In Jamaica, rival sound systems soon sprang up, becoming an important part of the youth culture. When mass immigration brought more than 100,000 Jamaicans to England between 1955 and 1963, the culture of the sound system would also migrate.
It brought the sound of home, salvation, and eventually, a sense of unity that government, politics and church could not for the Jamaican diaspora.
Trojan began as a small company in 1968, set up by to Jamaican expat record collector Lee Gopthal, to import Duke Reid’s releases. In the 1960s, when Jamaican immigrants faced discrimination – the NCP signs (‘no coloured people’) were commonplace – they weren’t even welcome in clubs, so playing music on sound systems in private homes became popular.
Jamaican music was “what kept us going” says Lloyd Coxsone, sound system operator and producer, who immigrated to Britain in 1962. “We’d empty out basements or any little dump and set up the beat boxes.” Legendary musician and producer Dandy Livingstone (most famous for Rudy) also talks about the racism at the time, describing music from home as “the thing that healed us each day.”
But when the white working-class skinhead culture emerged in the late 60s – “the fashion version, not the fascist version that came later,” says DJ and filmmaker Don Letts – they, too embraced Jamaican music; it wasn’t played on mainstream radio but the pirate stations popularised it and a generation of white British youths embraced the genre. A new, genuinely multicultural movement was born. Trojan effectively united black and white, breaking down cultural barriers and keeping Jamaican culture alive. It went on to spawn other genres such as 2 Tone, and cultural touchstones like the Notting Hill Carnival – where sound system culture still thrives – and later its DNA lent itself to bands such as The Clash and The Police.
As well as interviews with Dandy Livingstone, Ken Boothe, Neville Staple, Marcia Griffiths, Toots Hibbert (who died earlier this year), The Selector founder Pauline Black and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, this upbeat film has a kicking soundtrack and superb archival footage of early stars such as Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals and The Pioneers.
As Pauline Black says of her epiphany on hearing reggae for the first time: “In this colourless, post-war, dull meat-and-potatoes country, this offbeat music made you want to dance.”
Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records is on SBS on Demand.