By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It’s interesting to hear Scientist work, because you kind of don’t hear him work. You might notice a trickle of echo here and there; subtle shifts of emphasis. Mainly, you notice that it sounds good. He’s gotten around quite a bit in the eight years since he “got stuck” in L.A. after doing sound for former Black Uhuru singer Michael Rose — he even mixed a No Doubt recording last year. Yet mention that he lives here, and people say, “Huh?” When he vows that the spotlight isn’t for him, he kids not.
Scientist has his club gigs, his studio jobs. But it’s become harder for a man of his reputation to hide as the dub scene expands. Temple Bar in Santa Monica, the Vine in Hollywood and the Echo now form a string of regular dub-night venues across the city. Local musicians from electronic-jazz explorer G.E. Stinson to computerized fizzers DubLoner and Polycubist are extrapolating on the Jah echo. DJs and fans are trading rare sides and self-compiled mix-discs like underground weaponry. When I tell my colleague Tom Cheyney I’m writing about dub, he says he’s caught a number of touring gigs in town where live dubbing was integral to the mix — shows by roots magician Burning Spear, the reggae revival band John Brown’s Body and drum-&-bass/Latin-dance blendsman Sidestepper.
The great Spear has sung Jah praises, chucked and dubbed since the dawn of reggae; he’s Jamaican. John Brown’s Body are mostly white and from the American East Coast. Sidestepper is the concept of white Brit producer Richard Blair.
What about young Jamaicans? They still dig into dub: Every 7-inch single still has a “version” side, and the contemporary eclectic hitman Sizzla, for instance, regularly tweaks out a few album tracks. It’s just not such a major thing on the island anymore. Just as Lester Young begat Stan Getz, and just as Howlin’ Wolf begat Mick Jagger, so King Tubby begat Fatboy Slim — and the satellites keep spinning into new orbits. With techno-remix re-manifestations of dub emerging worldwide, from Tokyo to Vienna, the music’s composite face has grown ever paler.
Is that okay?
Depends on whom you ask. I hear from another local DJ, Kirk Gee, about some people he’s seen in his neighborhood on Jefferson Boulevard near Arlington Avenue — folks from the First Church of Rasta, who hold reggae events every Friday night. I drive over and talk to King Oji, the high priest.
I have to strain my chin upward to look King Oji in the collarbone. He has milelong dreadlocks, hard-muscled legs, snaggled teeth and a ready smile. Born Vernon Vanoy in Kansas City, he played pro football for several years after being drafted by the New York Giants in 1969; his life was changed by meeting Bob Marley in 1979.
The international headquarters of the First Church of Rasta is a bare-bones storefront to which all people of all colors are invited — King Oji considers us all Africans, and wants to do his part in uniting us through an open-door, community-oriented ministry that emphasizes ancient Ethiopian traditions. He believes there will be a “cultural revolution” within the next 20 years, and that reggae will help bring it about. Though his message is “nonviolent and positive,” the church’s periodical, Kings Chamber, talks about the role of the “violent warrior,” who is “the Freedom Fighter who will pick up guns and bombs if necessary.”
These are peaceful people. They just know things must change, and in true Rasta fashion, they employ every means at their disposal toward that end. There are the meetings, the music and the newspapers. There’s upsetter wordplay like “new-clear war” and “I-Deal Nation” — rightly seeing language as power, underclass sharpheads have always known how to bend words their own way, and nowhere is this more vivid than in Rasta patois about “polytricks” and “resisting against the shitsem.” There are organically grown victuals: Just the way it’s done in Jamaica, they take a fresh coconut, whack off its top with a machete, and give it to me so I can slurp the rich water-milk. When I’m finished, I swear to Jah, I feel stoned again.
The whole experience gets me thinking about a few precedents for the kind of activities the Church of Rasta is promoting. There were Rasta founder Howell’s “yards,” centers for potions and politics. There were the everybody-welcome Kingston music workshops of drummer Count Ossie, whose beats provided the kick for the earliest reggae. And here in Los Angeles, there was the music-centered community organizing done by Horace Tapscott and Billy Higgins.
Only difference is, those previous models were about one race. King Oji seems to have made a significant leap: We’re all slaves.
That’s one way of looking at cultural imperialism: Colonize the colonizers. But there are other ways, too.
For several days this summer, I’m in Jamaica with my wife and kid. Our chosen destinations are the two places we were told not to go: Port Antonio (they don’t like white people) and Kingston (they rob white people).
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