Interview with Jah Shaka
Where: London UK
Reporter: Ray Hurford & Colin Moore
Photos: All Jah Shaka pics by Anviss [CC-BY-NC 2.0] . Album sleeves courtesy of the respective record companies.
Copyright: 2023 – Ray Hurford
THE MIGHTY ZULU WARRIOR SPEAKS
As a tribute to the mighty Zulu Warrior, here’s the 1990 interview with Jah Shaka that was conducted by Ray Hurford & Colin Moore.
So we don’t have places, to go around and play, we could only play at school dances. We decided after a while – this being the era of Angela Davis & Martin Luther King, George Jackson, the Black consciousness era – to start a sound. That is when the sound came about. It’s based on the history of Black people, the sound is based on that. So that is where this thing is really coming from – The Message.
The stage from there was – we started out very small, with the sound system, from a few yards from this area (New Cross), we got together, and we form to make a sound system. Well when you start something certain things will always develop. This is what has developed over the years. We have had to adjust ourselves right to see, to be in position to see what’s really going on. And what’s really going on is that the music that is being played to the people in this time is not of the character to inspire them. There is a lot of youth, talented, in the ghetto who don’t really get a chance. I’m working on that side of it – with the youths, with the original music, with the message carrying on at the same time.
Like I say, it started off with the group, then it transferred from that into sound system. Well, we play a certain type of music from that time. Which after a time now, playing that type of music – I would be in a position to be able to go into a studio to make music for myself. This music now is heartbeat music, right. You have music that is made by machine but you also have music with feeling. When people hear it, they feel it in the heart. This is the type of music we are concentrating on. Yes the music has different stages – without a root, you can’t have branches, but without the root, there is no tree. Officially, what we have done is concentrating on the roots, from that time until this time.
At the moment I have thirteen albums and about twelve discos, what have been released. I’ve worked with people like the Mad Professor, Ariwa Studio, and some brethren at Kensal Rise, the Addis Ababa studio. We transfer our knowledge. When we get in the studio, it’s very important to have enough time, cause if you go into a studio and you only have three hours and the inspiration hasn’t reached you, it’s very difficult to get across what you want to get across. The studio is very important. Getting studio time, more people in the business, having studio time, say like Brent Black Co-Op, it helps more. I have certain ideas myself which I’ve not been able to put on tape yet, because of this reason. This is a problem within the music, which needs to be worked on, and which we are working on.
Well, there’s about three sets of like bass and drum what I use within the music, and a few more people, who we work with continuously, but when the people come to play, I would already have my idea of what music I want to make. So when these musicians come I kinda pick the musicians who have a good ear for the music. If you hum something to them and say this is how I want the music to be like, they can actually play it so. These are the people who I like to work with, who’ve got the idea. They practice on their instruments. So when you go into the studio you don’t waste time. I have ideas before I go into the studio, although certain things are made in studio. When you talk about the sound or the the type of bass or certain thing within the music – it’s coming from inspiration of the almighty – it’s just that I have to pass it on, to say that is how I would like to be done.
How do you get your ‘Sound’ sound onto record, so well?
Yeah, well you see, from the first time, sound system has been playing that part in music. It takes on the form of the people. You see even when people had one or two boxes in Jamaica, they used to play certain type of music. Even in England, you had Duke Reid, you had Metro, you had Sufferer, you have lots of sounds, but all of the sounds, were known to have their own type of music. Like Neville Enchanter was known to play a lot of instrumental tunes, a lot of organ tunes. You could call him an organ sound, cause when it come to organ instrumentals he had it.
Duke Reid used to play a lot of violin and Downbeat tunes (Studio One). Downbeat records with violins or orchestrated type of music on top of it. So, at that stage within sound system, each sound used to have a following, by playing a certain type of music, what at that level I’ve stuck to, by saying that well I’m playing a certain type of music. Yet sound system overall from that time has changed, because the sounds now are playing the music that is in the record shops or what’s playing on the radio, or what people have got in their homes, and people are deejaying over it, but that’s not what I know as Sound System – original.
Sound system would have a type of record, or a type of sound they would play, cause sound is a thing you build, you build it up, so each sound would have that. So with the lack of these things, with the lack of originality within the music, a lot of things have dropped with the standard of the music, that’s why I have to go to the studio to make tunes. A lot of tunes that are being made now have different beats in them, more than the traditional beat. Different messages are coming out in the music, while we are directly concerned with getting the right message to the people.
The man that built my set is Metro, who used to have a sound system himself, which was very heavy at the time – in sound systems. In the ’60s, late ’60s. It was a heavy sound, from North London. He had an idea of how a sound system should be. We confer about certain things, and when I get my stuff made, my pre amps made we confer about it, before we make it. So certain things what people would see, is an idea, that we are trying out. we haven’t mastered it, but are working on it. There are other things that we want to try, which we haven’t been able to try.
Yeah, you’ve got the Twinkle Brothers who make spiritual music, and other type of records I used to play – the people who had a message to give to the people. And within the music’s character as I knew it. Those records were the right records to play. I would pick out records… I wouldn’t play a record, just because it’s a record or someone would bring in a record and say “Play This.” I would have to search it out, get a feeling from it, to know when to play it.
So in the early ’70s, it would have been Perry, Pablo?
Yes, I used to play a lot of Lee Perry, Dennis Brown, Johnny Clarke, all those type of people, but at that time I used to play tunes that had a roots backing. Yes certain music at the time used to sing about girls and things like that, but the music part of it was creative and solid. We worked on that. Now they have transformed that into Lovers Rock. Some would say that I used to play lovers tunes, but it’s not like the Lovers Rock now. What they are playing now is watered down completely – you can’t even say it’s reggae – some of it has got a bit of soul and pop in it. But the songs we used to play on the set in the early ’70s, those that were about girls, love or things like that, were still deep roots music.
I stuck with the people who were making original music, The Abyssinians those sort of people who were making original tunes, those were the tunes I used to play at the time, original. Origination come from inspiration, we didn’t go to school to learn about music, it is an inbuilt concept. A heartbeat, therefore a lot of people don’t understand about the music fully, the influences of the African tradition, music and the message. And being a musician it makes a difference I think that helps me a lot to make original music and create things, some people dream and have visions but I get my visions from my ears I’m listening all the time because music is a very important part of peoples’ lives.
Your sound is very inspirational. The response does have to be seen to be believed. Is that something new?
No, in the past era’s when you went to a dance, you found people dancing. Now you go to a dance, you find a lot of people standing around and just a few holding the middle who would be dancing. You can’t really say people are enjoying themselves until you see them dancing.
The music itself has not uplifted the people enough for them to move, maybe it’s something that is not part of them, it’s got to be a part of them. Producers are making music saying this is it, when it’s not. You have to prove it by playing it to the people and seeing their reaction. I think the change came when the radio stations started playing reggae because at one time sound systems were the only radio stations. From that now, there is an overplay of the radio, it has overlapped the whole business so people are not even aware, people go out just for a break for a few hours.
Well the deejays have slotted in and out on sounds, like that, if someone doesn’t know anything about reggae and hears that, and asks you as a man who knows about reggae “Is that reggae?” you have to think twice before you can answer them. You wouldn’t introduce that to him as reggae. You have got some good deejays who have got some good lyrics but as I know sound system, for a long time when you had deejays in a dance they did not deejay continuously from start to finish at a dance. It wasn’t like that.
They came on for half an hour then they went and had a break, then they came back on, so they were starting fresh, but you find now there are so many deejays, four or five, and they hold the mike and I’ve seen the reaction of the crowd they just stand and look at them and no one wants to dance. they just looking at them doing their thing sometimes they say a lyrics that sound good and the people make a roar but then it’s calm again, but the thing with deejays is that it overlaps the reggae business too much, and at no time are you supposed to a get a DJ better then a singer, you have to make the original music for the deejays to be on it.
The deejays now when you’ve got a tune and a deejay comes on he’s saying something completely different. If a man makes a record about the world is at war the deejay should come on with something about the war. They are trying to put too much in it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have deejays but everything has to be put into perspective.
You have singers who come to my dance, and they come over to me and say, they say “Shaka give me a chance on this I feel something on the tune.” He wouldn’t feel something on every tune just this tune. He would do his thing and then he would leave the mike, maybe two hours later he would come back and DJ or sing again. With this way the people get more of a chance of hearing what the person is doing rather then it being jumbled up within the music, the amp being cut in and out or that sort of thing. You can’t even hear the music on certain records. With some sounds you’re only hearing the beats of it, where the voice is going in the drum, the organ, you don’t hear it! And this is what makes a record. So if your going to cut the record down, it’s not really music.
In the last couple of years we have been doing what people call Cultural Shows, you know. Not the normal off the cuff dances. More cultural events. I’ve been working in that area, more than just the sound clashes alone. Like I said a couple of years ago I would be concentrating more on building a pattern to what I’m dealing with and get to those people…we now have more English people, white people who come to our dances – recognising the music. We have had a lot of recognition in schools and things, from students. People are becoming more aware of what is happening in the world, in places like South Africa.
People are noticing now why we are singing these songs, because they heard us singing about suffering and slavery and things like that. And some people were saying that it’s done and it’s getting us down, not knowing that because they are living in England , things were not too bad for them – that some people are suffering and going through crisis within their lives – people going to bed without food, all kind of diverse things were happening. People are now more aware and are taking note of what is going on. So we have to continue along that road – with the upliftment through the music.
It helps, it really does help.
I give thanks for that, I give thanks to play that part in the business, because you know that a lot of records are made that are not uplifting to the people. People don’t learn things from them. I give thanks for what is positive then.
Well you have stuck to the roots of the music, and that is what has drawn more people to you. You have stood by the roots music and for a long time you have stood alone.
Well some people have a choice, I really didn’t have a choice as to what I’m doing, like I received orders and I’ve got to carry them out. And no matter how long it takes, or how long the road is, you still have to walk in a kind of dignified way within your belief. And why I deal in music in this way is again because I’m a rastaman and I have certain belief’s as to the way of life for me, and I’m transferring this feeling or what I know about to other people to pick up facts or learn something that they didn’t. Say the dance is filled up and only one person says I’ve learned something, I’ve did my job.
It’s a result.
It’s a result. I did my job.
What we have done in sound system, I don’t think will ever be done again. Not because it’s me, or I’m saying it as Shaka himself, but we know about the sound system before we came into it, and we have learned about it since we have been in it. And from 1979 to 1983, we have won the trophies consecutively for those years 79-83, in both the voting and the dance hall, plus the cup dance at the end of the year, we won them both.. that’s 4 consecutive years, correct me if I’m wrong but I’ve never heard of a sound system doing that in my time. Some people say this and that, they are number one, but they have probably never even been to Birmingham to play, to defend London, against Birmingham, to prove yourself practically in a dance hall…
You’ve been all over the UK?
It’s only Liverpool, I have never been to, and some people are working on that to go there. Although as you know I’m concentrating on Europe, I’m concentrating on Africa as my ultimate plan. I visit there from time to time trying to get things organised. The people in Europe and in Africa more associate themselves with my type of music or like Burning Spear, I Jah Man Levi, those kind of people their music is the music that the people want to hear.
They don’t want to hear the middle of the road tunes, what is being promoted on the radio stations – because as you know you now have a lot of pirate stations. And I don’t know over a period of time if they have helped the business. What I know as a DJ, it’s knowing about the music – people now – I see sounds going out or dj’s going out with just a box of records or a little case of records to play at a show or whatever – I have to walk with a lot records when I go out because I don’t know what I’m going to play next, because the record that you have just played leads you to look for another record.
So there’s a different side, I’m not fighting down the people who say they are DJ’s, but I’m showing you another side as to what is a DJ. So I would look at a DJ and rate someone as a DJ, when you hear them putting tunes together threading like through a needle, like you are weaving a carpet – you play this one and the man can hear the answer to it. A real dj might even come on. I don’t really play deejay records, sometimes, we play some deejay records those speaking about God or Jah, and Rasta and they have got good beats behind them, but we just don’t play deejay records. And some people might listen to Jah Shaka sound and say “Oh where are his deejays?” but it’s only the first sound that I know about where people deejay from within the crowd. People don’t have to speak on the mike.
People come from Portugal and places like that, and they have come to see me and they are saying that they have heard about the sound or have heard a tape. So one day we want to really appear at these places give those people a chance to really hear our sound because like the totality of it has not been reached yet, you understand.
I would now like… now it’s 1990, the year 2000 is coming up. I would have to look now and say I would have to do this music business as a business, because I see people in the business now with lesser years – or who might not know what I know about the business – they have made their headway, because we haven’t been looking for the money side of it, we have been looking at the joy to see people come into a dance and dance instead of people standing against a wall – that was more important to us, more than collecting the money – although the sound takes a lot of money, to run it – so you have to charge people, but the sound was taken out of context after a while, because people wanted me to go around and beat up every sound – things like that.
Since I started sound, I’ve never left to say I’m going somewhere to kill this sound guy, or something like that, it’s never been in my mind. I’m just going somewhere to play to the best of my ability, if that other sound man’s ability is limited it’s not my fault… You see, well people say well “Oh yes you beat up that sound”, “you did this” and “you did that”, it wasn’t my idea, I’ve been going there to play music I’ve brought the sound system there – I’m dealing with music – and I’ve come there to play. So that hasn’t been in mind if they haven’t been able to keep up it’s not my fault, but you know I haven’t come there to hurt anybody. I’ve played with a lot of sounds – where people have said, they should switch off, but I’ve said no – give them a chance to play.
It can become very negative after a while. In Jamaica – Jah Love call all their dances Gatherings rather than Sound Clashes. Well that is the way some people wanted the sound to go, but I declined from that – and worked with more organisations on Cultural Gatherings. When things happen culturally like Nelson Mandela day, or for the fire at New Cross, when we had to play to raise funds. I’ve worked with Community Centre’s up and down the country – when things have happened in those areas – even in Birmingham, the Handsworth riots, we had to go up there to play to help to raise funds to help the situation. We went to Reading the situation there the problems that the Black youth have with the Police.
We have to be there as mediators, because the sound can instruct them. People are sitting watching television and it’s telling them that Daz is the best soap powder and they will go out and buy it. So we are advertising good will towards men. So when they leave the dance the idea they have is not to go and riot or rob someone, it could be changed. So in fact this sound has helped the Government in this country all along.
It has helped people understand what they are living through as well.
What they are living through, a lot of people come to me and tell me that this is happening and that is happening, what should I do? what’s the best thing to do? people come to ask me these questions and they want help. So the sound has a more community aspect, more than just a sound system.
And that comes out in other ways, when you did that little lecture tour of the colleges a couple of years ago – I think that helped, because sound system are still not looked upon in this country as something good, they are looked upon as something negative. The fact that they bring people together seems to be seen as a threat. Yet the large following of Asian’s that you have in Southall must be something good.
Yeah well they was interested you see, in hearing the truth, cause we are talking the truth something they can hold on to, not something what…there’s a difference, there are preachers that preach in a church, I myself grow up in the church – so I know about it. They will preach things to the people and the people will live in hope. When we are dealing with things now, we are trying… I don’t want the Sound System just to be looked upon as just a sound system – what someone is playing, it’s not just that, it’s to uplift the people and try and set them up on a standing within life.
If we want some economy or we want some social things to be sorted out, a matter of disorder of family affairs – whatever. The sound system… I’ve been playing the sound because I couldn’t go to a member of parliament and say anything. I couldn’t go into the House of Commons, and say well – so and so. Whatever we have had to say, we have said it over the sound system and the people who were there have heard it, but we would like a wider audience so that people can hear what we have to say.
And that is still a problem, with sound system sessions/dances being confined to the late night and early hours of the morning, this does not make real roots music accessible to much of its potential audience. It’s not a problem if you have a car or can afford the high cost of late night cabs, or if you don’t mind waiting around for late night buses, but it is a problem otherwise. Nearly every form of black music has strong traditions of being part of the late night scene – that is accepted, but along the way they have also catered for an audience outside of that. Reggae music now does not do that. And shows no signs of altering. This self destructive nature of the music is nothing new, but with record sales now well down on even 5 years ago – it needs all the income it can get, – The sound system could provide that, will it happen.
You have played in the past at all different times – the so called early sessions, what do you think about them?
Well you see, the whole thing has been taken out of hand, because it might be that you get three sounds to play in a hall on a early session, and the three sounds will end up turning up on each other, in the place and it causes a disturbance. Either the next sound guy is going to try to stop the next sound from playing or whatever. So you need a organisation, there must be a body.
I travel a bit and I hear records playing even in Jamaica, and after they have heard them all the kids start singing them on the way to school. Everybody knows them, so if it had been A,B,C, on the records the kids would have learned it, or 1,2,3, they would have learned how to count – from a record. So it’s important, that’s how important a record is. It’s like this tune – it’s not a reggae tune, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, it seemed like someone was contemplating to kill themselves, or something like that. Something was going wrong, but they heard a record and it changed their mind.
Yet as you know there is no union, so anyone with money can go and buy some equipment and start a sound system. There was a report once that there was 10,000 sound systems in this country. It’s a lot of people doing different things.
What we was doing going around these communities…we was playing at Reading for the Steve Biko project, they say they needed funds to keep the project going, we was there with all the poetry and the dancers. There is a lot of community work what the sound system has done. If that was to be listed – not just, Shaka’s got a big sound, and he’s played here and he’s done this and done that, and he’s got lots of dub plates, away from that, and say this sound has got inside people homes, and has been able to mould things and help areas where things have gone wrong.
We have never said that people must rebel in this country. We have never played a record that said that people should start fires or start killing people. We are trying to help people. Our people hasn’t got no one to help them. So we will have to organise ourselves that we don’t be a burden to the English people, while we abide in their country. So we would like for a chance to just form our own economy. You have seen what Southall is like with the Indians, there they have built a community for themselves. If you go to Stamford Hill you find the Jews there they have built a community for themselves.
In Brixton which anywhere in the world where you go, they will say Brixton is the part where they know Black people live in England, they wouldn’t say Ladbroke Grove although there are lots of Black People there, they are going to say Brixton and right now you still have English people selling them food in the market and things, there is no structure there to lift the people to enable them to do things for themselves.
There is a lot of pretence.
So you have these people, and you might lodge a complaint, and they will say “Oh we have put this man in charge of this”, but who said that man is capable of doing the job. They are picking people, and are advertising these vacancies, £25,000,a year certain people put in for it and they get the job. It’s happening in New Cross now, these people move into a community centre this guy probably come from Kent. And they come there, and they don’t know nothing about the area, and no one respects them.
You notice that when I give an interview here, you know me as a sound man from over the years, but it’s not really sound system that I really talk about, it’s why I have a sound system, the purpose of it, We didn’t have any platform to go and speak in Hyde Park or if we did go there the police might brutalise you or something might have happened to stop you from talking. We didn’t have a platform to do anything so it’s been the only way that people could express themselves, to make a record and get it on a sound system.
The whole thing has been about our people. We don’t want our people to be a problem in England, we would like Brixton to be a place where people are starting their own business – doing things for themselves. There are a lot of places that are gutted and are just left boarded up, no work is done on them, and yet there are many youths – we know them, even from New Cross, from the South East, that they can do plastering, they can do plumbing, they can do carpentry. If some of these old buildings were given to some of these youths, and the material, we could take a lot of these people off the streets where there are problems. And less of our people would be in mental homes and in prisons. Also, it might help with those people who say those black guys are all the same, we are not all the same.
But white people are like that, and the more that the days go on – I see why. Some of them I can’t blame them, it’s the whole thing surrounding the whole of society.
But if you are faced with endless pressure.
Some people will snap.
If someone was to come at our dances, they might see that 50% of the crowd might be white. Or even 60%, sometimes it depends where I’m playing. If I go to Southend, then there’s only 10 Black people. So there are places where I’m playing where Black people are outnumbered, but we are not only this for Black. It’s for who believes in the truth, and who we can bring into the fold they can do better things. They can go to work at their office tomorrow, they might open the door for someone, because they heard a record saying, “Try To Do Good” Just because of that, they have started to be more aware, to help people, because that record reach their heart. We are not playing records, for them just to go in peoples ears, it’s for their hearts. To help them in their lives. If someone doesn’t see Shaka for a 1000 years, that message will still remain in their hearts
Sound system has really been categorised as something, like I said some people just get some money and some equipment. Well I’ve been around a lot, a lot of travelling has been done, and I believe that Shaka sound has the best dancers, they can go anywhere and represent the sound, it’s a style, a unique style. In Jamaica you might see people dancing but it will be something different. At a Shaka dance it’s a sense of freedom. I go and play sometimes and I might have… I could have hurt my foot, or hurt my hand, while I’m playing I don’t remember that, you understand, till it’s finished. When the dance is finished and I turn on the light – I remember that I have a pain in my shoulder. You lose all your problems, all the problems are washed away.
Your dances seem to be a lot safer as well.
Well white people used to ask me, if they came, would they be safe, cause they thought it was something where they would be robbed or something like that. And it’s not that sort of thing, if we was to see someone doing that in our dance…you know. We don’t have fights, or things like that, or it’s very rare something like that occurs, for some unknown reason.. Probably it’s the forces of darkness, the devil trying to come into the dance will cause something like that. But in no time it would be quashed, it wouldn’t lead to something big. My job has been Youth work, all the time I have been doing sound system.
Without no grants.
Without no grants. Where the sound started was the club Moonshot, in Pragnell Street., New Cross. And when I went there, they told me that no I can’t play. They said the Government has gave us a set to play on, why should we go and hire a sound to come and play at our club. So I said I would play here for nothing then, don’t pay me, and I’ll come here and play, but that club and its management has changed so many times people started there who I didn’t know. I go there now and they will say “Who’s this guy, is he allowed in the building”. And I was a founder member of the club, of the Club Moonshot.
I played there for a year without collecting any money at all. Prince Charles came and gave them some money to rebuild it, after it was burned in a fire. And I’m sure that Prince Charles gave the money because of what transpired from the club. Not just to say, oh let them have a building. They talked about doing things, there should have been a mechanic shop there, there should have been people fixing TV’s and Computers, people learning a trade and going out in life. If a person didn’t have a job, they was supposed to come to the club, and they was supposed to say “what do you do?”, and if you was a painter, you could go and see Mrs So and So, and there would be work. Instead of going through the exchange. It was supposed to a centre for all activity, and instead it just went out of the window.
In Newham, there is a Afro-Carribean centre, which as far as I know is still not functioning as it was intended due to lack of funds and staff. To this Shaka has a simple solution.
There might be people who would volunteer, but it’s the people who pick the people. And this needs to be sorted out, if it isn’t there will always be problems between black and white people. If someone hasn’t got a job on one side, there will always be someone who will say look at that black bloke driving a flashy car, the whole thing is built up around people not having.
Now I have to do things differently, if I was to help, I would have think, can I spend that year, knowing that these sort of people are going to get something out of it. Unless you have full control, if I’m going to work for charity now, I want to be there when the ribbon is cut. When the building is opened. I’m not going to play here and there, and afterwards they say “Put the money in a fund.” I want to see it work. I can get coaches and take them to Africa. There are lots of people learning agriculture and all these things. There are many foods in Africa, which could come to England.
Tell me more about your works in Africa.
There are a lot of people there who don’t really know what’s going on In England. We go there and visit them and let them know.
Which parts of Africa have you visited.
Kenya, and Tanzania, East Africa. My next move now will be Zimbabwe, and then Ghana. There are people who are carrying on the projects, there are people there who are doing things, and who are struggling, but the people from England don’t really communicate with them enough. Like they need a waterpump to pump water from A to B. And they haven’t got the money to do it. There are many projects there.
England might look at it and say why should we help these people to go to Africa, or help to give things for Africa. Yet there are many foods in Africa, what could be sold in Brixton! or sold in the Black areas, this would create employment. And then we could send a set of people to Africa to work on the soil, to sow the grain, to reap the crop, send people to get it shipped. We have the skills, we have people with City and Guilds, and papers and they are not doing nothing. They are collecting dole money. I’m talking about utilizing the talent we already have.
I’m not talking about asking the Government for millions of pounds to do something, we are talking about, to get a chance. If you knew there was a ship going to Africa to give you a space on it, and space for a few things. And you know after a while we might be able to pay for it. to become self sufficient after a year or a couple of years. It’s very important if we can get this Africa Movement going.
And the people there are more into the music. When Bob Marley was in Jamaica and the Zimbabwe independence came up. It was the guerillas who went to Jamaica and said “Bob will you please come and appear at our independence day?”. It wasn’t the Prime Minister of the country it was the guerillas. They offered him that welcome to come. And you know he was surprised, he was very surprised, and he wondered why, why is this. And they said it was your music that helped us to win. We used to play your music, and when we smoked and things, we became invisible, no one could see us. These were the feeling and beliefs – what they had. These were the people that came for him.
And when he was there as you know 7000 people broke jail, that night. There was a jail not far from the stadium, and they broke jail, not to run away, just to come to the stadium. So a lot of teargas was used.
When you go to Africa, do you take your sound with you?
Well when I first went there, there is a Professor of the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania. And I went in accordance with some facts that we were gathering on how to approach things. We are not showing off or anything, but what you see Bob Geldof do, we had those plans on paper years ago. This is what we have been trying to do. This is what was important to us. So when I went there in ’84, we had all the papers to run shows in each country, all at the same time. We was going to do it in Jamaica, the Carribean, America, we would have done it in the same day raised the funds, videoed each session, and the video sell through a company in America. There would have been funds raised, we could have got acres and acres and acres of land. We could supply Jamaica with things what they need to have, the Caribbean and anywhere else.
That year England, had a very big harvest, in ’84. And they were selling the grain for £30 a ton. We was thinking if we had a £1000, we could just…but then you have to think how you are going to get it there. And because the structure is not set up, it makes it very difficult and in the end people was thinking I was dreaming, even now a lot of people say he is dreaming if he thinks things are going to change through music, or music can help to change anything, but through god’s inspiration – Jah give to me these things, if I can’t do nothing with them, I don’t know what he will say. Yet his inspiration is in my heart.
And it’s the same way I handle music, the same kind of reasoning. When the musicians gather – we kind of…when you get the blend, you know when the thing is right. We are not changing at all, we are not going to play about in the dancehall business or whatever. We are trying to inspire other people to take it up because there might come a time when I’m in Africa doing other works.
How do you think people will respond to the Overlord X tune?
The record was done in my session, and I composed it. I brought it to a place and somebody heard it on tape and said Wow! We are going to have to do something with this, that’s the basis of it. I said to them, put the guys name on it who did the mix – along with Overlord X. It was he, Raggafunk, who did the house mix.
Well it’s two of us. I call him Andy Mozart. He’s a classical player, he’s playing his instrument for years – classical. He is in charge of this midi, kind of business at the studio. He is a operator of it, and he said he can play an instrument. So I went there one day. someone was supposed to come down, he was a musician… So I told Andy lets try something, lets see what we can do. My knowledge of working with people is that, no matter who the musician is, I can do something with them. I usually hum something to them, and if they know their instrument – they can play it.
At Barrington Road, Shameless Studios. So we started work of the album. I’ve worked with people in the studio, and they say “Shaka I can’t do this, I’m playing jazz”. And that’s when I say that’s better for me I want some notes! I like working with different people. It’s a challenge to me. Each step was like a challenge, and we did it. And it was just me and him alone. There is no other person on it. I played some of the bass. The title of the album, came from the many layers of melodies on the album. There are some stripped down tracks, what I’ve got, but that’s dub album business.
Dub Symphony is a big step for you.
Well, there is someone into Jazz, Terry Newman, who cuts dub for me. He heard it, and he said it’s South American stuff.
Early last year you worked in Jamaica at King Tubby’s. Was it a successful trip?
Well I had to see a few people down there, within the music business, and to get a few dubs and all that. So I checked out Gussie and Johnny Clarke, whenever they’re in London they always pay me a visit. So I returned that visit, I checked out Gussie’s studio to see what was going on. I see King Tubby’s the great, tried to work out something. Me and him was talking, and he saw my albums. I went there with a lot of my albums as samples and just gave them out. Me and him, was going to make a dub album – because he saw I was into a dub thing. And people said that it could work.
You worked with Willy Williams and Icho Candy at King Tubby’s I heard?
They worked very good, we have some stuff that even now hasn’t been played. we are waiting on the right dances, We have a lot of specials.
Is it music that you can release?
Yeah, it’s on my rhythms. Even rhythms from the Dub Symphony album. People like Willi Williams, Abyssinians, they want me to bring them over. Big Youth, Icho Candy, Prince Junior, Rappa Robert. Even Hortense Ellis. A lot of them want me to do something with them.
So you worked with a lot of people in Jamaica?
Well they was queuing up in King Tubby’s to sing, but when they saw people like Willi Williams. They said this is the guy that did the Armagideon Time and it was OH! And Willi was saying to me that he doesn’t really do specials, it was because it was me. Yabby U and him they move together, we was together up and down between Jammy’s and Tubby’s.
You got a good percentage of work done, while you was there.
Yeah, but at first what was happening when I went there was that they was putting on a lot of tapes “Cut this one”, or “cut that one”. And I had to tell them that I don’t play that kind of stuff. And they said “What! This sound has got this and that, and this man came here from England, and he wanted it, and that man came and he got it. What kind of music do you play?”
And I said go and get a tape, one of the tracks from the LP. It’s a different mix, and it got thunder and things in it. And Tubby is a man who is always experimenting. So I said this would be the right track, because by this time they was saying “WHAT KIND OF MUSIC DO YOU PLAY. Let us hear something”. So I brought that in, and everybody stood there listening, and then Prince Junior said I know the sort of tune you want – you want a tune like 400 Years. And he went for the tape on his motorbike, he went off and he came back with a tape. And everybody started saying “I know what you want now”. But you see that is where I found out, there is a difference. When I going around the record shops and looking through the old stock and I was asking for Roots music. And they was pulling out little tunes with no rhythms behind it. They was thinking that roots music was music without a deejay! People didn’t know about the music.