Africa Connection

I had fun running the streets and clubs of Hackney and Islington. On Saturday nights I would turn on my radio and tune into David Rodigan or Tony Williams on a Sunday where you could hear Bob Marley’s “Exodus”. Bob Marley and the Wailers were a major icon on the world stage. The group put reggae on the world map. Bob Marley’s lyrics were almost prophetic. They tell the stories of the struggles of Africans through many generations. His music and lyrics called on us Africans to unit as one and look to Africa. Bob Marley was like the Michael Jordon of the reggae world, he was the path finder that laid the ground work for worldwide acceptance of reggae as a “pop music” and opened the door for the rest to walk through and with them came the Rasta Movement which is our connection to Africa, where we come from. Back in those days every youth aspired to be a Rasta. To get that “Irie” respect from your peers as you walk past them on Clapton High Road or while waiting around on Holloway road outside Sainsbury’s or even whilst riding on the 37 bus, on your way to Brixton market, gave you that cool feeling of being a part of “Dread” movement. To identify yourself as a Rasta is to be naturally connected to your African Roots, where we come from.

We were surrounded by Africa everywhere we turned. The only things stopping you from doing the total transformation to becoming a Rasta were your parents. Mrs Daphne, my mother, was a quiet woman. One day she caught me trying to sneaking out of the house with my hair all tangled up and un-comb “Go comb you head boy… you little retch” and of course right behind her would be Baba who didn’t even need to say one word. I just went back upstairs and fix the problem, but as soon as I leave the house I would put on my red, gold and green woolly hat, specially made for me.

The lady at Dalston market had a very good business doing special orders for woolly hats. In those days, every self-respecting youth had to wear one. You could have one specially made to suit your style or you could just buy one off the shelf. I always keep it stuffed with some old Sun or Daily Mirror newspapers to enhance the look of having more hair under there, so to speak. I would shape it just right to give it that authentic dread locks look that everyone recognize, and yes it had to have the red gold and green colors woven into the material. With the hat and my earthman shoe, I had no problem passing as a “Dread”. I was in my early teen then, but that was back in the days so let’s fast forward to today, the acceptance of the “Dread Locks” is now universal.

Rub-a-dub

The dance halls in London were almost pitch black except for the ambient lighting used around the sides and ceilings for ambiance and effects and that tiny lamp illuminating the sound system turn table. As you walk into the dancehall, that heavy drum and base would hit you with music like “Jah live… children yea… Jah Jah live…” The rhythm was so nice it made you want to “bubble” all night. But the music would have been even sweeter if you were fortunate enough to be locking horns with a sweet partner doing the Rub-a-dub. Trust me… locking horns was precisely what it looked like. I’m not going to go in to the intricate details of the dance but you’ve seen those couples on the reggae dance floor, frozen in place, chin to chin, or head to head locked in a pose that look more like an art exhibit than two people dancing. When the DJ switched up the music and start to do a lovers rock session with music like “I just can’t figure out….” or “Gee baby… I don’t wan-a-cry over you anymore…” you just had to find a partner. The protocol for getting-a-dance was very well rehearsed by the young ravers; you would grab the girls harm, not too tight but not too light either because she might see you as too rough or not rough enough, a sign of weakness. You’ll know you have the prize when she turns to you and offer her hand. You would then put your strongest harm around her waist for very good reasons, no seat belt allowed here, success will depend on how you control here during the dance and a strong harm will help. Technically speaking, this is not a rodeo but if you have some experience in that area, then it would give you a head start because the rub-a-dub dance can get a little rough.

Well at this point you ask her for a dance and she accepted so depending on how much your heights match, you would just lock your foreheads or chin together and start doing the rub-a-dub. That’s it, you’re doing the rub-a-dub. I’m sure “dirty dancing” was first choreographed in these packed reggae night clubs as a matter of necessity; because if you were lucky enough to “pull a gal” fi-a-dance and she accepted, you couldn’t do anything else but to lock horns, stand perfectly still and do-u-ting for the duration of the song. You didn’t have enough space around you to do anything else but the “rub-a-dub”. The dance floor was so packed and dark that your first chance of getting to see what your partner looks like would be when you both emerge from what I would describe as a dark dungeon. The push and shoving that you would endure during the dance were all part of the experience of doing rub-a-dub. So you got lucky! Well! You and your new found partner get to go at it for a full three and a half minutes until the record ended or one of you, usually the girl, push the other away for want of a better term, being too over enthusiastic with the rub-a-dub. “Ooh…yeah, that was normal”, because doing that dance was serious business, if you couldn’t get your timing right then you just got “pushed-wae”, that simple! You didn’t have much time to show off your stuff, or you lose the chance to get that phone number at the end of the night. Don’t even “bada-fi-ask”, if you couldn’t handle the rub-a-dub.

Reggae Africa Link-up.

“A wae-wi-come-from?” That’s the question that everyone wants the answer to. Scientists, historians and evolutionary experts have pondered with this question for centuries. Me! I have no doubt about where I came from, “Mi-is-a proud Yardy”. I moved from Jamaica to London when I was small! I think I can safely say that “I come from Jamaica”, but if you listen to some of the popular reggae music from the seventies and early eighties you will no doubt hear the cries for reputation back to where we come from, Africa. I can’t forget doing the rub-a dub to “Seven Miles of Black Star Liner” by Freddy Locks. Burning Spear would nice up the dancehall with “Do you remember the days of slavery”, all that drum and bass. The horns, the mix, the artistry, all went together to give the rhythm that classic reggae feel that we all love to listen to. Dancehalls all over London were bubbling with the sounds of “Rasta man vibrations”. “Drum and bass”, the selector would rap to the rhythm over the mike, “re…wineee”, as the music was re-plaid from the top. The selector would give the occasional announcement, “dub plate style”. We all danced to the sounds of roots music that always reminded us our African heritage, where we come from. Songs like “I hear the sounds of a Rasta man… yea… Babylon mi wan-fi go…o…home”. The rhythmic bongo drums, the rumbling base lines in that song would leave you mesmerized and intoxicated, or was it the smoky Ganga filled air of those pitch dark dancehalls that we frequented for our weekly dose of entertainment and of course the rub-a-dub had to be on the menu. The ambiance would always repeat itself from the Phebes night club to any one of those late night basement dances that were so popular all over London. These were the clubs that the true “ravers” would go to, no earlier than three in the morning, and emerged early the next morning blinded by the early morning’s light. The rising sun would slowly but steadily light up the streets and allies as you make your way to the bus stop only to be reminded by your pounding headache that you consumed just a little too much special brew last night. But we were always able get a quick snack before going home from one of the many food trucks at various locations all over London.

London Reggae

I’ve always loved the London skyline. It is with no doubt the most famous in the world. Big Ben, Houses of Parliament etc… These icons represents the British Culture, the Royals, and all that stuff we like about London like fish and chips, steak and kidney pie and yes Jamaican Pattie. At least when I was growing up it was always on the menu in the fish and chip shops in Hackney. I also remember I was able to go into any record store and buy my reggae singles. Dennis Brown was a big hit with my sound system “Sir Lord Invader”. A mi buy the Wolf and Shepherd single for the sound. The sound system was small at the time but we were big in the clubs that we played in. We even came up with our own dance that caught on with the on the dance floor “GT Skank” what a skank!!!

I will re-visit some of the old London reggae culture in the coming future.