Last Sweat Lodge was our best yet! Big shout to DJ Beto for coming through and throwing down with me, Geko Jones and Atropolis. I had a blast. The next one is approaching quickly and I am super excited to announce that we’ve got Brooklyn’s own Dre Skull as our guest. Dre Skull runs the Mixpak label and just produced an amazing record with Vybz Kartel. Kartel is to me one of the best and most interesting artists in dancehall music right now and I cannot overstate how impressed I am with Dre for his role in creating Kingston Story, their album. Read all about it at Taliesin’s post here. On the night your’s truly Matt Shadetek, Geko Jones and Atropolis will be raising the temperature with your favorite tropical sounds so come dressed to sweat.
Let’s talk about letting the weird back out. Let’s talk about the Eternals.
[from their literally genre-defining album Rawar Style]
Their new album Approaching the Energy Field is very much an Album Experience of the sort which appeals to my ever-nostalgic cracker cerebellum (strangely, it is the same part of me that loves noise). Most reviews of their work highlight the genre-hyphening aspects of their sound, which is understandable; dub, arkestry, punk and various other styles resonate in harmony within their mix. What I hear, though, is a personality that is at once singular, communal and universal. You can stream a lot of the tracks off the album at the link above, but I feel like the deep listening that is best enjoyed far away from your computer is really the way to enjoy this stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, though. The music here isn’t really about nostalgia as much as it is about saudade, for after the sugar-rush when we’re each weirder for having met one another.
When DA’s digital guru, Taliesin, asked me to do a regular post on sound system culture, it wasn’t long after we attended the pre-funeral celebration for Cyril Braithwaite. So it makes perfect sense to start a series about sound systems with a focus on “Count C”, a foundation soundman who was shelling it down before dancehall, before reggae, before ska…
In a recent Jamaica Gleaner article (for the Japanese translation click here), writer Howard Campbell refers to me referring to the recently passed sound system operator Cyril “Count C” Braithwaite as an “unsung hero” in Jamaican popular culture. Looking back, I have to clarify that his praises have been sung from Ken Boothe to King Sporty—both of whom claim Count C as their mentor. It’s just hard, I believe, to adequately sing the significance of a soundman who never left his community in over 60 years. The ephemeral nature of a few quotes and newspaper articles do not do justice to the lasting influence of a man like Cyril Braithwaite. Indeed, sound men like Count C don’t just shake the earth with sound, they shake the status quo with their social and cultural power.
Count C cemented his status in his West Kingston community, and in Jamaican music and cultural history, when he launched the Count C Sound System in 1947. Radio was nonexistent and, even when it did arrive in Jamaica in the late 1950s, few in West Kingston could afford either the box or the pay-as-you-go service. In times like these a sound man like Count C really was royalty. His was a small sound (a few horns and an over-sized, 5ft+ speaker, familiarly called a ‘house of joy’), but he was tough. Count C would never back down from a challenge, even when Duke Reid and the “big dogs” arrived on the scene.
Almost more than the music, it was Count C’s commitment and connection to his West Kingston community that stands out. Cyril Braithwaite was born in the 1920s into a family residing in Back-O-Wall, the West Kingston area which became the center of Jamaica’s nascent political power struggle during the transition to independence. Back-O-Wall was subsequently razed in 1963 to make way for the Tivoli Gardens housing scheme. Cyril Braithwaite died January 26, 2011, a resident of 6 Wellington Street, just a stone’s throw from Tivoli. (Indeed, when the Wednesday night/Thursday morning street dance, Passa Passa, used to be held just outside Tivoli on Spanishtown Road, Count C lived so close he could claim to have attended every single one.) Decades after Back-O-Wall was transformed into Tivoli Gardens, the infamous focus of the manhunt for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke for much of 2010, current residents still find themselves in a struggle with authorities despite the passage of time and the fact that Dudus was caught last June.
File this one under things that make me happy. Busy Signal is in top form and Washroom deliver a gorgeous reggae flavored dancehall riddim entitled Bad Suh. I’ve been starting my sets with this one recently and also playing a few other cuts on the riddim including the Tifa and Voicemail. People in my Prospect Heights neighborhood may have been confused to see a tall red bearded man gesticulating and shuffling his way through the black grimy snow on his way to the subway to the sound of hot dancehall in his headphones. Anti-winter music.
My regular 9 to 5 – Dubspot put together an interesting mini-doc featuring dub pioneer Scientist, who recently dropped an album on Pinch’s Tectonic imprint, talking about the origin and meaning of Jamaican dub and the role dub engineer in sound system culture and 1970s/80s Jamaican recording industry. The video also featured our very own DJ /rupture, composer/electronic musician Badawi, Deadly Dragon Sound System’s Ticklah, and music supervisor Barry Cole. If you’re interested in the topic, and why it’s way much more than an “happy accident” I highly recommend Michael Veal’s Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Check out wayne&wax’s analysis and review of the book + pertinent excerpt below, a little more context –
All the talk of circuits, knobs, and switches can distract one from the fundamental reality that what these musicians were doing was synthesizing a new popular art form, creating a space where people could come together joyously despite the harshness that surrounded them. They created a music as roughly textured as the physical reality of the place, but with the power to transport their listeners to dancefloor nirvana as well as far reaches of the cultural and political imagination: Africa, outer space, inner space, nature, and political/economic liberation. Nevertheless, this book will focus on those knobs and the people who operated them, in order to develop an understanding of the role of sound technology, sound technicians, and sound aesthetics within the larger cultural and political realities of Jamaica in the 1970s. (13-14)
Friend of Dutty Artz Moon from Lustre Kings invited us to participate in this party to celebrate the screening of ‘Wah Do Dem’ a new film set in Jamaica that’s been generating a nice buzz. I’m excited to participate along with a lot of my favorite people, it’s a family affair. Brooklyn outdoor summer vibes!
“Amazing reggae flavored harmonies & hotness to warm up the radio & airwaves”
Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor produced the riddim for “With You” — can someone please identify that riddim? Empress I-Klass is a Boston based singer – born of Antiguan heritage. She has been around since the late 1980s performing and singing lead and background vocals in various bands here in the States and in the Caribbean Islands. She opened for Freddy McGregor in Boston in June 2006.
I actually LOLed at this one, posted by Eddie Stats over at Okayplayer’s new(?) Large Up blog. The last and first of his Toppa Top 10 fake reggae songs are the picks for me. Eddie Murphy taking a polished and very funny dig at Bob Marley (seems pretty clearly aimed, I could be wrong) and then some youtube guys hilariously misinterpreted transcription of Busy Signal (with jpegs!).
I muddled these together about two weeks ago, somewhere between Alabama and Louisiana, while heading to Texas on that Green Owl biodiesel bus. I had been listening to Everyday Bullshit (a 3-track EP with two stunning joints – specifically “Always Sharp” and “Holki”) by ANS, a producer from Liberec, Czech Republic — and thinking about a way to include one of his tunes in my section of our Superfront mix. The mix was already crowded with some of my favorite recent dancehall bangers. I asked Gex if he had a roots joint to cool it out with, and he suggested some remix of “Hail The King,” but he also had the acapella for which he was unaware he had. Anyway, I went straight for the acapella and five minutes later, threw up on top of ANS’s “Holki.” This is the result, with some minor vocal edits.
It’s been more than a week since we return from Austin, TX, and still haven’t managed to completely shake off that feeling — delirium — a sense of optimism/”yes we can” mixed with confusion, loudness, alcohol, et cetera. Massive respect to the Green Owl folks (for making sure we get down there in style,) all our friends, all the beautiful monsters who treated us kindly (and kept some of us up till 9 a.m.) Mavado‘s Starlight Mixtape, mix and presented by Karim Hype and Supa Sound has been out for a few weeks. I haven’t listened to a lot of mixtapes this year, but I was listening to this one while riding down to Texas. It’s a confusing, ferocious mix-up; Mavado’s voice is heavier, at times he sounds more bitter and determined than ever; one moment he’s sunny, the next he’s angry and howling. I’ve selected a few cuts from the mixtape for preview –