What is sound system culture?

Exploring Sound System Culture's Influence and the Legacy of the Windrush Generation on these Trends!

What is sound system culture?

Tracing the Beat

Soul II Soul’s, Safe from Harm pulsated from the speaker fastened to a bicycle as we walked down Victoria Embankment Road with the masses parading for migrant rights, the backbone of our nation, fighting the racism the government has enforced.

Under the radiant sun, a palpable sense of community rose, fuelled by shared aspirations for a brighter tomorrow. The symphony of car horns in solidarity and hopeful smiles were shared in this collective desire for a better future. The roots of Notting Hill’s ethos were present and amplified by the resonance of sound system culture, this spirit of unity pervaded.

As we approached Downing Street, the vibrations of R3’s sound system from within the truck reverberated through the marchers. Crowds merged to dance, sharing sound systems’ philosophy of freedom. As artists selected monumental tunes to encourage this sense of liberation, chants rang out, in urgent plea for change and the dismantling of racism. In this vibrant atmosphere, warmth emanated from every exchange, as a community was harnessed at R3’s House Against Hate racism rally.

‘Music is the soundtrack to our revolution’ stated the organiser of Novo Media.

The electrifying energy pulsating through the crowd infuses everyone with a profound sense of joy and togetherness, acknowledging the transformative force of community. It's the remarkable ability of music to orchestrate such an atmosphere, spearhead revolutions, and bestow freedom upon individuals that renders it truly extraordinary.

Sound system culture has emerged as a pivotal force within the music industry, tracing its roots back to Kingston where it provided a haven for working-class communities to converge, revel in unity, and bask in the euphoria of street parties fuelled by pulsating dancehall rhythms. These grassroots gatherings laid the groundwork for the ever-evolving landscape of dance music. At its core, sound system culture facilitated an intimate fusion of music and community, heralding a newfound sense of freedom that catalysed a movement. Introduced to the UK by the Windrush generation, this potent movement has stirred an unprecedented sense of community and empowerment, forever altering the fabric of musical experience.

Sound system culture, born from its mission to unite, finds one of its most iconic manifestations in the Notting Hill Carnival, conceived by Rhauna Lasslet as a children's street party. Her vision was clear: to forge a festival that transcended barriers, drawing together communities from oppressed backgrounds to foster connection and mutual embrace. Despite the segregation of many oppressed nationalities into confined areas, Lasslet sought to ignite a desire for participation that could only yield positive outcomes. Thus, Notting Hill Carnival was born: a weekend extravaganza celebrating culture and community, a beacon of peace, love, and unity rising from the ashes of race riots. At its heart, the carnival became a pivotal stage for sound system culture in the UK, as systems debuted their melodic offerings, inviting crowds to revel in their splendour. The union of Lasslet's visionary blueprint and the pulsating beats of sound system culture underscored the profound significance of its values, offering a sanctuary for freedom and collective expression—a sentiment that resonated powerfully at the rally.

Unveiling the Unsung: Where’s the Women in Sound System Culture?

While sound system culture has been a powerful force in dismantling barriers of oppression, it's crucial to acknowledge the ongoing marginalisation of women within this realm. Despite their significant contributions and pivotal roles in its inception, women's importance has often been side lined and their accomplishments overlooked. Icons like Rhauna Laslett, whose influence on the culture is undeniable, have frequently been relegated to the shadows.

Countless women have played integral roles in shaping the trajectory of sound system culture, contributing to its evolution and orchestrating experiences that foster unity, evoke emotions, and ignite creativity. Yet, their invaluable contributions are often relegated to the periphery, highlighting the need for greater recognition and appreciation of their indispensable role in the movement.

R3 boldly confronted this and provided platforms for women, showcasing talents like Bimi Bon-Boulash and Shanti Celeste, who not only delivered captivating performances but also delivered impassioned speeches. With their soulful, groovy, and funky sounds, they breathed new life into the scene. The diverse line-up of artists and speakers at R3 amplified voices from all walks of life and illuminated the often-overlooked contributions of women within sound system culture.

As the rhythm of sound system culture continues to pulse through our collective consciousness, it's essential to peel back the layers and unearth the hidden narratives that have shaped its evolution. While the spotlight often shines on well-known figures within the industry, there's a vast array of untold tales out there, particularly those of women who have played pivotal roles in its development. These unsung heroines have not only challenged the status quo but have also left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape, paving the way for inclusivity, empowerment, and authenticity within the movement. Let's delve deeper into the stories of these trailblazing women who have defied expectations and reshaped the narrative of sound system culture.

Who’s who? Women in UK sound system culture

From the unsung heroines of sound system culture to the rising powerhouses of today, delve into the heart and soul of this vibrant scene. An introduction to the true backbone of this powerful sound in which is being dismissed.

Nzinga sounds

Firstly, Tuning into Nzinga Soundz, 2021, monthly residency on Rinse FM, the duo of Lynda Rosenoir Patten aka DJ Ade and June Reid aka Junie Rankin, children of the Windrush generation, champion their ancestral and own history through their musical essence, playing vibrant sets celebrating independence, artists, and carnival. Mixing with artists like Lady Baton and paying tribute to legends like Bunny Wailer, the duo brings a multifaceted set to bless your heart and soul.

Growing up in Brixton from a young age they saw their families host gatherings, creating a space to foster connections. The echoes of dub music reverberated through the home's walls, enticing the pair to pursue music as they longed to be a part of the lively scene and their only way in was through partaking in the DJ-ing, which finally allowed them to be a part of the shared experience of harmony.

Within this nurturing community experience, Nzinga Soundz was cultivated, one of the pioneering all-female-based sound systems of the mid-early 80s. With their dedication to spreading the ‘message in music’ during the backdrop of the turmoil and adversity, they challenge the racism they and others experience and instead craft a space for unity and love, harnessing the transformative power of music, promoting sounds of vintage roots reggae and lovers rock, and allowing for others to cherish the profound power of music too.

Nzinga sounds have continued to make their work accessible and allow audiences to embrace the melodic tunes of deep dub to create an immersive experience igniting feelings of unity. Infused with harmonies of sound system culture, part of the resistance against racism and challenges of colonialism, the music echoes the Windrush generation's power to wield music for creative and peaceful resistance.

Dubplate Pearl

Dubplate Pearl, an unsung heroine of sound system culture, is a founding figure whose lifelong love affair with music began in the vibrant backdrop of the 1960s. Immersed in the melodious embrace of her music-loving parents' record collection, Pearl's passion for vinyl became evident at a tender age. Fuelled by her insatiable curiosity, she eagerly spent her school lunch breaks scouring vinyl shops, forging a deep connection with London's eclectic subcultures and musical tapestry. Despite the passage of time, Pearl's musical aspirations lay dormant until 2010, when she seized the opportunity to make her public debut in Hammersmith. Encouraged by the overwhelming response from the crowd, she embarked on a journey of musical exploration that continues to this day. With her meticulously curated record collection serving as a testament to her dedication, Pearl remains a beacon of inspiration within the industry. Through initiatives like 'Revival is Survival', she tirelessly works to ensure that the essence of sound system culture remains accessible to all, empowering mature women of the Windrush generation and nurturing creativity across all mediums. Pearl's boundless passion for music radiates through her selections, infusing every track with palpable warmth and care. Whether enchanting audiences at Jumbi's Tate Late takeover or pioneering positive change within the industry, Pearl's unwavering commitment to preserving the legacy of sound system culture ensures that its rich history continues to resonate with the next generation.

Linett Kamala

Linett Kamala, known as the 'Queen of Sound Systems', burst onto the scene as a teenage trailblazer, spinnin records at Notting Hill Carnival at just 15 years old. This iconic figure didn't just bring beats; she brought a whole new vibe, infusing hip-hop sounds into the culture and dropping experimental tracks that had crowds buzzing, like 'Light Years Away' by Wrap 9's. But Kamala's influence didn't stop at the turntables; she's a multifaceted force, dividing her time between spinning tunes, community projects, and art installations that redefine what it means to experience sound. 

Through her initiatives like the 'Original Sounds Collective', she's on a mission to shake up the scene, especially for women, inviting them to explore their creativity and groove to their own beat. And if you're looking for proof of her impact, just check out her latest project: an art installation at @basstoneregeneration, a sound system culture festival. It's a wild ride of lights and beats, telling stories and capturing the essence of what makes sound system culture so unique. Kamala's legacy is as unforgettable as her tunes, and as she continues to shake things up and celebrate sound system history all over the country, she's leaving her mark on the dance floor and beyond

Vocalists

From Eve, Stephen, and Damian Marley's infectious cover of 'No, No, No' to Mary J Blige and DJ Khaled's irresistible sample of the same tune, Dawn Penn's 'You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)' stands as a veritable reggae anthem, echoing through generations and genres alike. Penn's soulful vocals are like a magnetic force, drawing listeners onto the dance floor with irresistible grooves. DJs across all musical realms, from breakbeat to drum and bass, have utilised the power of Penn's iconic track, remixing it to breathe new life into sound system culture and keep its vibrant spirit alive. Without the raw emotion and infectious energy of artists like Penn, these timeless classics wouldn't exist, robbing us of the joyous moments they bring and the chance to lose ourselves in the rhythm. 

Similarly, artists like Sister Nancy and Warrior Queen have left a permanent mark on the sound system scene, their powerful vocals serving as the backbone of countless tunes that have shaped reggae music and provided a platform for sound system culture to thrive. Their contributions have not only influenced generations of artists but have also solidified their place in music history as true pioneers of the genre.

Present

Sound system culture, traditionally nestled within the underground, is now experiencing a shift propelled by a wave of excitement and innovation. Thanks to the contributions of artists such as SHERELLE, Jorja Smith, Nia Archives, and Eliza Rose, this once niche phenomenon is commanding attention on a mainstream scale like never before. Through tracks like Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminals' 'B.O.T.A', the culture is captivating new audiences, inviting them to immerse themselves in the culture. This newfound awareness not only provides an opportunity for deeper understanding but also serves as a catalyst for dismantling misconceptions and challenging stereotypes. 

As these influential artists pave the way, they open doors for underappreciated talents to shine, fostering a more inclusive and equitable landscape within sound system culture. With each beat and melody, they rewrite the narrative, ensuring that the culture's true essence is celebrated and revered, rather than marginalised and misconstrued in the media. In this exciting era of change and innovation, these women stand at the forefront, steering the culture towards a future where creativity knows no bounds and unity reigns supreme.

The Soundwaves of Women Coming Through Your Speakers

The historical roots of sound system culture have often been shrouded in misunderstanding, leading to a skewed and villainized perception. However, against these odds, female artists have emerged as beacons of positive change within the culture, boldly confronting challenges and reshaping its narrative. Their tireless efforts are not only transforming the scene but also fostering a deeper appreciation for the dynamic essence of sound system culture—a heritage that deserves to be cherished. These women, with their integrity and commitment, serve as pillars of authenticity within the movement. Without their invaluable contributions, sound system culture would lack the vibrancy and diversity it enjoys today, and the narrative surrounding it would not have been challenged the way it has. As they continue to champion its cause, these remarkable women ensure that the true essence of sound system culture is recognized, celebrated, and preserved for generations to come.

This is a user generated post from our wider Voice community and was not edited by the Voice team. We would love to hear your views too! Sign up for an account and make your Voice heard!

Author

Eve Todhunter-Bell

Eve Todhunter-Bell

Hi! I am Eve, currently one of the interning journalists at Voice. I love all things creative and cannot help myself from taking a deep dive into the background of these fascinating subjects ! Coming from a working-class background I aim to spread awareness and harbour inspiration and motivation, reminding people it's possible to follow these creative paths. I hope to share with you some funky, fun subjects which have inspired me for you to enjoy!

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