Throughout the 1970s most 7” 45 rpm singles manufactured in Jamaica included a B-side instrumental version of the A side, simply titled “VERSION”. This was in response the rapidly growing popularity of ‘toasters’ aka mic MCs, who would speak over the version side of a single, ‘toasting’ the crowd, calling the name of the sound system, bigging up the name of the selector and operator, and of course the other ‘spoken word’ artists in the house. The style became known as “Deejay”, different from the disc jockey (DJ), who was all important, but went by the title ‘selector’ for his part in ‘selecting’ the records alongside the ‘operator’, who would operate the turntable and mixer plus turn the knobs which would control various sound effects. Sometimes one disc jockey would assume both roles, and if no one else was around, perhaps they might “deejay” as well! Perfectly clear, right?!
The Godfather of the style was called Daddy U-Roy, followed closely by I-Roy, King Yellowman and Josey Wales, who went on to receive Jamaica’s prestigious “Order of Distinction” in 2017. This early musical form of lyrical rhyming would go on to inspire rap music throughout the 80s and beyond. Many successful deejays followed, including Brigadier Jerry, Charlie Chaplin, Lieutenant Stitchie, Tiger, and my all time favourite, Super Cat. The style continued to evolve through the 90s, creating commercial superstars like Shabba Ranks, Shaggy, Buju Banton and Beenie Man, plus the more militant Rasta revolutionaries like Capleton and Sizzla, who catered to a specific dance hall audience.
As traditional roots reggae transitioned to what became known as “dance hall” music in the late 80s, the music took on a simpler, synthesizer based sound. “Riddims” could now be created in a home studio, dispensing with the need for expensive studio time and live musicians. As recording gear became digital and more easily portable, one ‘producer’ could program a drum loop and then build the entire riddim on a single ‘controller’ or synthesizer. This facilitated the ease of recording and the subsequent explosion of ‘artists’ across an island on which nearly everyone fancied themselves a deejay. King Jammy and other producers such as Steely and Clevie became in high demand. Wordsmiths abounded and some rose to the top of the charts.
One such producer became known as Don Corleon. Don rented a studio space at Kingston Muzik Studio in Mona Heights where I was recording my sophomore album. He became hugely popular in Y2K and all the rising stars began showing up at the studio to ‘voice’ a track on one of Don’s original riddims. In the four months I lived in the studio complex I watched many deejays record right through the night, including Sean Paul and Elephant Man. Vybz Kartel would occasionally sleep on the bench outside my window. I would go on to back them all at Sting 2001, touted “The greatest one night reggae and dance hall show on earth”!
Throughout my seminal years, finding my way as a musician and singer in the metropolis of Toronto, I immersed myself in Jamaican culture, attending concerts and dances and every after hours ‘speakeasy’ opportunity I could find. There was hardly a day that one couldn’t find some sort of Jamaican entertainment to dance to. Of note were The Ackee Tree, Muhtadi’s and The House of David. Weekend house parties featured mouthwatering homemade curried goat with Jamaican rice 'n' peas with a side of coleslaw.
Towards the end of the 80s, dance hall became the sound of a new generation. Toronto produced numerous notable deejays including Stevie Banton, General Fitness, Friendlyman and DJ Caddy Cad aka Cadillac, featured here.
We have all gone through tough times. We have lost jobs, loved ones and relationships, and within that context we each have our own unique set of circumstances that we have to grapple with. It is all relative. “The Winter Of My Discontent” was born out of a particularly difficult year for me, navigating unemployment and an uncertain future. The lyrics seem to be more relevant now than ever before...