Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Gaurdian Unlimited Blog Post: A Personal Dancehall (Hi)Story

A piece I did fir the Gaurdian's online blog concerning how much I like music made in England under the influence of elsewhere.

A Personal Dancehall (Hi)Story:

While 'Red Bull & Guinness':

remains my favourite riddim in recent memory one of the biggest beats to emerge from Yard in recent years is without doubt the infamous '85 Riddim':

'85' is best know for Cham's seminal draw over the beat entitled 'Ghetto Story':

The above track is the single most played thing on my iPod. I have listened to it even more when walking home drunk than Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan combined. Anyone who knows me will attest that this must be true love.

Something about the combination of first hand recollection of times past and a beat and bassline such as Dave Kelly crafts on '85' really does something for me.

Imagine then my excitement when I discovered that YT (an English Dancehall MC) had ridden over '85' and entitled his toast 'England Story'....

While I have long been a fan of YT and with the title obviously hinting at what to expect in terms of lyrical content in light of Cham's draw the impact of the track once I heard it was nothing short of revelatory:

For someone who has grown up surrounded by, participated and very much been in thrall to the UK's continuing Afro-Caribbean influenced urban dance music scene via early dalliances with Jungle, Drum & Bass, 2 Step, Garage, Grime and latterly Dubstep, Bassline and Funky the track represented the history lesson many remain ignorant of.

While Loefah's harsh, clipped, halfstep and Wiley's cold, callous Eskibeat seem very much of the present or a time in the near future, both of these artists create very much under the aegis of what has gone before.

Their sounds merely represent facets of the UK urban underground's Afro-Carribean dance music continuum.

As YT tells us, it all begins with Saxon:


Jah Shaka:

King Tubby:

The oft overlooked Volcano soundsystem “outta North Wes' London”:

as well as the early UK MC's who translated the Jamaican beats, basslines and patois to incorporate, reflect and influence their new English contexts including Papa Levi:

Tippa Irie:

and Smiley Culture:

The track really hits home for me with its recollection of "when Rodigan locked the whole block". What could possibly be a more united, English take on the cultural symbiosis and exchange made possible through music than the wonderful image of the distinctly white and bald David Rodigan causing a near riot at Notting Hill Carnival every year in the late 80's?

YT goes on to chart the MC's that would take Dancehall, Dub and Reggae with them into the Jungle era with mention of Flinty Badman and Deman Rocka aka The Ragga Twins, Navigator, General Levy and Daddy Freddy. This transition is best seen in the documentary 'A London Sum’ting' here:


and here:

Basically 'An England Story' reminded me how much I love the music created every day in the streets of London and how very much that music owes a combination of cultures as well as both racial harmony and diversity to exist.

In a week when I cast my vote in a UK mayoral election where both the BNP and National Front remain heavily represented at all levels of our 'democratically' elected party political process it could also not represent a more pertinent reminder that this country is great as sum of it's parts not despite them.

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