Soul Jazz Records new Life Between Islands collection coincides with the launch of Tate Britain’s exhibition of the same name. This landmark exhibition explores the links between Caribbean and British art and culture from the 1950s to now.
Soul Jazz Records album, sub-titled Soundsystem Culture – Black Musical Expression 1973-2006, focuses on the most important Black British musical styles to emerge out of the distinctly Caribbean world of sound systems. The album features an all-star line-up including Dennis Bovell, Shut Up and Dance, Cymande, Digital Mystikz, Brown Sugar, Funk Masters, Janet Kay, Ragga Twins and more.
The album is a lightning-rod journey across Roots Reggae, Jungle / Drum and Bass, Jazz-Funk, Lovers Rock, Jazz, Dubstep and more. Much of Soul Jazz Records’ catalogue comes out of these genres and this album is partly an overview of some of Soul Jazz’s earlier releases (including Digital Mystikz’ long-deleted groundbreaking and now highly-collectible single, ‘Misty Winter’) alongside some choice rare and classic tunes that span over 30 years of sound system culture.
Many of the tracks represent how Black British artists defined their own identity with songs such as Brown Sugar’s righteous ‘Black Pride’, ‘I’m In Love with A Dreadlocks’ and Tabby Cat Kelly’s powerful ‘Don’t Call Us Immigrants’. Aside from being musically rooted in the distinctly Jamaican-born phenomenon of the sound system, much of this identity is also shaped by the triangular relationship of being British-born, of Caribbean heritage, and with an equal love of African-American Jazz, Funk and Soul, as evidenced with many Lovers Rock tunes reggae covers of American soul tunes (such as those of Jean Carn, William de Vaughan and Rose Royce featured here). This stateside influence can also be heard in groups such as the Funk Masters, a group formed by reggae radio DJ Tony Williams, whose jazz-funk music successfully crossed over into New York’s clubland, as well as the great Cymande, whose unique street-funk became staple material for numerous US hip-hop artists in the years that followed.
In the early 1990s, jungle and drum and bass artists took the essence of reggae’s soundsystem culture – MCs, dubplates, crews – and applied them to their own music, applying heavy reggae bass lines to intense double-speed drum breakbeats. At the forefront of this new movement were the duo Shut Up and Dance, working closely with The Ragga Twins, aka Deman Rocker and Flinty Badman, both MCs for North London’s infamous Unity reggae soundsytem. In the early 2000s, dubstep, spearheaded by Digital Mystikz, became the latest instalment in this ever-evolving soundsystem culture.
Soul Jazz Records’ Life Between Islands shows how these many styles are interconnected. The album comes as a heavyweight triple vinyl (and download) and deluxe double CD with slipcase. Lloyd Bradley (author of the classic book on reggae ‘Bass Culture’, and ‘Sounds Like London’), provides the excellent sleevenotes, which are also accompanied with exclusive and striking photography.