Ras Kush is one of the foremost ambassadors for the UK dub style in the USA, as a sound man, producer and architect of the Black Redemption record label. We first met in 1999; he was working in Jammyland, then the Lower East Side's foremost reggae store, and I was doing a spot of crate digging. We got chatting about dub and sound systems and we've been conversing and collaborating ever since. He's always been a mine of knowledge, so the other day I took advantage of his visit to Berlin to ask him to reminisce at greater length. We sat down with some black bean stew and a pot of cerasee and got chatting. Here's the transcript: a feast of information concerning his musical background and development, hip hop and reggae in 1980s Brooklyn, drumming patterns and their relation to ritual, his encounters with Wackie's and UK dub, the evolution of the Black Redemption sound system and label, and many other matters.
Once you've digested that, as a bonus, you get his recent Wax Treatment session: an intense two hours of dubplate pressure, recorded in Berlin on 28 Feb. 2010.
"Ever since I was a little child growing up in Haiti I love music. When I was like toddler age, I had a little toy piano, toy drums, toy guitar, these were my favourite toys. I used to like to sing and dance and I used to make up some dance to some songs that I would hear on the radio. There was compas, the original compas music, I love compas; they play also Antilles music, music from all the French Caribbean, Afro-Francophone music. Maybe I don't like that term "Afro-Francophone": it's African music, made by people that were colonised by the French, and so they speak this language, they sing and communicate in a similar vernacular. African music, tribal music, and voodoo, you have different drum patterns for different ceremonial rites. And some of the music have different drum pattern as foundation. So maybe certain tribes get mixed, and then you have a collection of different tribal rhythms in a location. They develop and evolve and produce this music that's electronically infused or whatever, but I guess these places that were colonised by France have similar tribes and similar tribal rhythms, so that went into the musical composition and made it kind of relative to all these people, whether you go to Martinique, Guadeloupe ... like zouk, in the Antilles, Haiti, everybody's doing it, even in Africa you know...? I guess I listened to this kind of music, compas, and a lot of other music, cadence, and then reggae, Jamaican music. The first time I heard Bob Marley was from my dad, I was between five and seven. I remember we drove cross-country from Port au Prince to Saint-Marc, and the whole while he was just playing Bob. That's how I got into Bob Marley's music. Then there were people in Haiti that were influenced by Bob, for one this artist named Ti Mano, he's done a couple of reggae cuts, some in Creole and some with English words. This was up to the mid / late 70s.
I was born in New York, but I was brought to Haiti when I was very young because my parents favoured the system of upbringing and education there more than what would be available to me in Brooklyn at the time. I lived in Haiti up to the age of 11 but I would come to New York every summer. I had many cousins who were there, and they for the most part were born there, raised there, and by the time the late 70s came around, they lived in the ghetto around the projects, in Brooklyn, and they were into hip hop. So I got into hip hop hardcore like that, African American sound system style, from hanging around my cousins. If I hang out with them, I can flex with them, and I got to go where they go, because I was like 9 and they were like 16, 17. Yeah. And I would go spend the time at their home, away from my parents, because I always liked hanging out and seeing this thing, because it was cool. In the projects sometimes sounds would string up, of course they didn't go that bass heavy or speaker heavy, but they would string up using public electricity and play. Around the same time where I was growing up there was a lot of Jamaicans and they were always pushing their things. In New York, when I come over in the summer, my mother always lived on St Marks on Nostrand Avenue. Nostrand Avenue was always Dread Central. So, you know, of course my parents warned me not to go near that [laughs], because it's drug dealing and drug infused and bad elements, basically you were an instant criminal once you go round that element ...
So when I moved into New York I was 11 years old. I guess at that time I was listening to a little bit of everything, a little bit of pop, everything, but on the radio they would play certain reggae music. Of course they would play Bob Marley, because he had just died, it was like a big thing, but they would play other music. And then I found 1190 WLIB, it was an excellent, excellent radio station for all Caribbean culture. It was a black owned and operated radio station, it come out of black underground political grassroots movement. On the weekends and sometimes late at night you get Caribbean programmes, so my parents would listen to the Haitian programme on Sundays and right after is calypso, soca, then there's reggae. So if you start listening to it you get a variety of music. From I moved to New York I had that as the staple.
Later on, toward 84-85, when Yellowman got big, a lot of hip hop DJs would play Yellowman. And I remember DJ Red Alert, when Sleng Teng came out, every Saturday night, you could hear a cut of Sleng Teng in his hip hop mix. Then you had all this hip hop reggae, Just Ice, Boogie Down Productions ... I'd like to say this, in hip hop there's a spiritual aspect, a grassroots, urban street movement. Just like in reggae you have Rasta, hip hop have the Five-Percent Nation of Gods and Earths. A lot of the spiritual codes, the disciplinary codes that was involved in hip hop music, breakdancing, all that stuff, was put there by these people. They don't get no credit: since hip hop music was taken over to a commercial level it became something different. When you say Just Ice, he's one of those persons that come to mind. The whole Afrika Bambaataa Zulu Nation is all that, it's coming out of Nation of Islam, it's coming out of black progressive struggle, urban development, all that stuff. So hip hop music is a movement that came out of that, but it got bought and turned into something else. I'm happy I got to see a different part of it.
A lot of these people took a lot from reggae or from Rasta, because they're into herb, so this cross culture that took place, I think that brought reggae into hip hop. So there was a little segment of hip hop reggae that was going on. But Sleng Teng, Sleng Teng shattered a lot of things. When Sleng Teng came out, there was nothing like it. I remember in New York, everything about it was just maddening man, when you hear that come through a speaker ... I remember Sleng Teng was the lick. When Sleng Teng lick, I don't think there was any music than can say anything to reggae in Brooklyn, in New York, at that time. All over, man. Also Super Cat, Boops, Boops was huge. You go to a hip hop basement party, or in the park or in the projects, you hear those. When that play, everybody's like, "That's the shit!" So I think at that point, I was pretty much won over. As far as dancehall music, as far as music of the people go, that was it. And at that time I took music to myself, seriously.
I started buying records as soon as I could, early 80s, like 75 cents for a 7". So I started a collection, I didn't have my set but my older cousins had sets and they threw parties, and I like to get my record play on their set because I didn't have one yet. Every summer from you are 14 years old in the City of New York you can work for the New York City Youth Employment, and so I would work every summer and my money would go toward buying pieces, so I can have my own DJ set. Then you learn to count beats, to beatmatch, mixing, catching the beat, two turntables with a mixer.
- So when you first started out DJing, what sort of tunes were you playing?
Like I say, Boops, man, Boops, Sleng Teng, those things. That was the music that was doing it for me man. But I also liked to rap, I liked Slick Rick, I liked Lovebug Starski, styles that sounded funky fresh, you know? My cousins would do basement parties, of course they would not let me play really for the people, but when nobody's there, I play my music and I heard it loud in a party even though the party wasn't going on yet [laughs] ... I give thanks for that, man, it was like fulfilment till I got my shit going. Then by the time I got my shit going I had a little crew, there was my boy Sammy D, he beatboxed, we went to the same public school, he's from Haitian parents also, we had a lot in common, he was into hip hop, reggae. He got into Bob a little bit way heavier than I was at that time. I just felt most of the party people couldn't party too hard to Bob like that.
Then eventually we just evolved, you know, getting to know music more, getting to know different sounds, and maybe around 16 I got very politically aware and conscious, first from an angry black person perspective on history, being in the ghetto, the system and what you see on TV. And a lot of my conscious awakening was coming from stuff that I was getting from the street, from people from the Five-Percent Nation that was involved in hip hop. That's where the science, the knowledge, the information, the wisdom, the history, the real ... you know what I'm saying, it got passed on like that. KRS-One I think is a very good example of an outcome of the good that was there, that, once the media bought it, they made sure like it shut, you know? You had crews like Brand Nubian still in the 90s, and I guess it's still there but it's so commercial that I don't think it's effective any more. But anyway, through this consciousness, I start to evolve to a more global ... like the system sucks on many many levels, it's like an organized thing. Then you get to see that it's not just black people that is the victim.
I got into the whole Vietnam thing, the capitalist system and how that is fucked up and how in communism everybody can have and there's no haves and have-nots. I think coming from a ghetto perspective it's very attracting to think that there isn't a class. I don't know whether it can be real or not. But anyway, all those things made me get into music that was somehow relative to that. And then, through hip hop and beats, and playing beats to rhyme on, you start looking for beats, and when you start looking for beats you get into different kinds of records, new wave records, records you wouldn't normally buy because of the artist but you buy because of a beat that's in there. So you get exposed to some different kind of music. So like that my interest developed. And then toward the late 80s, early 90s I guess, I think by that time I'd come into Rasta, come into being, living as a Rasta person. And musically also I was in a different place. I think I'd gone to a studio and recorded for some producer, rhyming, I did a rhyme over hip hop beat stuff and some reggae thing, a combination with this guy named Valentine who was the singer.
- Was this stuff ever released?
I don't think so man...
- So basically you went into the studio and the producer voiced you and he gave you like 5 bucks or something?
He didn't give me shit! I didn't want shit, I just hope like he do some shit with it. I didn't want shit, I was like if he does something with it, I'll be so happy, man! I did one thing for Countryman, this guy named Countryman, he was in Bed Stuy, he had a sound, a studio. He had a badass DJ on his sound, I don't know if he ever bust, he was from Trinidad, speed rapping, he was bad, bad! I always wanted to see him and Papa San go at it. Bad! Wicked! I forgot his name, man. I also voiced for Soul Boys, which was a sound system which was maybe the first big sound system I got involved with. A huge sound system. The guy was from Dominica, he used to live in England, went into the sound system thing in the early 70s, moved back to New York and he played all music, reggae, soul, whatever, but a big huge sound system, Caribbean style. I was involved in that sound system, I used to show up, help carry boxes, then be on the mic. I was one of the mic persons, sometimes the only mic person. The DJ was the infamous Ashworth Doe, Ash the Hyper Freak. A lot of dance music people credit him for a lot of stuff, companies like Wild Pitch, Soul Kitchen, they all come out of Ash. When I was a rebel, 16, I left home for a period, and a lot of those times I spent sleeping on Ash's couch. Every room was just massive records, records, all kinds of records, everything, reggae, soul, jazz, everything. Ash was real sound system, music, production, everything, education. I voiced for him with Valentine. I don't know whatever came out of it either. And of course it was always non-money, because I was learning, and I'm very happy, very thankful for it.
Then I got into distributing records around DJs, going to places where I could get records, a whole bunch, and maybe I could beat some record shops to it and sell it to DJs. So I tried to establish a little DJ pool to try to make a business for myself. I was getting into some hip hop but mostly reggae, new pieces and then some Studio 1 cuts that everyone wanted, because at that time the beats was always like a remake, so people always wanted to get the original. So if you're having a party you can stay on a riddim for however long, you can go from the most current to the most oldest, that's how the DJ style was around that music. I tried to get to as many DJs as I can, to have clients.
So maybe around that time I discovered Wackie's music. I really liked the sound of it. It was just like, I don't know man, it was dread to me, dread, heavy, dark, spiritual, how it sounded. So I liked it. He was up in the Bronx, he got a record shop, he got all these records sitting there, nobody wanted them... but then, nobody wanted them...! [Laughs.] I really liked it, man, I couldn't understand why they didn't like it. They said all kind of shit, but one person in particular said "Dread, it sound like the music don't finish." And I got lectures. I got lectures, specifically because these people had record shops, and they resent the fact that I would try to sell them these records. I would try to sell it to them because I was like, "Wow, you don't have this one here, this is a good one here." And basically they know they don't have this one here, and it's not a good one here. It's not complete, it's not finished, it's harsh, it's unpolished, it's not mastered, it's not ... it's not pleasant. They play it me, "Yuh hear a dis sound now! Now listen to this, see me?" I still thought they didn't know what the fuck they were talking about, because that shit sound wicked, but I took a blow and I lived with it.
But in the late 80s until the early 90s for a while I stopped the whole music thing, because the music had changed, and I'd gotten a little bit more serious into Rasta, and the lyrics were not really pleasing to me, overall. So I took a pause and those times for a while I lock off from reggae, lock off from sound, from everything. I thought like reggae, you know, there's nothing progressive about it, people killing people, gunshot, everybody selling coke, everybody wear gold chain, I know nuff dread but everybody smoking coke or crack out or whatever, and there's big competition for the most x-rated outfit, and the black woman mentality and the black man also, sometimes it's degrading for me to accept, because part of my involvement in music was also consciously oriented. So I kind of lock off from that. But I needed finance still, I worked a fair amount of time as a messenger, bike messenger, foot messenger, but for extra money I started cooking, making ital stew and going to the dances. Big dances, I got to see a whole heap of big dances selling ital stew. Some day I could get in the dance and feed the staff, feed the music people, I'm in there.
- So which sounds were big at the time?
There's a sound from Brooklyn called Terrorist, big bad Terrorist. Yes. Terrorist was the sound, Terrorist made a lot of things happen. The guy that owned the sound sang with a group called the I-Plees, late 70s, early 80s. Eventually he was shot. They have some tune on this label Stero, Stero is Stero Fletcher. Wicked label by the way, wicked roots tune come up on that label, like the original Still Cool "To Be Poor Is A Crime" came out on that label. Shaka licensed that tune. Now dem man deh is same crew as these guys, Terrorist. Singers like Sluggy used to sleep at Terrorist's front door till they get let in, understand? I can give you a list of big names, who if it wasn't for Terrorist ... and nobody say nothing about Terrorist because when he got shot, the people who was behind his shooting, everybody was so terrified of this person, you didn't even talk about Terrorist. But when that sound play, and the music play ... yeah! And I think he's one of the first to bring sound system from just strictly people's basements to a hall, you understand? Nuff respect for that. But these names don't get called.
That's a sound, but there were many sounds, Inner City, Downbeat, Sons Junior ... Wackie's sound pretty much had gotten shut down, and shot down, by that time, when in the early 80s they shot Munchie Jackson ... you had Earthquake, Third world ... Dillinger used to be on Third World in Brooklyn, legendary Dillinger, in the 80s, also Lone Ranger too. But nothing ever really surpassed what Jah Love sound did for me. You had all these artists that was involved in the Jah Love sound system because it was the Twelve Tribes sound system. Jah Love would come over to New York and play, many times. Briggy, Charlie Chaplin, Josey Wales, those dances I always went to, and Cat would always come. I love Super Cat from long time, to me is one of the baddest DJ ever born. Like God say I'm gonna make a DJ born, and that's Super Cat, understand? I'm just saying, respect due. Endless, nuff DJs, but for me, where I'm coming from, from an outside perspective on pure flow, style, lyrical presentation, delivery, everything, Cat is one of the baddest thing on earth. Cat would always show up on the Jah Love dance and that always did it for me. You had the culture, baddest DJ, Selassie I ... I love it. So even now, I appreciate very much the UK sound system, but it never take away from that aspect of the Jamaican sound system, and I cherish that as well.
The place to party, late 80s now, where I could sometimes hear roots and culture was Reggae Lounge, then they changed the name to Island Club. Volcano played there, Volcano played there with so many people, Ranking Joe, Toyan, I saw Shelly Thunder when she was just busting out there, Shinehead. Then there was a sound from the Bronx, African Love, around that time African Love played the most cultural music, they play Yabby U, they played heavy music, even music that I now consider heavy, they play it. They played all kind of events, they would keep big dances, but they would keep cultural dances too, where you know you see Rasta music all night. And by that time I would be in heaven because the other thing was shit to me. But those music was all something of the past. There was an organization called IRI, Iniversial Rastafari Inity, they would put on dance, I saw the legendary Jah Wise Tippatone in the 80s playing some music ... anyway, you would hear music like you don't hear ever. Serious thing. And for me that was it. Then I was contented just to be a collector, have all this Wackie's music that I never could release to anybody, as well as music for myself that I was buying and collecting to keep, to document, you know, this great message music and great musical recordings. But it was just for myself, personal, I wan't playing that. But I think I was highly influenced hearing those guys play to maybe have gatherings in my house with bredren and bredren and bredren, you know, hook up the mic, and I was highly influenced by Jah Love and Briggy so I used to like to play A side and B side and chant ises, because at that time I was going to binghi regular, so I would chant ises over the riddim, chant down Babylon ... herb smoking, everything nice. But it was just like bredren and bredren and bredren and bredren.
(Kush in Ex-Bodega, Yokohama, Jan. 2008.)
Then in 1992 was Haile Selassie's centenary, and I got an album from England, which was like all this fresh Rasta music, roots, over this digital modern music, but the riddim composition, the bassline arrangement, the drum pattern, fits that late 70s thing that I've grown to love. Going back again to the African drumming, drumming have a lot to do with the music, so you listen to roots reggae music and you listen to dancehall as it evolved, as opposed to the nyabinghi rhythm, which most roots music is based on, it's a different spiritual influence. So I always knew that certain things would not flow too right or would not last on that beat, because the spiritual influence for it is some different thing. Like in calypso, in soca, sometimes they talk about bachanal, that kind of rhythm. What those rhythm are based on and celebrating is highly sexual, it's not bad, but how it's presented and confined, there's a lot of tension, so those tension I think bring about different influence ... different influential forces gain power through those rhythms, as opposed to roots rock reggae music.
- So as you were saying at the beginning, different drumming patterns are linked to different ceremonial aspects, so the patterns are carrying through a certain kind of a vibe...
Exactly! Different drum patterns for different reasons. And that's from Africa. So the way I discovered UK roots music is because of a bredren who, whenever he's in New York, he come over to the Nyahbingi House. He's Dr Iauwata, a very brilliant musician, keyboard player, he's played with Burning Spear, he was part of that Roots Studio in England that put out "Hail Him", he did works like Colour Red's "Revelation Time". Anyway, I know him from the Binghi House, from the late 80s, in Brooklyn, on Bergen St and Nostrand Avenue. I would spend days in there. So he brought over this music, I really loved it, it was an album, Haile Selassie I Centenary [Surr Zema Muzik]. That's how I discovered UK roots. So he was saying there was this thing going on. I'd heard Shaka's music, I'd heard the records that he sang on. Twelve Tribes House in Queens at the time was the other place that if they keep an event I was guaranteed to hear roots music, and that's where I heard "What is this we've got to do, know yourself, we've got to keep on trying..." Shaka, "Know Yourself", a wicked roots tune Shaka sing. So I know him as a roots singer. Iauwata was saying about Shaka and the sound and how people go there, so I'm wondering what is this thing? So then I would get tapes.
I appreciate the UK thing because to me it was like a victory, that whole thing overcame the dancehall thing, the different drum pattern and musical influence, the rhythm, the kind of bassline, the notes, the tones, everything, it stayed and I can appreciate the raw rough edges of it because I'm coming from the Wackie's appreciation of that kind of music. Then I started meeting people who liked Wackie's music. [Laughs.] Wicked! Then when the whole Bobo thing came out, when I heard Sizzla, man, I think first "No White God" or one of those tunes, he was on a similar temperature as Cat - not Cat, but similar temperature, around that dial there. And as far as respect for Rasta in the music goes, Xterminator was doing those kind of drum sounding style, the snare and delay, kind of dubby, wicked. So I said, you know what, I'm gonna get into the sound thing again. I'm gonna do it. So when I got back into sound in the 90s I started doing a lot of strictly roots events. I went on to select for IRI at a few of their events, played sound, bring my equipment and everything.
- Were you playing under the name Black Redemption then?
At that time I was playing as Ras Kush but I had linked up with another bredren that was playing sound system from the late 70s, I also met him through the Binghi House, from St Vincent, Sano Judah. He always kept current with the music, he bought everything. He was more about the music generally than I am, I've always been like specific music, specific vibe, specific style, he's just "you know, give the people what they want". But he knows the orthodox music and he consider that sacred. We linked up, we were going by Rootsman Potential, we were called Potential for short.
Then I met Takashi [Ras Takashi from Dubsensemania] and he became my roommate. This was around 95, maybe, 96. I was still doing catering and by that time I was cooking for Israel Vibration in a restaurant they own in East New York. Takashi got into the whole thing, the whole vegan food catering and the whole sound system thing with me, and he was playing sax very well. So I say "Yo, let's go by Wackie's and record." I took him to Wackie's. Wackie's recorded him but Wackie's was like maybe "meh," you know, he got tons of sax players, he's got Roland Alphonso who was still alive at the time ... Roland Alphonso I used to buy records from, because he used to sell records in this Jamaican restaurant called Apache, he use to set up records there and he would sell original Treasure Isle, Studio 1, original presses in those times, for cheap. Big up to Roland Alphonso, my collection was greatly enriched by him ... Anyway, Wackie's had sax players, that was not gonna do it, so I say he play the melodica too. Wackie's is like [mutters] "mm...Pablo..." [laughs]. But I bought him over and he played, Sugar Minott was there and they kind of coached Takashi and helped him develop a signature style of playing. So then Takashi became part of the sound, part of the Wackie's family.
(Kush and Takashi in Ex-Bodega, Yokohama, Jan. 2008.)
Anyway I just felt like Potential, the name Potential wasn't delivering [laughs] ... I always felt like, because what the music did for me, taking me out of the state that I was in - in hip hop at that time, you know, hip hop came to me through street education, which was also a life of crime, to be a criminal ... and I think reggae changed a lot of that for me, and Rasta, because Rasta took me from adolescence into manhood. My dad wasn't around, so all the guidance and father figure came from Rasta. Rasta was like a rite of passage for me. And regardless of how I've grown, and evolved, and known this and that, and figured this and that, I'm most comfortable as a Rastaman. So it's not about belief - this is who I am, this is how I'm most comfortable being myself, this is how I'm true to myself, so good or bad or whatever, that's me.
So the music is like redemption to me, you know, and the music, the message, the lifestyle that Rasta is about, is like a black man redemption. Not in the way of the different movements that were taking place in America, which was about anger and striking back and uprise ... because they got more guns, you know what I mean? They got tanks, you know? Whatever fucking civil rights or bullshit rights is fucking ink on paper, I think black people need more than that, more than recognition and appreciation and a place from the white man in America, saying "OK, we'll accept you too, you can live in our streets and you can eat with us." I think it's more than that, for the black man to get a lot of property in America and make it and still pay Uncle Sam all this huge tax, ha ha, he gets his due any fucking way. Black man was promised forty acres and a mule ... So nuff respect to all the movement, because the movement did a lot for so much oppression and suppression that black people were facing, but I think maybe by my generation more was needed. I grew up looking up to the Black Panther Party, and then you find out x-y-z got shot, and so it seems like almost anything you do they're gonna crush. So Rasta now come with repatriation and the idea of culture. Culture's a big thing, if you have your own land, your own nation, your own language, that's more powerful than to get recognition in someone else's.
So all that made more sense to me, and hating Whitey was not the solution either. There's a book by Walter Rodney called How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, a very interesting book, and there's another one by a brother from Trinidad, I can't remember his name ... but basically they break down racism, how racism is manufactured to have people feel certain ways, so they can create a situation that they won't get so much of an uprise from the masses. If you could make somebody feel that comfortable with seeing another human being degraded, and give them whatever reason, religious, social, then you can pull a lot of wool over their eyes. Walter Rodney spent a lot of time in the hills with Rasta people, educating, sharing, exchanging knowledge and information, so in some deep grassroots in the Rasta movement his teaching is there. And you learn as a pro-African militant person that racism is not necessarily hating or having anger or whatever, it's a systematic formulated thing, and to counteract it you got to have a systematic formulated plan also. You got to make preparation for preservation and survival, you know, so if the black man don't have a proper unified front representation he cannot really get the right proper respect that he deserve. You have a lot of small African states and Caribbean states, but it's so small and segmented ... Anyway, whatever, so Black Redemption to me meant everything that the music, the movement had done to me, including my love for humanity, my love for nature ... I like peace and love, I like when people get together and everybody's having fun, I think that's a good thing, so the music does that, because the music bring healing, it bring education, it bring things up that people have to deal with to progress and move. So that's what it did for me, because I'm not a Jamaican person. But I felt kind of uneasy putting the word black there and the person who made me feel very comfortable to put it there and not worry was Takashi, because he's into black music. So that's the name.
Then 97-98, Takashi went back to Japan and we did a Wackie's Japan tour to establish what became the Wackie's Far East Chapter. Before this I was doing the Wackie's distribution, selling it to the major distributors, because at that time in the 90s Wackie's had a revival, so I used to take care of selling his music, I'd be the one making the deals with the different distributors. I was working at Kim's Record Shop in Manhattan and that become like another Wackie's outlet. I was the music buyer and manager for reggae, world music and jazz. But when I went on this tour, Wackie's talked to this guy named Ira who owned this record shop named Jammyland, and basically when I came back I was to go to the shop to help him take care of the distribution, do the distribution from that shop. Then it became like another record shop gig for me and I end up being there for a while, this is like 99.
Jammyland was a great institution in the City of New York. Actually Jammyland brought dub to New York. They brought all Shaka stuff, they brought all the Mad Professor stuff. John, the guy who first opened Jammyland, he loves the music, he opened Jammyland primarily for love of the music. The records didn't really sell, they just sat there. John just wanted to try a thing, anything, you know what I mean? He loved Lee Perry, loved dub, loved Jamaican music, loved everything about it. Big heart. He didn't mind what sold or didn't sell, because he could stay there and play it for himself. He had a lot of people come into the record shop, I forgot when they opened, if it's like 94, 95, anyway, but nobody was getting into it. I went in there one day and I saw all these records, as many Lee Perry as he can find, as many Mad Professor as he can find, as much Shaka as he can find, and he had record signings, but really people didn't know what from what. So a lot of records stayed there.
When I was in Japan I fell really heavily into Mighty Massa. And for the duration I was in Japan that time, maybe it was six months, almost every month I reported on the mic. Massa was highly influenced by Shaka, Aba Shanti, Joey J ... Massa, man. Mighty Massa. Nuff respect. After seeing him do this in Japan I was convinced that I would have success with it in New York. "If this guy could do this thing here in Japan, this must can work in New York." That's what I said to myself. I'm still trying ... [laughs]. I'm not giving up, you know what I mean, I've seen highs and lows but I'm proud that I've given the people of New York an opportunity to experience people that I love and respect in the music. I made them see Shaka proper, with speakers and sound and everything, they've experienced Disciples, I couldn't get the whole of Iration Steppas but Sammy Dread came representing them, I played with Cultural Warriors ... I went out with a vengeance to play, as much as I can play, I played this music uncompromisingly and if people don't like it, they can just walk out.
I was doing a Friday night and I was doing a Sunday night. I was doing a Friday night called Studio One Lounge, we start with Studio 1, roots, dub, dub, dub ... [laughs]. I would get many different selectors who collected vintage roots to come down and play, like Dudley One, a great collector, and brother Vincent, Twins ... I started a party in the late 90s, before I went to Japan, because I was getting more and more of the dub stuff through Kim's, called Roots Revival, and that was at a place called the Cooler, a nice underground place in Manhattan by the meat district way in the west side ... it was heavily Yabby U oriented, heavily Black Ark oriented, deep, psychedelic sounding, and steppers stuff to get people into a trance kind of vibe. But when I came back from Japan I really wanted to do it at a level, you know, sound system and everything, so I got a siren, I didn't have a preamp but maybe I used two mixers and a four-way crossover, and different delays and stuff to make my own set up. One turntable, facing the wall.
Then I met some friends who did visuals. So I started doing this thing called Roots Steppers Dub Dance, and it was just roots, steppers and dub. I would do that once a month. I would do the Studio One Lounge on a Friday where I would invite these selectors, like rare, vintage, some tune like "I bet you don't know..." kind of situation, and then on Sunday nights at Swim, I would do kind of early big classic tune, quality roots out of Jamaica, and then dub. I always look for monthlys wherever I can get them, so one of the place was the Knitting Factory, in lower Manhattan, Tribeca. In Williamsburg I used to rent a loft and I would bring my sound there, maybe four double 18s, 12s, two massive horns, we'd string up, this place was called the Family, it was right under the JMZ train rail so you could be as loud as you wanted. That was like dub and steppers, roots steppers dub dance. And I was doing the Knitting Factory also once a month. Then there was a following, it had reached hundreds, you know ... I played for thousands, I played at the Brooklyn Museum, a thing the city does, early 2000s, they have a huge lot, near Prospect Park, I played at PS1 which is another public space, and Joe's Pub ... Then around that time they passed the smoking ban and that fucked up the scene, and gradually we stopped doing that.
But anyway, working at Jammyland, I started to put together a little home based studio. I started up with a Tascam tape machine, four track, a Yamaha keyboard, and I experimented with stuff, taking acapellas and messing around with mixing dub that I have with acapellas. Then Iauwata, the same who introduced me to this music, came to my house and he's telling me I can make my own music here. We must have made two albums worth of riddims in the space of a week, just laying riddims, him showing me how to do it. Then I met this kid named Karl, he's from Seattle, plays wicked bass, and we made a few riddims. "We Dem A Watch" was one of those, my first single. Before Glen Brown voiced on it I recorded Congos, Nicodemus, with Ashanti Roy, called it "Free Up Jah Children". Maybe I still have it, I never released that. Around that time also with Ashanti Roy we made a tune called "Black Market Babies" which he remade with somebody in France a couple of years ago. Then I linked up with Ptah, an old time musician, used to be around Jah Love, we made "Rise Up". Ranking Joe gave me my very first dubplate for my sound, Ranking Joe and Roman Stewart. If I was gonna record a DJ I always felt I should do something with Ranking Joe, and the people received it well, I was kinda happy with that. We Dem A Watch, Rise Up, come out of family vibes, people we have a family vibe with, that's how I got into the music and now that's how I'm doing it.
I'm now reaching a point where I'm doing a lot of work with as many veteran artists in Jamaica as I can, and some of the new ones. I've developed a working relationship with Judah Eskender Tafari. Judah is another one of those orthodox artists from ever since that really didn't get a proper due in so many different ways and aspects, he's into this music, being that he's a musician, he understands the music, we've had a strong working relationship and I'm looking forward to doing more stuff with him.
I want to big up my bredren who help with the sound, who also believe in the music, like Ian, Chandel, Levi, Tipabol, Prince Collin, a lot of bredren who help with the sound, in vocals or selections, collecting, just being there ... and big up to all the record shops, Moody's, Tony Ryan in the Bronx, those guys, historical, you know? They kept the fort when a lot of places lock down. A lot of big sound bust out of Brooklyn, like Addis, Bad Boy, Inner City, but a lot of sounds that were there in the 80s and 90s don't get the recognition. Hopefully some day somebody can do a history of sound system in Brooklyn, because I believe that if sound system had gotten more respect and more recognition maybe there would be more of a scene in New York. How it develop now is just DJs with specials, it's very rare you hear like sound, some tune that you hunt for, and you hope some time in your life before you die you get that tune ... Big up to the sounds, because if it wasn't for sound system a large part of my life would be different than it is now.
I'm happy doing what I'm doing, I love it. It's not very rewarding, it's very taxing, but there's a personal satisfaction. I'm more mature now, so I'm thinking business-wise about what I do. I still enjoy myself, but do it in moderation so that I'm safekeeping my survival and my responsibilities. But I love what I'm doing, I love the music, I give thanks that I discovered the music scene that developed in England, due to Shaka and everybody that played their role in making it a scene, to the point that it's all over Europe now, that I can play this music in Germany, in Berlin ... I never thought I'd be doing this when I started. I didn't think I'd be putting out music or anything like that. You have to follow your heart, man, you have to be selfish enough to allow yourself what you love, because life, situations in life sometimes can deprive one of giving oneself. That's life, that's part of your living experiences and they add to your life. Thank God for art."
(Note: A number of sessions from some of the New York sounds mentioned above, including African Love and Terrorist, can be found on WCTD over here.)
Live session: Kush at Wax Treatment in Horst Krzbrg, Berlin, 28.2.10. Wax Treatment is a night dedicated to bass-heavy music of different genres, which was set up in Spring 2009 by the crew from Hard Wax, Berlin's seminal techno and reggae record shop. Sound on the night is provided by the Killasan sound system, imported a few years ago from a club in Osaka, Japan, which for me is Berlin's best sound system (with due respect to the Funktion-One rig at Berghain).
This is a dubplate-only selection, featuring a heap of fresh unreleased tunes from vocalists like Judah Eskender Tafari, Fred Locks, Naggo Morris, Turbulence and many others. On the mic, apart from residents Tikiman and Koki, are special guests Rick Wayne and Sister Rheeah.
(Download: here and here.)