In order to understand what this record is about, it is first of all necessary to sketch in brief the history of reggae music in the UK – if you’ll bear with me. This, after all, is an album that relies on a context, and that context must be understood.
Whilst the history of reggae is often seen simply in terms of what washappening in Jamaica, and whilst this is understandable, reggae wasn’t justconsumed in the Caribbean. As the first Jamaicans arrived on theWindrush, they didn’t all rush out to buy Adam Faith and Cliff Richardalbums, but brought their music and culture with them.
As the yearsprogressed and more and more Jamaicans settled in the UK, and communitiesbegan to form in cities like Bristol and London, the sound systems, a stapleof Jamaican life, soon began to emerge.
And despite their distance from the studios of downtown Kingston, thecompetition and ethos was just the same. As another dub plate would beflying out of the studios of producers like Coxsone Dodd or DukeReid straight to the Jamaican sound men, copies would be winging theirway across the Atlantic to satisfy the growing ex-pat communities.
But the emphasis was still on the music produced in Jamaica.It was many years before the first home-grown UK reggae bands would begin tocreate their own music that would stand up against the Jamaican imports. Amajor revolution was the advance of synthesizer technology and its relativeaffordability, where before the Jamaican producers were using the mostrudimentary of tools to create their epics, they still needed a band and allthe hassle that entails. Now a couple of guys with a cheap keyboard couldcreate the music they had in mind.
London’s Unity Hi-Power sound system was one of the many to takeadvantage of such instruments. The music they were to create was to provide the blueprint and an inspiration formuch of the music that was to emerge over the next decade. Many of the MCswho worked with Unity would go on to be influential in the emerging ravescene, whether as MCs or producers. The dancehall sound was to form thebackbone of the Bristol sound, as bands like Massive Attack took theprimitive bleeps and bass and reinvented the sound as a truly Britishphenomenon. To this day it still exerts an influence as artists likeRoots Manuva fuse the dancehall sound with hip-hop to create adistinctly British sound.
Over these thirteen tracks, and their versions (stripped downinstrumental dubs), we have some of the sweetest music ever made on theseshores. Bass that demands to be heard, sonar blips that echo and reverberatearound in the mix, whilst the MCs do their business over the top. Thedemocratic nature of the sound systems meant that the crowd would soon letyou know if they liked or disliked a particular track, so the songs thathave made it to this compilation have passed the test of one of the mostdiscerning A & R departments in the world – the sound system dance floor. Anessential selection, both for the historically curious and the true lover of music.