Tracing the history of Huddersfield's Jamaican musical heritage Image

by Biko Kennedy

In an effort to journey into the sound system culture in Heddersfield, England, Mirfield-based Let's Go (Yorkshire) - a community interest company that sets up and runs local projects – has secured funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund of the UK to explore the history of Huddersfield's early Jamaican settlers.

Having been awarded £48,700 to explore the history, these Jamaican settlers were the ones who set up Reggae sound systems in the 1970's, a linchpin of post-war Jamaican culture.

Being assembled by Paul Huxtable, a Huddersfield disc jockey and Reggae enthusiast who also operates the Axis Sound System, the project, dubbed Let's Go Sound System Culture, will reveal how the sound system culture has influenced the music scene in the north today and how it has impacted its younger generation.

Throughout the project participants will have an opportunity to share their personal accounts of when they first arrived in the UK in 1970s. At the time Reggae was increasingly popular with the UK's black working-class youth and its message of Rastafari and overcoming injustice struck a chord with those on the receiving end of racism and poverty.

In the 1970s when varying leading Reggae artistes would perform at dances or concerts in the clubs, Huddersfield became the go-to spot for Jamaican dances with many of those dances taking place at Venn Street club; which in return helped put Huddersfield on the British reggae map.

This existing project will lead to a photographic exhibition, book and documentary film which capture a colourful history of local people's heritage.

Fiona Spiers, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund Yorkshire and the Humber, said: "The Jamaican community has played a vital role in Huddersfield's lively and varied character.

"The project will preserve this unique heritage - bringing stories to life, letting everyone get involved and sharing their past."

Project manager Mandeep Samra, added "The project will provide a fascinating narrative of the sound system culture in Huddersfield, an important part of Jamaican cultural history.

"We hope to interview about 30 people now in their 70s and 80s who came to Huddersfield in the 1960s and 1970s.

"It will also provide active learning and increase participation by involving local people in the process, allowing volunteers to have a sense of ownership of the project and its heritage."

The oral histories will inform the arts-based audio installation in which voices will be carefully selected from the sound archive and under layered with different reggae and dub beats to evoke feelings of nostalgia… evoking memories from the past to come alive. The edited material will eventually be formatted as vinyl dubplates.

The physical installation will consist of a sound system, a turntable, a stack of 10inch dubplate vinyl and an empty speaker displaying the film. The sound system will take on the 'traditional' design and one which is capable of reliably giving good quality sound at a strong sound level.

The installation will allow the public to interact with the sound; putting on a record, touching down the stylus, handling the mic, playing with the bass/mid/treble cut out switches / fiddling with the sound effects etc.

Also the public will have access to all the controls on the pre amp/amplifiers. The pre amp will be customized so that all the public controls are at the end of a wire which is isolated from the main set up but will allow the public to 'mix up' the sound and chat the mic.

Once everything is completed, it is scheduled to tour the carnival circuit throughout the north; dates are confirmed for Preston Carnival on May 26, Deighton Carnival on June 29, Huddersfield Carnival on July 13 and Liverpool International Carnival on July 27.

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