The "King of the Zulus" returns with his
unique brand of UK dub
The recent reincarnation of the long-running Reggae Japansplash
festival as the dancehall-heavy Reggae Super Bash, aimed squarely
at the teen crowd, was an indication of the direction reggae
is headed. For an idea of where it came from, one of the fathers
of UK dub will be back in Japan this week, with a show slated
for the new Liquid Room this Monday.
Reggae may have been born in Jamaica, but it found some of
its sharpest expressions amid the racism faced by the Jamaican
immigrant community of England in the '70s and '80s.
The Jah Shaka story (his real name and birth date are a mystery
because of the seeming unavailability of a proper bio) begins
in the '70s, when he apprenticed with one of the "sound
systems"-traveling crews of DJs and MCs working
with custom-built PAs-that were beginning to fire the
immigrant community with messages of black consciousness.
While their influence was at first limited to the West Indian
community, these sound systems would go on to have a great
impact on music from hip-hop to electronica. Crossover successes
like Massive Attack got their start as a sound system.
Launching his own sound system, Shaka, or "King of
the Zulus," had an arrangement whereby he was able
to get fresh Jamaican dub-at its essence a form of
instrumental reggae-before most of the competing sound
systems of the day. This gave him an edge over the other acts
that made the rounds of the highly competitive scene.
Short in stature and physically unprepossessing, Shaka, as
he demonstrated in his last Tokyo show two years ago, makes
a larger-than-life impact. Rolling his eyes like a man possessed,
he lets forth a stream of chant and song punctuated by cries
over the relentless bass, and alternately vanishing and reappearing
drums, horns and keyboards that weave the spell of dub.
And for those who listen closer, there's a message
that grows out of Shaka's beliefs in the black liberations
struggle and in the Rastafarian religion. In a 1980 NME feature
on sound systems, Shaka was quoted as saying, "The
National Front [England's nationalist party] and me
would have a lot in common. We want to go back to Africa and
they want to send us there."
Shaka has also put money behind his beliefs, establishing
the Jah Shaka Foundation to carry out assistance with projects
in Jamaica, Ethiopia and Ghana to provide medical supplies,
library books and, of course, records.
His three-decade recording career has paired Shaka with many
of reggae's stars, like sometimes-Massive Attack singer
Horace Andy, while he has shown the depths of his production
skills through albums such as the aptly named and expansively
orchestrated Dub Symphony.
At a time when roots sound systems have given way to dancehall
crews, including Japan's vaunted Mighty Crown (with
whom Shaka joined forces last weekend), or ambient dub acts
like recent visitor the Twilight Dub Sound System, Jah Shaka
remains true to his roots and still at the top of his powers.
With reggae of all stripes (Japan welcomes a Brazilian reggae
band this month) still commanding large audiences, the new
Liquid Room-smaller than its Shinjuku predecessor-should
Oct 11, 6pm, ¥3,500 (adv),
¥4,000 (door). Ebisu Liquid Room .Tel: 03-5464-0800.
Credit: Earth Planning
with METROPOLIS readers at http://forum.japantoday.com