Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blues Dance, West London, 1980s

'Blues dance is walking on the edge of Babylon and claiming cultural space. Black youth articulate their experiences and forge alternative aesthetics in opposition to dominant culture. On a winter's night when the moon is frozen and chill breeze take a walk, music drop from sound system like heavy lead. Dub voices chant all de while shaking the roof in full charge. The youth dance in combat formation, back to the wall and forward motion only. They've come from all over the Grove and beyond; for this is a vigil of testimony and incantation threaded through Reggae rhythms. The trumpets take a turn and they come with force. The sounds, dub wise, jus stretch big and broad…

Voices saturate the cramped basement and rise with the morning mist. The people here are below ground level and socially they occupy strategic locations for all of society is within scope. There are few real opportunities for the youth to fulfill their potential in Babylon so they walk the edge of downpression and focus their visions beyond the dreadlines of the night. Seeds of hope grow in their hearts and the Dee Jay chats with a fresh surge of melody…

The echo chamber hits the words unto the concrete walls and the bounced sound, a receding thud races across the area. Blues dance transcends mere cultural opposition. It is particularly significant for the ways in which Black Youth explore and create musical forms and textures using available technologies. Many sound systems own equipment they have partly constructed or adopted to suit their own needs. Speakers are built with appropriate wood to achieve desired sound densities. The sound chamber is made tight to maximise the sound output. A good speaker should be able to accommodate the bass line and drum calls and give them appropriate tone and resonance…

The microphone is the symbol of dialogue. The Dee Jay engages the past and present simultaneously, livening up the session with varying delivery styles and subjects. The Blues dance is a school of social and political education and everyone comes with something to give and take away. They come for a communal affirmation of their own personal experience and they celebrate with spirited choruses when the Dee Jay calls.

The history of the sound system in Britain has produced many styles and forms popularised by two generations of Dee Jays and sounds. They include Coxsone Outernational, Unity, Sir Lloyd, Turbo Supreme, People's War, Channel One High Power, King Tubby's HiFi, Saxon, Sister Culcha, Lorna Gee, Smiley Culture, Ranking Ann, Pato Banton, Mad Professor, Asher Senator, Sister Audrey, Macka B, Martin Glynn and Tippa Irie. The Dee Jay tradition echoes that of the Calypsonian and hip hop rapper. Historically they are all rooted in the role and function of the African griot as the eyes and ears of the community’.

From: Behind the Masquerade: The Story of Notting Hill Carnival – Kwesi Owusu and Jacob Ross (London: Arts Media Group, 1988)

1 comment:

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