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Levi Roots salutes champion sounds

SALUTE: Levi Roots

WHEN AND who was your first sound clash against?

“That was in 1968 with Duke Lee, when the first special was played at that dance…. it was called, This Is Sir Coxsone Speaking.

One of the greatest sound system selectors, Father Festus was answering questions about his and longtime sparring partner Lloydie Coxsone’s resurgence after over 50 years in the business.

At one time in my life, myself and all my friends used to be all about sound systems. We ate, slept and dreamed of dubplates, 45s and Specials. Tough men we were too, able to carry giant House(s)-of-joys (huge speaker boxes) up five flights of stairs, no problems. And that was always after driving for hours in the back of a bumpy old truck, thrown around with all the equipment including bass amps, mid range section, tweeters, pre-amp, record box, leads and wires.

But I loved it. As a young member of the Sir Coxsone Outernational Sound System from Brixton in south London, I began my musical journey in the back of our own truck in about 1975. Most of those journeys were about clashes with other sounds in far off places like Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Leeds. In the truck back with me was the rest of the team: Harlesden, Gappy Crucial, Bikey, Naphtali, Duffus Ire, D-go Dennis, Daily News and Blacker Dread.

STILL BRINGING THE SOUND: Father Festus (left) and Lloyd Coxsone

Up front in the luxury and warmth of the driver’s cabin was Frankie Hawk our driver, alongside Sport the navigator and Father Festus. Lloydie, our mentor and owner of the sound always travelled separately.

Over the last couple of years, a whole heap of attention has been focused on sound systems and the surrounding culture that follows it. Personally, I think this is brilliant because it gives legends and unsung heroes of the scene a chance and a platform to tell their fascinating stories and offer some insight into how it was back in the day for this dying art.

The Red Bull sponsored Culture Clash has helped to create even more interest by promoting the genre in the mainstream. Names I’ve seen taking part in the event in recent years have included the mighty Stone Love all the way from Jamaica, and the British DJ legend that is David Rodigan.

Other names included were Rebel Sound, Shy FX and ASAP Mob – none of which I personally would class as a proper sound system.

SKILLED SELECTOR: Father Festus (left) in his early days

So where were the likes of the true champion sounds – the ones to really represent the ting? Heavyweights like the mighty Jah Shaka, Java International, King Tubbys, Fatman Hi Power, Saxon Studio, V Rocket, Love Injection – where were they?
The definition of the art of a sound could read: ‘A team or group of people including DJs, engineers, MCs and singers playing reggae music via a personalised giant mobile system.’

Today, sound systems mostly consist of only one man and his laptop. These new breeds need to have a listen to the real sound veterans.

“Sound is like a team, you know you have to have good people… everybody wanting the same goal,” Lloyd Coxsone once said. And he is absolutely right. Like any family or business, the level of success attained is always heavily dependant on teamwork. Sounds are no different. I, like many others, served my apprenticeship among the Coxsone Outernational family, in the highly sought-after positions – as a ‘box bwoy’. Lowdahmercy! As a ‘box bwoy’ (a title that was later changed to ‘maintenance crew’), you were responsible for humping huge speaker boxes from the truck to inside the venues, running the wires during the ‘stringing up’ period and doing the reverse at the end of the night – the ‘stringing down’.

Most of the time we never got paid, but we all had a real passion for the music, which kept us working together. And I eventually got elevated from the truck back and the erm, maintenance crew, onto main stages around the world, mentored by the two living legends.

They are back on the road again touring, so if you can, do pop along to one of their sessions. You might just see yours truly piling out of the back of the truck again – or maybe not!

More love, LR

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