History of DJ Music
© Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton - The Rough guide to reggae
The early 1970s marked the beginning of the ascent of the deejay, a trend that continued during the roots era, and went on to become dominant throughout the dancehall and ragga phases. The story of the Jamaican deejay record can be traced back to the ska era, when the men who took the mike at the dances could occasionally be heard on vinyl, shouting an introduction and/or interjecting their catchphrases. The voice of the fabled Winston 'Count' Machuki, for instance, can be heard on the Baba Brooks Band's steaming "Alcatraz", while Sir Lord Comic made an impact with two massive hits that were actually credited to his name – "Ska-ing West" and "The Great Wuga Wuga". The role of the deejay at this point, however, was still largely confined to the dancehalls of the day, encouraging the dancers, and promoting the sound systems on which they were appearing. The first deejay to be recorded on more than an occasional basis was King Stitt, longtime MC for the Sir Coxsone Downbeat Sound System. Several of the most talented deejays who came to notice in the early 1970s - notably Big Youth, Dillinger, I Roy and Prince Jazzbo continued to make fine records in the roots era, some for their own labels. They and their numerous rivals from the next generation no longer simply added to the excitement of the dance with hip catchphrases: the deejay now offered commentaries on the ghetto sufferers' tribulations, history lessons from a black perspective, and the chanting of psalms. By the mid-1970s times were truly dread, with Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie as likely to be praised as the sound on which the deejay was employed. [Read more...]
Big Youth was sold to the rock audience with the strikingly packaged Dread Locks Dread album for Prince Tony Robinson, and Virgin tried a similar tactic with U Roy. Though the pioneering deejay had previously avoided using his Rastafarian beliefs for self-promotion, he was pictured on the cover of his initial Prince Tony/Virgin set with dreadlocks and enveloped in clouds of smoke from a 'chalice'. On the record, he chatted commercial dread lyrics over updates of rocksteady classics. In both Big Youth's and U Roy's work for Prince Tony, the sheer number of references to "natty dread" can be wearisome, though the albums seem more acceptable in retrospect, and tracks from U Roy like "Run Away Girl" and the cheeky "Chalice In the Palace" (over a recut "Queen Majesty") showed he had retained a fair degree of wit and panache.
In this period of international exposure, U Roy also played an important role in the Kingston dancehalls through his Stur-Gav Hi-Fi sound system, in effect the deejay academy, with Daddy Roy as the founder of the school. The first graduate, Ranking Joe – newly promoted from Little Joe – deejayed the set during 1977-78 before going on with selector Jah Screw to the champion set of the late 1970s, the reborn Ray Symbolic. Ranking Joe was followed on Stur-Gav by Charlie Chaplin, Josey Wales, and Brigadier Jerry, all of whom would play influential roles in establishing the dancehall styles of future years. U Brown was the most notable disciple of U-Roy not to come through the Originator's sound system. The vast majority of toasters continued to record for a variety of producers with the rhythms and money to entice them into their studios. Popular talkers like Dillinger, Jah Stitch, Trinity and Jah Woosh would occasionally release music on labels of their own, but still found it more profitable or convenient to record for others.
The 80s decade was first and foremost about deejays. This plethora of chatters was presaged at the close of the preceding decade, when a handful of deejay versions were released before the corresponding vocals. Junjo's Volcano label had hits with practically every deejay who meant anything in the dancehalls of the day. The first rank of these included the Stur-Gav stars Josey Wales. and Charlie Chaplin, both of whom had obviously learned much of their craft from U Roy, but skilfully applied the older man's tuition to Junjo's modern rhythms. Ranking Toyan, a slightly asthmatic-sounding deejay from the Socialist Roots and Romantic Hi-Fi sound systems, was another highly rated live performer who only sometimes lived up to his dancehall reputation on record; Junjo, along with Don Mais (his first producer), caught him at very near his best, most notably on the How the West Was Won album, which made a considerable impact in London, partly thanks to the attractive packaging given it by Greensleeves. The same UK company served future producer Captain Sinbad just as well with a similarly eye-catching cover, and Junjo's pairing of Trinity's younger brother Clint Eastwood (b. Robert Brammer) with the UK deejay General Saint (Winston Hislop) even reached the lower regions of the British pop charts. But when it came to sales, nothing could quite match the alchemy between the fastest-rising producer and the most popular chatter of the era, Yellowman.