A cheer came up from the crowd as U-Roy (above) walked on stage and announced: ‘The youth dem don’t understand Stur Gav sound. We don’t play hip hop, we don’t play funky, we don’t play soca. We only play rub a dub.’ Thankfully the last part of that was true, but the first bit was as well: it was hard to spot anybody under 35 at the dance in Kingston in the early hours of Sunday morning. There were ‘nuff pork pie hats and Kangol caps in attendance though, some serious medallions, and a range of amazing embroidered shirts and suits that looked like they had been moth balled for a couple of decades and been brought out just for the occasion.
King Stur Gav Hi-Fi was built by U-Roy in the mid ‘70s after King Tubby’s Hi-Fi, which he started his career on, was destroyed by the police. It became a deejay academy for the best microphone talent and it was quite a sight, all these years on, to see U-Roy, Freddie McGregor, Charlie Chaplin, General Trees, Brigadier Jerry and Jimmy Riley all on stage together. The mike was passed from one to another as they took turns to chat over the stream of Studio One rhythms. U-Roy’s voice still sounds surprisingly fresh and the best bits of the session were when his scat stylings were paired with Charlie Chaplin’s cultural lyrics. There was a poignant tribute section to the recently-passed Stur Gav veteran Sugar Minott and Lincoln, his son, came on and did justice to two of his songs. Freddie McGregor was the only disappointment – his singing style not really working in a deejay setting.
Four stacks of boxes encircled the crowd and the sound was excellent – plenty of bass to vibrate your sternum but no ear ringing the day after. The only drawback of the clarity of the sound was that it seriously magnified the hiss of old Jamaican 7”s.
At 2.30pm, the baton was passed to Metro Media sound and the vibe changed immediately as an improbably fat man took to the stage, removed his shirt and charged around, wobbling his vast girth whilst screaming over the top of ‘Why Must I Be a Teenager In Love?’. Literally stomach-churning. Your correspondent sought refuge at the bar, only to find that they had run out of rum. Things were getting rapidly worse – no rum at a dance in Jamaica? Reckoning that the parts that others can’t reach needed refreshing after that traumatic episode, I reconciled myself to Heineken.
The situation improved when Josey Wales and Peter Metro took charge. They upped the tempo with their faster delivery over some heavy-hitting Roots Radics rhythms. Their lyrics were brilliant, including a devastating put down of the Mavado-Vybz Kartel, Gully-Gaza rivalry and then a hilarious freestyle about Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal in the World Cup.
If Saturday night was a journey back to the dancehall of yesterday, Friday provided a glimpse of what hopefully could be its future. There is a small, developing new roots scene in Jamaica. Artists like Etana and Queen Ifrica are now well on the rise, and Rootz Underground lead a group of young musicians who are breaking through on the back of their energetic live performances. Marcus I played a great set at Redbones Blues Café in Kingston on Friday – check out below his recent single ‘Just A Little Herb’ with Sean Paul and forthcoming album. He was supported by Kai Wakeling, whose lovely acoustic set begged comparisons with Sade.
In a link between the old and new, Rootz Underground and famous Jamaican sound system Stone Love have put together a mix-tape designed to take you back to the ‘80s dancehall, but with newly-versed vocals. I have had a particular fondness for this sound system since the nurses in the Kingston hospital where he was born named my son Stone Love because of his volume at nights. Download or stream it here. Play loud.