Kingston12 HIFI: Carrying the Sound System Legacy into the Future

Kingston 12 represents the postal or zip code in West-Central Kingston, Jamaica that, along with adjacent areas of Trench Town (Kingston 13) and the south-central part of the city, was the axis of the cultural renaissance that gave the world Reggae music. It is the home of the Ambassador Theater – the place that was the flagship for presenting new talent to Jamaica and the world. The Ambassador (Bass), alongside the Majestic, Palace, and Ward theatres, provided the stages for the Vere John’s Hour. This was the talent show that introduced the country and subsequently the world to artists like Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Bob Marley, Don Drummond, Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Peter Tosh, Millie Small, Hortense Ellis, Bob Andy, Jackie Edwards, and many more of the stars that became the icons of the Reggae music industry. Kingston 12 was the “Harlem” of the Caribbean – an area that attracted artists such as Jackie Opel and Lord Creator who came all the way from Barbados and Trinidad, respectively.
These artists in late 1950s to early 1960s became the foundation of Jamaica’s Sound System Culture. As early as 1950, Tom Wong, a Jamaican of Chinese ancestry established “Tom the Great Sabastian” in East-Central Kingston. His sound system launched the career of the great Count Matchuki who later joined Clement Dodd’s Sir Coxsone Downbeat. Tom’s main rival at the time was Cyril Braithwaite’s “Count C – the Wizard of the West.” Count C dominated the western end of the city. These two sound systems laid the groundwork for the sound system culture which quickly followed Jamaican migration to England and the United States, and later provided the base for the spread of Ska, Rock Steady and Reggae worldwide.

Sound System Speakers

The sound system culture quickly spread amongst the poorer classes of Kingston and adjacent parish – St Andrew. Several new players entered the arena. The pioneers among them were Clement Dodd (Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat), Author “Duke” Reid (Duke Reid the Trojan), Vincent Edward’s (King Edward-the Giant) and Cecil “Prince Buster” Campbell’s (Prince Buster –the Voice of the People). That was around the same time Jamaican journalist, Vere John, started a weekly one-hour talent show, which he named after himself. It was a live performance showcase of fresh, young Jamaican talent. The audio of the show was recorded for a later weekly broadcast on the country’s single radio station: RJR (for Radio Jamaica & Radio Fusion)
From the beginning, there was intense competition among the sound system operators. They competed for crowds, music, and eminence in the local community. Thus, the Vere John’s talent exposition provided an opportunity to identify new talent that could enhance that competition. Few recording studios existed at the time. However, the sound system operators came to the show with the specific intent of identifying new talent that they could use to record exclusive Jamaican versions of American R & B and Jump Blues songs, or sometimes original materials that they played exclusively on their sound systems. These sound systems provided a reasonable alternative for the poorer sector of the population who wanted entertainment but could not afford to hire the live bands that existed at the time, such as Byron Lee and the Dragoneers, Kes Chin and the Souvenirs, and the Percy Myers Combo for their parties.
Leroy Sibbles – One of Kingston 12’s International Reggae Artists

This competition among the sound systems not only laid the groundwork for today’s dancehall “selector culture,” but was also the foundation upon which the entire Jamaican music industry is built. The art of toasting on records flourished during this period. This consisted of rhyming vocal patterns over instrumentals that later evolved into social commentary; it also became an important part of the entertainment. Over the years this legacy has provided roots upon which multiple Jamaican musical genres emerged – from Jamaican Jump Blues, Ska, Rock Steady to today’s Reggae and Dancehall.
Today, many young selectors and sound system operators have embraced the opportunities presented by new technologies to create modern Dancehall – substituting computer-assisted beats and instrument simulation for real instruments and live musicians. This is usually supported by computer-generated playlists via programs like Serato and Virtual DJ – replacing turntables. However, one sound system that has figured out how to master the new technology and new trends without discarding the foundation is Los Angeles, CA-based Kingston12 Hi-Fi.
This sound system is under the direction of the super talented, master DJ, rapper, singer, songwriter, musician, and Reggae/Hip Hop artist Edmund Carl Aiken, Jr. – Shinehead (Jamaican In New York fame). His partner in life and music – Diana Camacho aka DJ Papalotl aka Buttahfly – makes up the other half of the Kingston 12 Hi-Fi team who is charting the path by showing fans how to navigate both lanes without choosing one at the expense of the other.
The sound system is named after the historic LA Reggae club venue Kingston12 which was founded by Richard O’Brian, aka King Richard, a Jamaican expatriate in Los Angeles, California who operated it as part of a restaurant /nightclub establishment. He, along with his family, ran the venue they named after the community in Jamaica that they hailed from, which of course guaranteed the authenticity of the music given Kingston12’s aforementioned musical history.
The Kingston12 enterprise was also the first of its kind on the US West Coast. Richard and his family established a place where for more than twenty years Los Angeles residents and visitors were treated to live reggae performances, and/or club DJ’s playing Reggae, Dancehall, and Hip Hop music, while having an authentic Jamaican meal or mellow island drinks.

Shinehead, a British born Jamaican who was already well established in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Europe, and Japan, met King Richard shortly after he moved to Los Angeles. King Richard became ill shortly thereafter and passed away in the summer of 2014. Shortly after meeting King Richard, Shinehead quickly discovered that they both shared a musical camaraderie. He even played records on a small portable turntable for Richard as laid sick in his hospital room towards the end of his life. Although Shinehead and DJ Papalotl were away in NY performing at the time of his passing, Richard told his family that he needed someone who was committed to the music and culture to carry on the tradition he had established on the US west coast. As such, Richard’s last dying request was that his vast collection of Reggae/Dancehall vinyl records would be bequeathed to Shinehead.
King Richard

His wide knowledge of Roots, Reggae, modern and traditional Dancehall, plus his extensive experience in Hip Hop, R&B, and US rap music positioned him as the ideal candidate not only to carry on the vision of King Richard, but also to expand the foundation instituted by early forerunners Count C, Tom Wong, Clement Dodd and others – a Kingston12 legacy.
Shinehead a former major label (Elektra Records) artist inserted his brand into the Kingston12 Hi-FI concept, and in the four years since 2014, the sound system has become an integral part of world music festivals such as Rototom, Outlook, Reggae Geel, Reggae Sun Ska, and reggae music cruises – including Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock Cruise.
The addition of DJ Papalotl aka Buttahfly to the Kingston12 team allows them to perform at the highest level. DJ Papalotl (a public school teacher) is a multi-media artist, a sound engineer, and a videographer with a passion and skill for mixing music. One might say she brings her “magic fingers” to Kingston12 Hi-Fi.
Her life as a DJ began at college parties and at her college radio station – KSPC 88.7 FM. Here, she developed her mixing skills in Reggae and Dancehall music. She progressed to become the “mix mistress” of the college parties and later graduated to local nightclubs –introducing them to her brand of Roots, Reggae and Dancehall, Hip Hop and R&B. Her extensive technical skills, combined with both her and Shinehead’s knowledge of Roots and modern music, has directed Kingston12‘s path to be able to perform on any stage.
Shinehead & DJ Papalotl aka Buttahfly

Long before Facebook Live was popular among users, Shinehead and DJ Papalotl made it part of their mission to use modern technology to elevate the sound system and Dancehall culture to a higher level. Their weekly presence on Los Angeles based – Diggindaily.com – a collective of local DJ using the digital space to take their music worldwide, together with live programs twice a week on Irish and Chin’s SoundChat Radio have served to expand their worldwide audience, and build an airwave audience with their English partners, Unique Radio UK in London and Stingdem Radio in Birmingham.
Their weekly live Friday night broadcast on Kingston 12 Digital Radio (Kingston12.net) gave sound system culture a presence on two of the major Digital Radio Apps for both Android and Apple products –TuneIn Radio and Simple Radio. In addition, Kingston12 Hi-Fi has also placed the sound system/dancehall culture as part of the audio programming lineup on most new V-Tuner stamped high end stereo system such as Denon, Bose and Yamaha; and on Wifi enabled radio products from manufacturers such as Grace, Sangean and Pico.
In addition to exposing the music and cultures that have provided the foundation for Reggae as an established musical genre, Kingston12 Hi-Fi has continued a sound system tradition that is not often mentioned when dancehall and sound systems are discussed. That is – identifying and launching new talents via the BUTTAHFLY FX show. Much like their forerunners Sir Coxsone, Prince Buster and more recently, Sugar Minott’s Youthman Promotion, Kingston12 Hi-Fi continues to introduce the world to new talent and give established talent a platform to show the world what they have.
In the past year, listeners were introduced to young Hip Hop talent like Banga Brownin, J Niles (the Yung Ruler – son of the late Gregory Isaacs) and were re-introduced to General Smiley of Michigan & Smiley fame. Their careful selection of the music they play, together with interviews with artists and industry practitioners like music teachers from the world famous Alpha Boys School in Jamaica have lent a public media sensibility to their presentation of dancehall and sound system culture.
In the radio business these days we often say that appointment radio is dead. However, in their presentation for a live audience and/or for digital radio, Shinehead and DJ Papalotl are making sure that this does not apply to the sound system. Audience come out to see them live or tune in to their Digital broadcast because they know they will be rewarded with great music, magic mixes and most importantly, they will learn something about the music, the culture and artists.
Kingston12 Hi-Fi continues to live up to its true name – a sound system with the usual customized built set of double scoops and tops that are almost 40,000 Watts of power. Shinehead and DJ Papalotl often take out their four sets of scoops and tops for a variety of events. These events that take place all over Los Angeles, mostly in the different cultural enclaves that appreciate international music and culture. These include the Silverlake and Leimert Park downtown Los Angeles, and at venues in adjacent Culver City. Each event is usually promoted in Social Media with a theme with the hashtag (#SoundFiSound) as part of the movement to incorporate a physical sound system with relevant cultural events and affairs that promotes public service issues such as breast cancer awareness, Jamaican cultural events; and presenting local and visiting DJ’s and artists.

DUBTONIC KRU: The Dub Project that Became a Journey

When DUBTONIC KRU was awarded the BEST NEW BAND IN THE WORLD title for 2010-2011 ahead of several hundred of their contemporaries who entered the Global Battle of the Bands competition in Malaysia in February 2011, very few people outside Jamaica and Europe new the name – irrespective of the fact that the band had been creating and play roots reggae music for several years. Since then they have toured more cities in the US and Europe than any other reggae band in recent memory. In the two years after winning the competition (2012 -2013), the band averaged 65 dates per year touring the United States, Europe and Asia. In 2014-2015, the band went back into the studio to produce new music. Thus they averaged approximately half the number of tour dates compared to the previous two years.
Like the famous reggae music duo Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare (Sly & Robbie), the “heart and soul” of the band are college mates and founding members Deleon “Jubba” White on drums and Strickland “Stone” Stone on bass. These two met while attending the Edna Manley College of Music in Kingston, Jamaica from 1994 – 1997. The duo have been together for approximately sixteen years – gaining more than ten years of early experience touring and recording (like Sly & Robbie) with several artists like Max Romeo, U-Roy, Burning Spear, The Mighty Diamonds, Bushman, Junior Kelly, Richie Spice and Lutan Fyah. During this period they were also the architects of the famous computer-based “I Swear” rhythm that featured multiple artists – including Richie Spice, Chuck Fender, and reggae culture warrior – Sizzla Kalonji.
dubtonis-kru-2
The name Dubtonic comes from consolidation of two terms:  Dub – a reference reserved for the heavy drum and bass of reggae music. It is commonly considered a sub-genre and today extend beyond the scope of reggae with the work of artists such as Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Neil Joseph “Mad Professor” Fraser and more recently – electronic sampler, Major Lazar. The second component of the name comes from the word Tonic – a kind of refreshing, invigorating, restorative agent, food or medicine that improves one’s health and well-being.
The group really blossomed as a hard core roots reggae band in the past eight years with the addition of guitarist/vocalist Omar “Jallanzo” Johnson, Luke Dixon – work station/keyboard and Horace “Kamau” Morgan (the quite warrior) – vocals/percussion**. The group graduated from backing band to producers of some of the most conscious, thought-provoking lyrics backed by the kind of rhythm/dub section that is comparable to the music played by mentors like Lloyd Knibbs, Jackie Jackson and Jah Jerry (original Skatalites) in the 1970s.The music that cemented Jamaica on the world stage as the birthplace of reggae music and the “loudest little island” on earth.
Their musical contributions over the years have earned them a US Congressional Proclamation – presented by Congresswoman Yvette Clarke; a Simba Award from the Coalition for Preservation of Reggae Music (CPR) and a People’s Choice Award – presented by Jamaica’s Star – the sole afternoon news paper in the country. Dubtonic Kru is totally committed to raising the bar in reggae music at a time when reggae fans and supporters all over the world are questioning Jamaica’s commitment to maintaining both the content standard and musical quality that Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Third World, Desmond Dekker and others employed to put Jamaica on the map.
Among the band’s releases to date are the following CDs:
Everlasting Love
Dub Conscious
Dubtonic Kru
Evolution
In addition, they have released a number of singles – including the mega hit “Murder”. More information on the band, including their latest touring schedule, is available on their website at:  dubtonickru.com 

** Horace “Kamau” Morgan (the quite warrior), vocalist and percussionist recently resumed his solo recording career (which he placed “on hold” when he joined the band in 2006) under the recording name Kamau Imhotep. His latest single Jah Jah Soldier is making waves on Jamaican radio and on international charts – including on the Kingston12.net new music playlist.
Fans and other readers of this article can also connect with the “Kru” at:
twitter.com/dubtonickru
facebook.com/dubtonickrupage
soundcloud.com/dubtonic-kru
instagram.com/dubtonickru

The Real Dub Masters

Dub is often described as a genre of music which grew out of reggae music in the 1960s, and is commonly considered a sub-genre, though it has developed to extend beyond the scope of reggae with the recent work of producers such as Major Lazer.  The music in this genre consists predominantly of instrumental remixes of existing recordings and is achieved by significantly manipulating and reshaping the recordings, usually by removing the vocals from an existing music piece, and emphasizing the drum and bass parts (this stripped-down track is referred to in Jamaica as a ‘riddim’).  King Tubby‘s added the techniques of echo, reverb, panoramic delay, and occasional dubbing of vocal or instrumental snippets from the original version or other works.
In addition to Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock, three other names must be mentioned among the pioneers of this genre of reggae music. These are Lee “Scratch” Lee Scratch PerryPerry, the late engineer Errol Thompson and Guyanese engineer/producer Neil Joseph “the Mad Professor” Fraser.  What’s common among all four Dub Masters – they were not musicians, they were engineers.
Dub music has influenced many genres of music, including hard rock (most significantly the sub-genre of post-punk and other kinds of punk), pop, hip hop,disco, and later house and techno. Dub has become a basis for the genres of jungle/drum and bass and dub-step.
Traditional dub has survived over the years and two of the originators, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Mad Professor, continue to produce new material. In fact, Ariwa Records – established in the front room of Mad Professor’s house in 1970 has become one the giant reggae music labels in the United Kingdom with artists such as Pato Banton, Sandra Cross, Johnny Clarke recording on the label.  Lee “Scratch” Perry lives in Switzerland these days, but his Black Ark label continue to release new material for several albums each year.