Sound System

sound system

king tubby

In Jamaican popular culture, a sound system is a group of disc jockeys, engineers and MCs playing ska, rocksteady or reggae music. The sound system scene is generally regarded as an important part of Jamaican cultural history and as being responsible for the rise of several modern Jamaican musical genres.

The sound system concept first became popular in the 1950s, in the ghettos of Kingston. DJs would load up a truck with a generator, turntables, and huge speakers and set up street parties. In the beginning, the DJs played American rhythm and blues music, but as time progressed the sound migrated to a local flavor.

By the mid 1950s, sound systems had eclipsed live musicians in any combination for the purpose of staging parties. By the second half of the decade, custom-built systems began to appear from the workshops of specialists such as Headley Jones, who constructed wardrobe-sized speaker cabinets called ‘Houses of Joy.’

The popularity of a sound system was mainly contingent on one thing: having new music. In order to circumvent the release cycle of the American record labels, sound system superstars turned to record production. Initially, they produced only singles for their own sound systems, known as ‘Exclusives’ or Dubplates – a limited run of one copy per song.

What began as an attempt to copy the American R&B sound using local musicians evolved into a uniquely Jamaican musical genre: ska. This shift was due partly to the fact that as American-style R&B was embraced by a largely white, teenage audience and evolved into rock and roll, sound system owners could no longer depend on a steady stream of the singles they preferred: fast-shuffle boogies and ballads.

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