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Friday, July 8, 2011

Lion Symbol: From Southall to Southern California APS Sound System Moves West

To Fully Grasp the history of sound system culture's spread globally, one must take a dive into connections that are alive and thrive in the "town" of Southall out west of London city.  Southall lands between London's Heathrow Airport and the western suburbs of London.  "In its central areas, more than half the population are Sikhs from India and East Africa, some 15 percent each are Hindus from India and Muslims from Pakistan; and the remainder are native English, Irish, and Afro-Caribbean," (Baumann, 1999).  For there in this cultural cut and mix lies a rich decades long history of yout' man sounds plying their trade; building their sets; bringing the traditions and the vibes of the reggae sound system to each new generation.  So it is with APS Sound System.  This is the story of their development as one of Southall's premier sounds and their spread west from the winter cold of London to the summer heat of Southern California.

Jags, the main force behind the US chapter of APS Sound System, was born and raised in Southall.  Sound system was a part of life from day one: "All my older friends had sound systems.  A lot of sounds came out of Southall like Merritone, Jericho, Starlight Express, Coxsman, Jah Observer, Earth Rocker, Black Liberation and theres are only a few that were within walking distance.  I remember my neighbor's sister was dating a guy by the name of David who was a member ob Jah Shaka Sound System and he'd always hand us flyers to pass around.  Those flyers were in black and white with basic drawings and then photocopied.  Jah Shaka used to always play at Chaggars Hall, Southall Community Center, Dominion Center and Tudor Rose.  Thinking back now the suspended ceiling in Chaggars Hall used to look beat up.  I'm sure because of the sounds.  You could drive by these locations and just hear the building being shaken to its foundation, the windows rattling like they were about to break."

In these dances the cultures of Southall, brought together through the spiritual force and musical inspiration of Jah music, mixed to create a new energy and a next audience of roots reggae dub followers.  Jags explains some of the political realities that gave rise to the uniquely Southall sound system scene: "One of the older members of APS (US) used to go to nearly all the Jah Shaka dances from the early 80s up.  He inspired a lot of today's Indian youths to go.  The reason why a lot of Indian youths gravitated to these dances was because they and their parents went through the racial struggles and police brutality of the UK.  But there was always something about listening to Jah Shaka play.  Everything just seemed to be better when you came out of the dance.  When you heard Shaka play a tune that spoke to what you were going through, it's like a problem shared."

 The words of the mighty Jah Shaka himself speak to the universal pull of reggae as experienced in Southall.  In an interview with UK roots producer, Steve Mosco, Shaka sums it up: "It goes further than sound system, because the music is a stepping stone to get the message across.  We hope that not only Black people but also people of other countries can enjoy it and listen to what we've got to say."  Through the words and actions of sounds like Jah Shaka and those Indian youths drawn to such sessions, two lion cultures prevailed into one under the guise of the sound system movement.  The lion symbols emblazoned on APS (US)'s speaker boxes - drawn themselves from the classic UK-reggae themed movie "Babylon" - capture this culture mix.  Jags explains: "My religion is Sikh.  Singh means lion in Punjabi and that is one reason why we have the symbol of the  lion on our mid-range boxes.  The Sikh youths from Southall still skank in the old time tradition as taught by their elders."  Through these movements, Bhangra meets UK skanking in the dark of a dubwise dance.  In the process, Southall youths - Indian, Black, White - reshape the legacy of race riots and social injustice that still echoes from out of Southall's not too distant past.

And now audiences in the United States can feel the positive force of APS's mix.  In the early 2000s Jags moved to California and immediately felt the pangs of "Roots Withdrawal."  Try as he might, Jags would check the various so-called Dub Clubs from the San Francisco Bay Area on down to LA only to be met with the tin pan reality of deejays playing regular commercial tunes on a regular club P.A.  Too much regular.  The sonic memory of Southall dances left Jags longing for the real article: "It was only an amount of time until I had to build a sound system and that's when it begain."

Jags was determined: "Having plenty of experience with sound systems I knew exactly what kind of system I wanted and how I wanted to build it here in the US.  After convincing the other APS members here in the US - Goshan and Sean along with UK-based APS member Sati- we started building it.  We built a system that had to be efficient and plays exactly like the ones I grew up around in the UK.  We played a number of times in the Bay Area and we would shake up the venue, the music and vibes was there but a lot of venues didn't understand why we had to bring in our own equipment.  The last couple of years we've been playing out in Southern California which up to this point has been more sound system friendly than the Bay Area."

It is this determination and willingness to share what he knows that makes Jags and the APS (US) crew such a welcome addition to the US Sound System scene.  The youth who built his first double 18" speaker box when he was 12 years old and strung up his first pre-amp in his mom's front room continues to forward the soundman ethos to new audiences stateside.  "I'm always willing to share what I have learned through the years of being around sound systems.  Hopefully soon there will be more and more upcoming sound systems in the US."  Each one teach one as the saying goes.

"There's a message in the music we play, a message that has to be heard.  When we play it on our sound system its like we are doing a presentation.  When the music hits you whether its through the tops (treble), the mids (mid range), or bass there's a feeling there.  It is hard to explain unless you experience it.  I consider the music we play to be spiritual and educational.  Having a sound system is hard work - moving the equipment around, repairs, changes, and the like but that's part of being a soundman and that's what I consider myself to be.  I make sure my system is clean and clear so the people can understand what the singer is saying.  Us as a sound promote love and unity amongst all.  The world would be a better place if we could all get along."

US massive it is time to line up with the universal lion symbol.  Follow its course from way over Africa, India, Jamaica, the UK, and on to the USA.  With soundmen like Jags at the control tower - clean and clear, crisp and weighted - rest assured the spiritual and educational force of roots reggae dubwise continues its forward march despite so many writing off reggae as dead and gone.

Live it. Feel it.  Know it.  'Cause all roads lead to the Second Annual USA Roots Reggae Dub Expo in San Diego, California where Jags and the full APS (US) set and sound can be experienced this August 27th 2011.  All tribes welcome heartically and unconditionally.


  1. Great story. Geography and demography move roots and culture worldwide, indeed. So glad to hear about message music for the people taking hold in the west.

  2. True True. This music is an OUTERNATIONAL THING!

  3. chak de phateh.
    dev from southall