Official Toast to Jamaica’s Sound System Pioneers

Official Toast to Jamaica’s Sound System Pioneers - Danny Dread
Danny Dread at House of Dancehall in Kingston (photo credit: Impulse Nation)

New York, NY – Last weekend, Jamaica’s Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport (MCGES) honored living legend Danny Dread and several other Jamaican sound system culture pioneers at the inaugural “Echoes of Sound System” event at National Stadium’s Indoor Entertainment Complex, in Kingston, Jamaica.

An official Reggae Month 2020 event, the “Echoes of Soundsystem” celebration was star studded, and honored pioneering selectors, sound operators, artists and individuals who’ve made an iconic impact on Jamaican music from Ska, to Reggae, Dancehall and subsequently today’s pop music culture.

The event was unique because most music recognition events overlook sound system’s somewhat known, yet rarely publicly acknowledged, historical backstory of its key role in delivering Reggae, Dancehall, Hip Hop/Rap and other Jamaican born genres to the world.

It’s somewhat hard to fathom that when Reggae was emerging in the 60s, Jamaican radio disk jockeys didn’t take to the new sound, and refused to play it. However, this creative suppression made sound systems, and their innovative selectors, the only means of mass distribution for arguably the most influential music genre in the world.

One honoree, who has had a heavy hand in distributing Jamaican music to live audiences across Jamaica and the United States, is Danny Dread. Based in Kingston, and affectionately known worldwide as “The Teacher”, he is one of the most respected selectors in Reggae music history.

A living legend whose career spans about 50 years, Danny was notorious for spinning some of Bob Marley’s most iconic songs throughout the island, long before official release dates, while a selector on Kingston’s Papa Roots Sound. Songs like: Soul Rebel, Sun is Shining, Don’t Rock My Boat (original version of Satisfy My Soul), and Keep on Moving are a few of many pre-released songs Danny cut on acetate at Lee Scratch Perry’s studio. Later on a go-to selector for the King of Reggae, Marley gave Papa Roots Sound six (6) pre-released songs from Bob Marley & the Wailors’ (BMW) 10-track “Rastaman Vibration” album, more than a month prior to its official release.

Those tracks were: War, Want More, Roots Rock Reggae, Johnny Was, Who the Cap Fit and the title track, Rastaman Vibration. That album went on to be BMW’s only top 10 album in the USA, and peaked at #8 on the Billboard 200 chart (#15 in the UK).

Additionally while on Papa Roots, Danny created and popularized the One Drop mix down technique, now commonly used during live artiste performances on a sound system.

As a selector for Stereomars, Danny also taught the Crowned Prince of Reggae, Dennis Brown, what a special is and coached him through singing his first ever dub plate—Brown dub plates are arguably the most treasured specials in sound system culture to date.

Besides Papa Roots and Stereomars, some of the sounds Danny Dread has been affiliated with and/or helped to popularize over the years include: I-oses, Vice President, King Attarney, Studio 54, King Majesty, King Jammy’s, Volcano, Sturgav, and currently North America’s #1 sound, New York City’s King Addies. 

Still actively spinning music in Jamaica, in April 2020 Danny Dread (King Addies) will be featured in the “Vintage is Forever” sound clash in NYC, versus longtime rival Jack Scorpio (Black Scorpio), a longtime rival and winner of the 2019 Red Bull Culture Clash. 

Honored alongside Danny Dread were iconic pioneers like: Paul Love, Toops, King Illawi, Peter Metro, Skyjuice, Yellowman, Chronicle, Burru Banton, Rory Stonelove, Ainsley “Rifle” Grey, and Louise Bennett—all of whom share a similar story of remarkable impact and influence on music.  

Pioneering Jamaican sound systems that were also honored include: Stonelove, Metromedia, Bodyguard, Jamrock, Merritone, Silverhawk, Spinners Choice, Super D, Gemini, Jah Love, Ecology Force, Peacemaker, Sturgav and Exodus Nuclear. 

The successful standing room only event also featured 12 sound systems which strung up in one venue, and each sound saluted various eras and genres of Jamaican music. 

The 8 hour celebration, awards, music and friendly sound clash exhibition was sponsored and co-produced by the Government of Jamaica’s Ministry of Culture, Entertainment & Sports, and organized by sound system icon Ricky Trooper.

Slated to become an annual event, when asked why he felt honoring the inaugural honorees at Echoes of Sound System 2020 was important, Trooper said “It’s a burning issue for me. All my life I played a sound system and I grew up in sound culture. The amount of work they did to set the foundation, I wouldn’t feel good if they didn’t get recognized now, before they are gone. Because if they never set it, no one today would be able to do this. They are kings inna this.”

The inscription on the Icon of Jamaican Sound System award that each honoree received reads, “For pioneering and championing sound systems at the cradle of and lasting bedrock of Jamaican music.”

Echoes of Sound System event organizers also included Tracy Hamilton, DJ Squeeze, and Dennis from Super Dee Sound, alongside Novelyn Banton (late Garnet Silk’s wife), Lenford Salmon and Olivia Babsy Grange who represent the Government of Jamaica.

A cultural gem born from a tiny island with enormous international influence, there are now thousands of sound systems, and selectors, entertaining crowds in parties, concerts, festivals and sound clashes worldwide. 

Official Toast to Jamaica’s Sound System Pioneers King illawi, Danny Dread, Toops & Paul Love
King illawi, Danny Dread, Toops & Paul Love

South Florida Caribbean News

The SFLCN.com Team provides news and information for the Caribbean-American community in South Florida and beyond.

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