The Roots of Sound Systems at Nuits D’Afrique

Interview by Stephan Boissonneault
Genres and styles : Afro-Caribbean / Dub Reggae / Reggae

Additional Information

Sound System culture is huge in Europe and the UK, but thanks to World Wild Sound System it is becoming more and more noticeable in Montreal and Quebec. Started around a decade ago with Guillaume Alexandre and his colleague Pierre FX after they moved to Quebec from France, WWSS, has been hosting Sound System parties in Montreal and around the world after finding rare Reggae, Dub, Caribbean, etc., vinyl and linking up with some OGs in the culture and the Jamaican community.

If you don’t know what a Sound System is, it consists of large speakers, a turntable, and a preamplifier and is meant to be portable and blasted in the streets. This year at Nuits D’Afrique, WWSS will play a show with the mighty Jah Observer, a legend who helped perpetuate Sound System culture in the UK. We spoke with Guillaume ahead of the Nuits D’Afrique show to learn about the history and importance of Sound Systems and how the culture is slowly jumping into North America.

PAN M 360: I just kind of wanted to learn more about World Wild Sound System and Jah Observer. It’s kind of a new world for me and some of our readers.

Guillaume Alexandre: Of course. So basically, World Wild Sound System is influenced by the system movements originally born in Jamaica around the ’50s, developing during the ’60s and ’70s. So basically, it started in Jamaica, because of the radio stations. The music that was played over there on the radio stations was based on the BBC structure, so it wasn’t Jamaican music, it was mostly Rhythm and Blues from America, a little bit of punk rock, blah, blah, blah, but no Reggae or Calypso even before the Reggae. So, the Jamaicans started to put speakers on the street, stack them together, and then hang out there, and listen to Jamaican music. And eventually, it became a huge party in downtown Kingston.

PAN M 360: So it was kind of like a revolution then?

Guillaume Alexandre: Over there at this time yes. The militants and as you said, the revolution … but this little cultural revolution was done out there. And this movement was developing because of all this vindication they have; it was mostly poor people descending from slaves and the slave society that was over there at the service time and was just ending. So there weren’t slaves anymore, but they were obliged to work in the countryside for like little money and it was very difficult. So they started to lose interest in this society that the government was offering to them. And then this injection of new music became the link to all that.

So yeah, obviously now in we are in a different configuration. But we still, with our parties try to put people in the same on the same area and to try to communicate a peaceful message, message, sharing unity, and love. We also travel to different countries in the world to find these very rare vinyls, and then we play them. So it’s very rare if you can share them. That’s why people come to our parties because they’re gonna listen to very spiritual music with a message and they will have fun, but it’s still very conscious of the movement.

World Wild Sound Systems

PAN M 360: And during these SoundSystem parties, there is always an emcee kind of explaining where these songs came from?

Guillaume Alexandre: Yes and in this case with the Nuits D’Afrique it is Jah Observer. So Jah Observer is one of the foundation artists of the Notting Hill Carnival in London, UK. It’s the second biggest festival in the world celebrating Jamaican culture. In the ’80s there were riots going on at the same time, but now, if you go, it is a very popular festival. So Jah Observer is one of the founders of this culture and for maybe 30 years he used this homemade Sound System with like tubes and valves. He is from Jamaica, but he immigrated to Notting Hill in his 20s I think. So he was part of this Sound Systems movement in the UK which was a bit more militant than in Jamaica actually. When he came, the UK was not into playing Jamaican music, so it was much more underground but conscious. Me and my colleague, we are born in France, and moved to Quebec 10 years ago. So at this time, we were definitely more influenced by the UK Sound System movement and culture. But now, we have more links to the Jamaican community, we invite them, and we have a link with the President of the Jamaican Association. So we’re trying to have people discover this culture again because, in Europe, you could sell 2000 tickets easily…


PAN M 360: Right, so the Sound Systems movement and its history are still quite new here?


Guillaume Alexandre: Yes exactly. It’s at the beginning, but we estimate that it will become more popular over time by having these parties, because of the nature of this kind of music. It is still music for the poor.

PAN M 360: So when did you link up with Jah Observer? Have you done shows with him in the past?

Guillaume Alexandre: No, No, No. It’s kind of a long story, but I was in Notting Hill in 2012 to see him play on his own Sound System. Because these Sound Systems artists do travel to play, but when they play on their own Sound Systems, you really understand what they are trying to do. So I saw him play his show but didn’t get a chance to speak with him. But last year, we went again and he was playing again, but not on his Sound System because he is retired now, but we linked up with him. Just saying ‘Hey man, love your work we are based in Canada. And he’s in Jamaica now, so that’s not too far from Canada so we started the conversation. And because my colleague and I have been doing this for so long, we know lots of the players in the Sound Systems movements, not personally, but he could check out for contacts and see if we were for real. If we play on a real Sound System with a real preamp and real passion. And that’s obviously what we do so yeah, it’s not that far to come from Jamaica.

PAN M 360: So you and your colleague Pierre are kind of opening the night and then it’s Jah Observer?

Guillaume Alexandre: Yes we are doing a little warm up and we have one deck and one mic—like they did it traditionally—that is specially made for our Sound System. We built the speakers ourselves here in Quebec with Canadian wood and we did import the speakers from the UK and we built and now it’s approximately 12,000 watts and we afford the amps to drive that and such. So basically we do our sets, we play we just whole records and then Jah Observer will play. He’s the star of the night and he will be the highlight. He is playing records that are very rare too and he’s speaking over the mic. So he will help the people. Telling them ‘What is the story all about? And what is the vision? About Reggae probably, wrapped in Sound System culture. It’s always the same discussion through music around being together supporting each other, and so on.

PAN M 360: And this could be his last show for a long time since he’s retired. Maybe his only show in Canada?

Guillaume Alexandre: Yes. You know we were planning to work with Jah Shaka [Zulu Warrior] and he, rest in power, passed away a few months ago. But Jah Observer is around 70 years old and this is his first time coming to Quebec and maybe Canada, so yes, it could be the last time to see him play.



JAH OBSERVER W/ WORLD WILD SOUND SYSTEMS AT Le Ministère is on July 15 at 10 pm. TICKETS HERE

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