more.' You have to stay true to your principles in life. Every man has a voice and, when appropriate, let's hear it."

Never forget the heritage
"Reggae has to move forward, but we need to be mindful of its roots. If we ever forget about those, especially its positive message, then we're in trouble. In more recent times we've seen changes in Jamaica and traditionalists say that the music isn't what it was. If you look at Mavado, Vybz Kartel and Popcaan, it's another world of street music. But recently we've seen artists like Protoje, Chronixx and Jah9, who know the music, are out to make a difference, and are clearly part of reggae's heritage."

Published in General Reggae News

Veteran reggae broadcaster David Rodigan is to join BBC Radio 1Xtra, just weeks after he quit an award-winning show on a commercial station after 20 years. The 61-year-old, who is the UK's foremost reggae presenter, walked out on Kiss FM in protest at the "marginalisation" of his music when his programme was shunted to a midnight slot. He has now signed up to host a two-hour Sunday evening show on Radio 1's digital sister station from February 17, and will also return to Radio 2 to host a 13-part series in the summer.

Published in Reggae Music News

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