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Interview: David Rodigan at Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

Posted by on Jun 29, 2012 | Comments (0)

Performing a brilliant vintage set in the late-night dancehall at last weekend’s SNWMF was infamous London reggae selector Sir David Rodigan. A classic, articulate British sort in his early sixties, Rodigan has the intonation and inclination of a musical elder. With a successful radio career that spans three decades on London’s premier radio stations, the selector holds a position in the U.K.’s Radio Academy hall of fame and an appointment to the Order of the British Empire. It has been said an endorsement from Rodigan can launch an artist’s career worldwide.

Yet, it is clearly obvious the man has seen his life’s work, and that of other traditionalist dubplate selectors, dismantled by a new generation of unoriginal club DJs. Rodigan’s reactions to this crude regurgitation of artist’s samples shows just how detrimental predictability is to the creative balance of the genre.

While speaking to the press at this year’s Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Rodigan was candid about the current landscape of today’s selector sound.

“I think if sound system culture was to continue with clashing there would have to be a very basic, simple rule to be introduced,” he said. “In the one-for-one, there can be no music played by dead artists. This would be the only way of giving hope to new, young selectors with ideas” he says. “If clash culture was to come back, it would need to introduce that element to level the playing field, so people could take part with their own positive ideas and original dub plates.

“I have always had strong feelings about sound system culture and selectors. I think selectors should remember their place. They are not the most important people in the music chain. They are at the end of the music chain; they were never at the beginning. A selector is merely someone who plays something that has been made by a number of other people. So a selector should regard himself as a privileged person to be given the opportunity to share the music with like-minded souls in the audience.”

Salute to the late Gregory Isaacs featuring an extract from an interview in 1982

A little background on the terminology: The reggae dancehall was born out of Kingston, Jamaica in the 1950s. Crews of DJs, MCs and their entourages would form “sound systems”, hosting renegade dance parties in the streets of the city. The selector is the dancehall DJ who maintains the relationship of the sound system and the crowd. It’s the selector who is responsible for reading the crowd and keeping the mood tight.

On occasion, sound clashes erupt where two battling sound systems compete for the love of the crowd. Obtaining the most recent and popular dubplates, or raw artist samples, is crucial to enhancing one’s repertoire. Although reggae sound systems currently exist all over the States, notably Jah Warrior Shelter out of the Bay Area, sound clashes are far more popular in Europe than the U.S.

“I think we need to look seriously at what DJs are there to do and the purpose of their position. Not to play records for 20 seconds and scream all over them, not to play records in the same order as other DJs play them, copycatting what other DJs have already prepared. This is the problem. DJs come into the dance and they play the same old tunes, they are not introducing any new music, and when they do they don’t introduce it with confidence or clarity”, says Rodigan.

“Stop strangling the music! The music is literally being strangled by selectors screaming all over it and playing it for 30 seconds. I find it almost impossible to go to a dance now when they start that process. Why on earth would anyone want to pay money to come and listen to this bullshit? Do you really think you are standing up there on stage, screaming and hollering and squawking like some strangled cat and you are not saying anything, they are just cheap forwards.”

How did you feel about last night’s dancehall show? (my own question)

“I really enjoyed it. I deliberately for the first time in my entire life came with a very, very, small package of songs. I wanted to avoid playing songs that I would normally play – the reason being is that [SNWMF] is a celebration of the roots element of the music. It’s very easy for a selector to play songs that he or she knows will get a response because they are tried and tested. So by not bringing certain songs, I couldn’t play them. What it made me do, was think seriously about what I was going to play and cherry-pick the very best from a very limited selection. I had in mind the audience I experienced here on two previous occasions and what I thought they would like to hear. And what I got was a whole ton of love back. It was a lovely experience.”

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