Necessity is the mother invention. It is out of necessity that sound systems were formed and evolved in the communities of Jamaica. There were no clubs and lounges in the streets of Kingston or the rural communities around the island but the value of musical entertainment was understood. Sound systems popped up all around the island offering a mix of live entertainment with recorded music and live performances from up and coming and established artists. A lot of the performers went on to become legends of dancehall and indeed Reggae music. These sound systems provided a unique musical experience. Stacks of speakers fine tuned deliver optimal sound. Reggae artists have spoken about this in many lyrics. When Bob Marley says “when music hits you feel no pain”, he was likely referring to the actual sound that comes out of sound system speakers. Its like being hit with a sound wave. It is in itself an experience.
Sounds systems like radio stations have names. Whether that be Kilamanjora, Stone Love, Exodus 4×4, King Jammys, Exodus Nuclear, or Silver Hawk to name a few. Each sound system also had its “on air personalities”, who became celebrities in their own right. Be they Rory, or Ricky Trooper, or DupDap, or Tony Matterhorn, or Stereobelly these were the entertainment people. The were the docents of the musical experience. The tour guides, the people who indicated what was hot and who was worth listening to. Sound systems were where new music and new artists were premiered. Where hit records were discovered. The music and the culture was vibrant and the sound system system was the heartbeat, the pulse of it all. Supporting a sound system was tribal. They were supported because they are from your part of town, because you grew up supporting them, or simply because you like their dj’s or selecta and they are known.
Going to a sound clash was like attending a musical sporting event. Musical juggernauts, gladiators, and their weapons were their wit and custom music called dub plates. Popular and hard to find songs customized to champion the sound system that was playing it. The more exotic the artist, combination or artists, the more damage was inflicted on the opponent. Sound systems are a deep part of reggae music culture. There were no music or cd stores so music was bought and essentially distributed through sound sytem mix tapes. From music, to fashion, to dancing, to the language. Reggae music needed a vehicle, a railway through which it could travel, and long before you could turn on the radio in big cities and hear it as a normal course, and sound systems were that vehicle.