Excerpt taken from ‘From the Archive: Shout Out!’ feature piece, written by Institute of Contemporary Arts Researcher in Residence Will Dutta. Exploring the histories of migration that shaped the sounds of the 1980s, ahead of the opening of ICA’s Shout Out! Pirate Radio in the 1980s (26 May 2015 – 19 July 2015) exhibition.
The sound system, the selector and the deejay: these three integral components of Jamaican sound system culture were first brought to life in Kingston in the 1940s. While radio was the primary means of music dissemination in Jamaica, equipment was expensive and hard to come by. For a few privileged owners, however, it was an opportunity to bring people together and make a little extra money on the side. Listening parties soon gave way to soundmen hiring out their proto-sound systems and services for parties and by the early 1950s two names already stood out as pioneers: Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid and Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd.
Their musical arms race would prove decisive in driving the scene forward; as technology improved so did the power of their sound systems. These soundmen quickly outgrew playing in homes, yards and halls. For each sound system to operate seamlessly, there were two necessary roles: the selector, responsible for choosing and playing the records, and the deejay, who spoke (or toasted) between them so to avoid awkward silences as the records were changed. It is a curious twist that the deejay would later evolve into the MC, and the selector the DJ. One deejay in particular broke the mould when it came to toasting: Count Matchuki, who set the style for the patois-rich patter of shout outs and MC-related music soon to come to the UK’s pirate radio stations…
Click here to read the full feature.
Picture caption: ‘Preparing for Sound System performance’ by Dubdem e Fabdub is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Will Dutta is a PhD researcher in Composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. He was awarded a Creativeworks London Researcher-In-Residence award to take up residency at the ICA. Will has worked closely with the ICA’s creative team to identify archive material relating to experimental music and sound projects that took place at the ICA in the 1980s to be incorporated into the ‘Shout Out! UK Pirate Radio in the 1980s’ exhibition running from 26th May – 19 July 2015.