19 August 2018
Few producers have spanned as many eras as Augustus “Gussie” Clarke. So it was fitting that the Jamaican impresario be a distinguished guest on the fourth Reggae University session: on the evolution and the meaning of the music called dub. Joining him on the panel were academic Julian Henriques from Goldsmiths University of London, Sevi from Barcelona’s Greenlight sound system and MC Olivier from France’s Blackboard Jungle.
The session commenced with the premiere screening of Gussie Clarke’s new film “Dub talks”. Itself a panel discussion led by Clarke, the dub poet Mutabaruka and Professor Carolyn Cooper, the 57-minute round table conversation included comments from musicians U Roy, Flabba Holt, Bongo Herman and the engineers Sylvan Morris and Souljie Hamilton. The film served partly to promote Gussie’s new compilation “Dub Anthologies” and to clear up misconceptions about dub from a strictly Jamaican perspective. The debate explored the difference between dubs and versions, dubplates and specials. The lively repartee was presented without subtitles so knowledge of patois was essential.
When the film finished, Rototom panel chair David Katz began the physical discussion. Gussie explained that the term “dub” first referred to the exclusive acetate recording for sound systems then expanded into a genre. Henriques added that “in Jamaica, commercial and creative interests do not clash” so the need for exclusivity drove discovery. MC Olivier said that today the dubplate was still necessary for promotion. Sevi stressed the difference between dubplates with lyrics about killing other sounds used in dancehall, and the exclusive mixes he likes to play at the Rototom Dub Academy.
Gussie suggested the genesis of dub was “not intentional” and driven by the need for sound system deejays to talk over popular rhythms. He recalled getting started in the early 70s when he swapped an amplifier for a rhythm by with the singer Errol Dunkley so he could record Big Youth and U Roy on it. “In Jamaica we weren’t thinking how phenomenal it would be. We didn’t have much radio so we had sound system to break records.”
Henriques underlined the relationship between creativity of studio and sound system. He felt that as the inventors of the remix, Jamaican producers and engineers do not get credit for being ahead of 70s avant-garde European musicians. Gussie agreed: “Technology doesn’t give us an advantage – what does is our creative spirit”.
Olivier and Sevi then hailed the influence of UK second wave dub selector Jah Shaka on founding their sounds. “Now it’s easier to learn”, said Sevi “but we have to be grateful to people like Shaka – who still plays roots – without him we won’t be here”. Gussie went back further to his days engineering for the original 70s dub pioneer King Tubby. He joked that although Tubby was tight with his money, he was “a gentle spirit. When he died it was a blow to industry”.
Panellist Ellen Koehlings of Riddim magazine, asked Gussie why Jamaica lost interest in dub in the 1980s. “Sometimes we think we know it all” was his opinion. “If you try to teach some people they’re not willing to learn. Others who know don’t want to pass it on. It’s been an advantage to you. We lost ska to you. We lost dub. My personal view is radio in Jamaica is the biggest problem in why music can’t innovate as well as it could.”
Olivier and Sevi told the University that they are still using Jamaican techniques and singers. Sevi has been voicing the son of Wayne Smith (whose 1985 digital hit Under Mi Sleng Teng is often cited as the end for Jamaican dub) on some new songs.
Text from Angus Taylor