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Jah Shaka obituary | reggae

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Reggae pioneer and record producer Jah Shaka, who died suddenly in his late 60s, was a stalwart of the British sound system scene. In a career that spanned more than 55 years, he transformed the sound system landscape with a distinctive and distinctive style, eschewing dominant trends to focus exclusively on contemporary reggae that was both spiritually uplifting and politically charged. Presenting music as a means of inspiration and empowerment for the underprivileged and the oppressed.

At several dances held in various underground locations, while in a trance-like state playing an ancient and antiquated Garrard turntable, Shaka would chant messages of encouragement as well as sermons of transcendental devotion for Rastafari, with custom-made effects and Live percussion will be included. Elements to heighten the dramatic tension.

Through his masterful use of components such as a pre-amp, a syndrum and a homemade siren box, he made the sessions visceral and immersive, amplifying subsonic bass frequencies at regular intervals to create a transportive and transformative experience. He reinforced this shameful persona by not revealing his given name or other details of his personal life.

An integral part of the black community of his home base in Lewisham, south-east London, during the late 1970s, Shaka deployed a sonic juggernaut that exerted a dramatic influence on the post-punk music of Public Image Limited and the Slits. , whose members were then among the few white attendees of his dance. A wider audience became aware of his importance when he appeared in Franco Rosso’s 1980 urban drama film Babylon, playing himself in a South London sound system session as the action climaxed.

Jamaican reggae later underwent dramatic changes during the mid-80s, when the dancehall genre came to the fore, much of its production filled with sexuality, violence, and frivolity. The British sound system essentially embraced the new style, but Shaka chose to become the lone voice in the jungle that kept the roots reggae flame burning, pioneering an up-tempo homegrown variant that became known as UK steppers. Put.

Jah Shaka, left, with Norman Grant of Twinkle Brothers at Albany Empire, Deptford, London. Photograph: David Corio/Redferns

With a backing band he dubbed the Fusimbas after a local activist group founded in response to the discriminatory treatment of black children in the British school system, from 1980 Shaka also produced original music with upcoming unknowns such as african princess And sister audreyAs well as self-made work.

they produced singers like reggae bim sherman, johnny clarkeThe twinkle brothers, max romeo And horace endyand released an impressive array of dub albums including collaborative works tasteless And mad professor, In the same period he ran a three-storey community center in New Cross known as the Culture Shop, which served as a focal point for local black youth and housed a record store, a Caribbean food outlet and a restaurant. Kept a Rastafari-oriented hair salon.

Although their record productions did not achieve mainstream success, they were consistently popular with their core audiences, and more importantly, the uniqueness of their sound system eventually led to a variety of sound influences, along with acolytes such as Irrational Steppes and Zion Train. The system will motivate the operators. Worldwide.

Shaka spent his childhood years in rural Clarendon in South Jamaica, before his parents moved the family to the UK in 1956 in search of betterment. They settled in south-east London, and it was while attending Samuel Pepys comprehensive school that he began an apprenticeship at local soul sound system Freddy Cloudburst in 1968 as a “box boy”, transporting and installing speaker boxes. Helped to set up. ,

He later made sure amplifiers and speakers were working properly, and eventually became the resident selector, showing works by Nina Simone, the Temptations, the Drifters, Diana Ross and other Motown acts. Then, inspired by activists such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Angela Davis, as well as his own widespread belief in Rastafari, he created his own sound system in 1970, which he named Jah Shaka after a Zulu king.

With exclusive dubplates and a powerful commanding presence on the microphone, Shaka soon began to make a name for himself on the sound system, winning several sound battles. But along with the praise came tension with police raiding a dance held in Brockley, southeast London, in 1975, beating attendees and damaging their equipment.

Undeterred, Shaka set up a residency at Fabes nightclub in Stoke Newington, north London, in the late 70s, followed by another residency at Club Norik in Tottenham, and Top Sound at the Black Echoes Reggae Awards in 1980 and 1981. The system was crowned. His audience widened during the 90s, when he enjoyed a popular residency at The Rocket, adjacent to the University of North London (now London Metropolitan University).

Shaka made his first pilgrimage to the African continent in 1984, and established the Jah Shaka Foundation in Ghana in 1992 to distribute medical supplies, library books and other materials to schools and medical clinics. He also did charitable work in Ethiopia, Jamaica and Kenya.

His extensive touring schedule took him across Europe and to Japan, Africa, Mexico and Peru. He became a regular festival headliner, guiding his son, known as Young Warrior, who went on to become a prominent sound system businessman and record producer in his own right.

Noted for his stamina and for presiding over all-night sessions without a break, Shaka commanded large audiences at events in the UK and abroad.

He is survived by his extended family.

Jah Shaka, sound system owner and record producer, born circa 1954; passed away on 12 April 2023