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
The problems are nothing much. Around Port Antonio, my wife catches hell because of her camera. I can understand one woman in a marketplace getting mad when asked if she can be photographed; some people are sensitive about that. When two other women lay a blood curse on my spouse for taking a picture of their pig, though, it seems a little weird. Overall, the (extremely poor) people there are tolerant of us at worst, and it’s a wonderful, quiet, little-touristed place.
Kingston, by contrast, is like any other big city in the world: crowded, hyper, and there are places you don’t go at night. Local elections are held while we’re in the country — two men are shot dead in post-polling contention; such activity has eased since the ’70s but not disappeared. I’m there for the history (fascinated with the idea that the “wickedest place on Earth,” the slaving/pirating mecca Port Royal, largely sank into the water during a 1692 earthquake). And I’m there for the dub.
Background: I’ll admit to having gotten a little ticked when, in the booming ’80s, I was told that newly rich Japanese were all over the USA buying up vintage saxophones and hauling them back across the ocean. Let ’em have the bank buildings, I thought, but how are we supposed to play good jazz if all we’re left with are those damn sterile-sounding Yamaha tenors?
So when I’m in Kingston looking for ’70s dub records, the shoe’s on the other foot, with some pointier historical shards of racism and colonialism tossed in, and it’s not entirely comfortable. Still, I think of it as spreading the revolution, and hope I will be received in the spirit of international brotherhood for which I congratulate my rich American ass.
I hire a music-minded taxi driver to be my guide and (I might as well face it) bodyguard. He drives me around to various stores, and I succeed in paying $30 each for a couple of scratched and battered rare dub LPs.
The smallest place we hit is a combination sound-system repair shop and record store — I can easily picture Scientist in the backroom firing up his soldering iron. I doubt if there are even 100 records on the shelves, and it looks unpromising, but I pick out a few old LPs, handing them across the counter to a silent and stern-looking guy in a white shirt.
First selection on the turntable: kind of a jazzy thing — no go. Second choice: generic Jamaican pop — ditto. Third time’s the charm? The needle drops, and out through the speakers there emerges a scrabbling oompah, with Munchkin voices trilling words of love. The guy has put a 33-rpm disc on at 45.
I glance up at the counterman; I’m laughing at his little joke.
He doesn’t laugh along. He looks me in the eye, record still spinning. Turns his back. And walks away.
Here’s what Scientist says: “Everybody you could say is racist to some degree. You have black people who would never welcome a white person into the family and vice versa. And you have people of all different color that is above alla that. Me personally, I try to deal with everybody on an individual basis until you cross that line, then I can say, well, you’re a racist.”
He’s not really a man of words. But when he talks, it means something.
A World of Dub
The true soul of dub will always be Jamaican, and you can’t do better than to stash some King Tubby (Dangerous Dub, with Roots Radics), Lee Perry (Upsetter in Dub), Burning Spear (Living Dub, Volume One), Prince Jammy (Uhuru in Dub), Tappa Zukie (In Dub) and tons more, the best stuff hailing from the mid-’70s to early ’80s. It does not all sound alike: Some is heavier, some jazzier, some more playful, reflecting not only the dubbist’s conception but the source material being zonked. Keep in mind that if it doesn’t say “dub,” it’s probably either rockers-type straight instrumental music (like most Augustus Pablo, which is eminently driftworthy nonetheless) or a vocal album by somebody who also dubs (Perry or Spear).
Dub could never be contained, and just like jazz or Christianity, it has been splattered all over the globe; every culture has absorbed dub to grow something new that savors with the local flavor and jerks with the local quirks. Among the beneficiaries of dub baptism have been the Clash, Public Image Ltd., the Slits, Bill Laswell, the Beastie Boys, Bad Brains, Kruder & Dorfmeister, and every other mixologist you can name. Below, in general order of roots orientation (from most to least), are some current artists who devote a major slice of their pie to the dub experience.
Twilight Circus Dub Sound System. The heaviest, the wiggiest, the most authenticity-obsessed and the best-produced of the latter-day dubbists is former Legendary Pink Dots drummer Ryan Moore, a guy from (not surprisingly) the dope mecca Vancouver, Canada; he’s now moved to (yes) Holland. Play this shit loud enough, and you won’t need to smoke anything.
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