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Sunday, August 21, 2011

An Outernational African Roots Act: Ras Kush and Black Redemption Sound


Choice is a t’ing.  Choices always bubble and bounce and need to be made.  Crucial times bring crucial choices.  Such it is with a soundman.  A soundman is always making choices.  What “chune” to play and when in a dance to run it?  When to lift the vocal?  When to drop the horns cut? When to forward on to the melodica participation?  How long before setting the needle on the stripped back raw bone drum and bass mix? Plastic or dubplate? CD or vinyl? How warm to run the bass, fine tune the treble, or move the mid-range in the mix?  Choices.  Always choices. Choices like dubs mixed in motion and made for the healing of the nations.

So too it is with the word and with a story.  Where to begin and how? Pick a point and let the rhythm words run…Well here so, a story of NYC-based, Ras Kush and Black Redemption Sound, is gonna start in...Japan.

Japan land of the Rising…Dub? 

<<<<Rewind back to 1986 when New York cassette only label ROIR (pronounce it ROAR!) dropped a little release by a band named Mute Beat entitled very simply “Japanese Dub.”  Behind the yellow, green, and red label was nestled the warmest, most rootical and austere, jazz-meets-dread beat rhythms fronted by a seriously unsung hero of the global roots community - One Mr. Kazufumi ‘Echo’ Kodama, trumpet player and mastermind behind Mute Beat and the first wave of Japanese Roots Reggae players…A deeper story maybe for another time zone on these pages or another….

>>>Fast forward.  Year 2005.  Put a documentary in the DVD player: “Melodious Riddim: Japanese Roots Rock Reggae.” Run it ‘til 8 minutes and 30 seconds in. Along side Kazufumi ‘Echo’ Kodama up on a stage a Rasta by the name of Kush appears.  Black tam on his head.  A sweat shirt across his chest emblazoned with the album cover of a classic Bronx-based Lloyd Bullwackie’s production.  It reads “African Roots Act 1.”  In between Kodama-San’s horn sweet notes the youth man Kush chants, microphone in his hand, “Come to blow down the walls of Babylon…We come to blow down the walls of Babylon.” Two worlds drop in the mix together.  One vocalist. One hornsman.  Both blowing down the walls of Babylon.  A choice is then made. The documentary’s editor clips the scene and segues into a next moment of a Kush-ite interview.  The soundman Kush say:

The drum beat, which is the foundation for reggae music, that is corresponding to the heartbeat. So that, the heartbeat, the music always have to be coming from the heart.

Edit. Cut. Minute 9. Second 17.  Ras Kush’s time in “Melodious Riddim” is done.  But still that BULLWACKIES image on a sweat-shirt lingers like so many melodious riddims jumping across the oceans and back again bringing this story as it does from Tokyo over to Brooklyn and the Bronx.  It is there in the boroughs where Ras Kush’s soundman education began:

I was fortunate to grow up in a part of Brooklyn, New York where Reggae Sound System culture was imported by Jamaicans who had migrated to the United States.  I remember hearing and seeing such legendary personalities as Danny Dread and King Addis Sound, Third World Sound System, and the great [mic men] Lone Ranger and Dillinger.  As I got to be a teenager I ventured to the Bronx to hear the sounds of African Love with Bobby Culture, Louie Ranking, Nicodemus, and a young Shinehead. Later on I discovered the World Famous BULLWACKIES DISCO which enchanted my ears to what I later came to know as DUB-WIZE.

So it was that a youth feed on the sound system riches at play in New York spots like the Biltmore Ballroom, the Starlite Ballroom, Club Illusion, Empire Roller Rink, Tropical Springs and the Harlem YMCA came to be an outernational emissary of Jah Roots and Culture music.  Similar to so many of the brethren and sistren who work in the realm of sound system, Ras Kush sees himself as an ambassador and promoter of “ancient vibes through the youth vitality.”  Like a mountain stream formed of melting snow that runs into the warm oceans far below, Ras Kush is a man that honors the fluid connections between the movement’s elders and the young audiences that are now being drawn into the fold outernationally. 


Through the music he selects, produces, and releases on his own record label, Black Redemption, Kush waters the roots of the global sound system community just as his New York mentor, Lloyd Bullwackies, fed so many of us with his own unique African Roots Acts during those heady days of the late 1970s and into the 1980s.  And, even further afield, back to where this story began,  back in Japan, Ras Kush walks the Rasta soundman walk with others quietly doing jah works - Mighty Massa, Echo Kodama, Ras Takashi, and the Wackies Far East Chapter to name just a few - devoted and unwavering, stridently and devoutly focused for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear.  The UK, The European Union, Japan, and various cities in the United States are only some of the branches to have been blessed with Kush's purifying musical waters. 

So you choose: Where do these roots begin and where do they end? How do you want to be a part of this story for the years and decades that rise and fall, begin and end? 

Well fastforward  then >>>>> Make the crucial choice and come to the 2nd Annual USA Roots Reggae Dub Expo in San Diego on Saturday the 27th of August 2011. Ras Kush and Black Redemption will be waiting there right down the road at the World Beat Cultural Center, 3200 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA. From 8 PM to late.






Sunday, August 7, 2011

Blackheart Warriors Hi-Fi: Humbly Pressing on from the Audio Cassette to the Speaker Box

Now a days each and every music lover can point and click to websites like Talawa.fr  or the mighty Jayman's Who Cork the Dance and immediately be awash in an endless archive of new and old recordings of live and direct sound system sessions.  Jah Shaka at Phebes from 1982. Check.  Jack Ruby at Skateland round 'bout 1981. Check.  Boom Shaka Lacka meets Eastern Sher in Southall 1991. Check.  Point and click. Download. Add to your iTunes library. Press play.  

Not long ago though this flow was a little way slower.  

Rewind to the days when these digitized piles of ones and zeros first became captured moments of audio wave artifacts.  There one will find the compact audio cassette.  TDK D-C 60.  Scotch Dynarange 90. Sony Hi Fidelity 120.  These were the brands that youth and youth stowed away in their pant pockets along side a hand held recorder in the recesses of a jacket coming out of the cold. Pass through the gate. Settle into a spot next to a speaker box.  Press record. Skank the night away knowing as you do that your Sony Walkman gonna run heavy the next day.


Get home. Press record again. Syncro dub a copy on the double deck.  Pack it up for a friend with an exclusive to you xeroxed cover of dread artwork. Maybe send one to a cousin a city or country away.  Repeat the process over and over again.  Tape fly over from JA or the UK to Brooklyn, USA. Brooklyn to Hartford.  Hartford to Miami.  Miami to Houston.  Houston lift off like NASA to LA.  Sound travel far and wide and land in diverse places.

So it was for San Diego's very own Blackheart Warriors Hi-Fi and its foundational members, Prince Zahir and Orthodox Reuben.  Before these two Rasses began building boxes, wiring speakers, and painting Southern California in the ites, gold, and green of Rastafari Sound System culture they traded in sound tapes, gleaning from them the deep spiritual vibes and inspiration found therein.  As Orthodox Reuben states, "I was first introduced to reggae sound system culture through the tape side of trading.  Ones and ones where I grew up were always in possession of these spiritual recordings, that as a youth coming up, struck a chord with my soul!"  Much like Reuben, Prince Zahir, the other half of Blackheart Warriors Hi-Fi, found deep edification in the distorted, degraded recordings.  This edification was mediated through both Jamaican and UK sound tapes recorded in yards and halls of the African Diaspora from Skateland to Phebes.  The city of San Diego itself, home to a long standing reggae scene, also provided these two burgeoning soundmen with a rich and knowledgeable community of old roots reggae connoisseurs and music appreciators through whom they furthered their knowledge.


Inspired by their love of sound system tapes, a local scene that welcomed the likes of UK roots stalwart Martin Campbell - anybody remember his geographically specific titles "San Diego Vibes" and "San Diego Dub!" on the Channel 1(UK) Label? - as well as an endless flow of top class Jamaican performers, their faith in Rastafari, and a strong sense of a "void" in their area Reuben and Zahir set out to build Blackheart Warriors Hi-Fi in 2004.  Zahir explains, "Although there were many selectors in our area at that time, I felt that there was a lack of sound system vibes in the more traditional sense of custom built sound systems. I felt the best way for us to deliver roots music was to build a custom set for us to play on.  I knew no one locally who could give me advice or show me how to create a set so I had to study and learn everything on my own.  I give thanks to places like speakerplans.com and its forum which helped me with a lot of technical questions I had.  I also give thanks to my father who was a construction worker.  As a child he taught me  how to use the tools necessary to build speaker boxes.  With this knowledge and foundation I was able to hand build the sound myself.  We are still considered a small sound in comparison to some of the UK/EU sounds, yet we continue to strive, to build, and to circulate Rastafari vibrations no matter how many watts or amount of boxes we use."

Reuben, a man of both academics and action, views Blackheart Warrior's mission as an act of self sufficiency, community activation, and upliftment of Afrikon peoples at home and abroad.  For a time, one manifestation of this  community activation came when Reuben ran the legendary one stop San Diego roots and culture record shop - Trade Roots Records.  Much like the Dub Expo's elder stateman, Humble Tafari of Wildfiyah Rootikal, Reuben and Zahir see the praising of Jah Rastafari, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, as the central motivation for their involvement in this musical dispensation.  They perceive reggae sound system music as a stepping stone to inspire the listener to influence bigger things, to impact the broader outernational issues that affect African peoples worldwide from education, social and economic disparities, and racial inequalities.  As Zahir sees it, "We BHW Hi-Fi are warriors fighting against wickedness in high and low places.  Music is our weapon and Haile Selassie is I and I field marshall.  The music we play is positive, heartical, and educational with a focus on breaking the mental chains of Afrikan People worldwide."  Just as the compact audio cassettes Zahir and Reuben collected were stepping stones into a deeper spiritual dimension of Rasta livity and Reggae, so too in their own humble way Blackheart Warriors Hi-Fi are placing another brick in the foundation, building on what came before them, and delivering it to a new audience of San Diego Youths. 


For their part, of all the US based sound systems, Blackheart Warriors Hi-Fi probably play out the most with regular gigs at various Southern California venues.   With each session at places like World Beat Center, Wabash Hall and their regular event, Temple of Roots at the Kava Lounge, Blackheart Warriors have slowly made a name for themselves in and around San Diego and in California as a whole.  This is in spite of struggling in a scene where club owners privilege alcohol sales over edifying musical vibrations and in-house P.A.s over the inspiring weight of a custom made sound system. Along with fellow Expo sound system, APS, and the more rock steady oriented Foreign Love Hi-Power, Blackheart Warriors are cultivating an increased awareness of Roots Reggae Dub in Southern California.  This is an awareness that the music they promote is a spiritually transcendent form most optimally delivered not by the staid format of a live band stage show, but through sound system.  This is also the mission of Wildfiyah Rootikal, APS (US), and Ras Kush and Black Redemption Sound.  This is the mission of the USA Roots Reggae Dub Expo collective.  


...So before you say to yourself "I'll just download the session recording from Talawa.fr and listen to it on my iPod,"  activate into the community and start making plans to reach the 2nd Annual USA Roots Reggae Dub Expo in San Diego on Saturday the 27th of August 2011. As it has been said before let it be said again: All roads lead to the World Beat Cultural Center, 3200 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA.  Blackheart Warriors Hi-Fi will be there.  Wildfiyah Rootikal will be there.  APS will be there. Ras Kush and Black Redemption will be there.  Brizion will be there.  From 8 PM to late, people from all four corners will converge to hear and feel the power of this movement as it gains speed and momentum in the USA.  Guidance along the way!