Sir RamJam’s Royal Recognition, His Radio Clash With Barry G, And His Fears For Reggae’s Future

David Rodigan‘s trophy case must be getting mighty crowded. This year alone the veteran UK selector and radio personality has won the World Clash, received Member of the British Empire honors at Buckingham Palace,  and earlier this month he bagged the Sony Radio Academy Gold Award for Best Specialist Music Programme in recognition of his recent BBC Radio 2 reggae series. But even as his accolades accumulate, Rodigan wastes no time resting on his laurels. He is fully booked through next year with gigs all around the world. And he seems genuinely concerned about the future of the music he loves—as he explains in the third and final installment of our “Reasoning With Rodigan” series… In the first of our exclusive interviews, Rodigan spoke about how he has been able to reach the dub step generation, and paid respects to the late, great King Stitt. In part 2, the rude boy gentleman recounted his “baptism by fire” at King Tubbys, revealed how his background in theater helped him as a reggae DJ, and explained why he never talks patois on the air. [In case you somehow missed REASONING WITH RODIGAN PART 1 or REASONING WITH RODIGAN PART 2, fret not thyself.] In our third and final installment, Rodigan details the roots of his legendary radio clash with Barry G, talks about receiving MBE honors from Prince Charles earlier this year, and voices his concerns that reggae music has lost its way. OK let’s get to it.

HOW DID YOUR RADIO CLASH WITH BARRY G COME ABOUT?

That came about by accident. It was just pure coincidence. Very significant now upon looking back on it, but at the time it was what it was. I was in Jamaica. It was 1983. I was recording radio shows for Capital Radio. They said at one point they’d never seen so many reggae artists on JBC [Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation] at one time, ‘cause I had them all lined up. Like in a doctor’s waiting room: U-Roy, Derrick Harriott, Jah Thomas… It was amazing.

A VERITABLE WHO’S WHO…

Waiting to come in to be interviewed for these shows that were being recorded and sent back on tape to London to be played. And naturally, Barry Gordon was the number one radio DJ on JBC Radio One at the time, and I invited him to come on and do a news desk with a Jamaica countdown and the hot news stories from the wonderful world of reggae music. And he did that for me. And we just clicked immediately. We just had something in common. We just had a vibe. And he said, “You now what? Let me reciprocate. Saturday night, you come on my show at eight o’clock and do what I’ve just done for you: hot news, you know, play a few tunes from London. Let’s go for it.” I said, “Fine.”

At eight o’clock while the news was on, he turned to me and said, “You know, I’ve just had an idea. Let’s do a clash.” I said, “Oh, thanks for the warning, Barry. Let’s do a clash.” And that was it. We started at eight o’clock, and we finished at two the next morning—six hours. And that is a night in Jamaican musical history that people will tell you about if they heard it, because people to this day talk about that night. It had never happened before. The most revered Jamaican radio DJ in the history of Jamaican broadcasting, apart from Dermott Hussey—Barry Gordon is still revered as the greatest, like the Cassius Clay of Jamaican radio DJs. He was in a class all by himself, you know. He was a phenomenon in the ‘80s. Literally, if put on a dance and he turned up, a particular crowd that would just follow him, the Barry G fan club, you know.

Yellowman “Two to Six Supermix” (1982)

HE DID THE TWO TO SIX SUPERMIX, RIGHT?

That’s it. The daily afternoon show. And then, Saturday nights, he had his own show as well, which was just reggae. And that was the first clash. The next one was ’84. And the big one that everyone still talks about was the famous Sleng Teng Clash of ’85, which started with us phoning up the police station and getting the sergeant to flip the coin. The Halfway Tree police station.

Rodigan vs Barry G Clash 1985 Part 1

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Rodigan vs Barry G Clash 1985 Part 2

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Rodigan vs Barry G Clash 1985 Part 3

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Rodigan vs Barry G Clash 1985 Part 4

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[scroll down for complete track listing]

THAT WAS BRILLIANT

Yeah, that was … People still talk about that. And then we did, of course, live clashes around the island. And then we did the famous clash in Brooklyn.

WAS A WINNER EVER DECLARED IN THOSE EARLY RADIO CLASHES?

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Because, who was going to declare a winner? And it didn’t matter, you know, Rob. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were having great fun, and we were jiving each other and jabbing each other. And taking punches at each other—musical pot-shots. And, you know, it was fantastic. It really was. ‘Cause I didn’t know what he had. He didn’t know what I had. We were on a roll. You’re playing a Jonny Osbourne. You expect me to follow you with Jonny Osbourne and get led down that path, so you can ambush me, Barry G? No, I’m going to cut and chase over here. Watch me. [Laughs] It was all that.

YOU CLASH ALL OVER THE WORLD. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A CLASH WHERE THINGS GOT OVERHEATED? CLASHES ARE NOT ALWAYS IN GOOD FUN. THEY CAN GET VERY EMOTIONAL AND ANTAGONISTIC AT TIMES. 

Yeah, of course, I mean, there have been times when it became unpleasant. Where personal remarks were made. Those are just uncalled for, and I’ve reacted accordingly. And I’ve told the selectors, you know, what I think of them for the way in which they’ve behaved—for being ungracious and disrespectful, you know. Because that’s not how I was brought up when I heard clashes in London. If you made a personal remark about a fellow selector, you were booed. Booed!

THE CROWD DIDN’T WANT TO HEAR THAT SORT OF THING.

It was unacceptable.

SO THAT SORT OF DISRESPECT HAD NO PLACE IN CLASH?

No. No. Because it was not majestic.

AH, GOOD WORD.

It was not majestic. It was not the music of kings. It was not behavior of kings and queens—of sisters and bredrens and idrens. You know, by that time Rasta was the most powerful force in the music.

TRUE…

And that was the essence of it. Without Rasta we wouldn’t have—you know as well as I do, we wouldn’t have the music we had. I mean, because of the lack of influence of Rasta on Jamaican popular music, nowadays, you see what it’s gone to. It’s gone to the dogs.

I WANT TO GET TO THAT POINT IN A MINUTE. 

Yes, and significantly, I would usually react to personal insults with humor, and I used humor frequently to reflect upon how this could be fun and needn’t be gutter-like and ignorant with lack of intelligence in terms of what you’re saying and the point you’re trying to make.

Rodigan vs. Killamanjaro (1997)

SO SPEAKING OF “MAJESTIC,” LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS ROYAL HONOR YOU’RE RECEIVING. WE’RE NOT TOO FAMILIAR WITH THE “MBE” IN AMERICA. WHO GETS THESE AWARDS? WHAT COMPANY ARE YOU JOINING?

The Beatles.

AS IN JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE & RINGO?

The Beatles got an MBE, which stands for Member of the Order of the British Empire. Everyone knows who the Beatles are.

YUP, I’VE HEARD OF THEM.

Right. But, what we don’t know are the names of literally hundreds and hundreds of people who’ve given service to their community and their country, but they’ve not been know to the public, because they’re not in the media and they’re not in the public eye. And that’s the significance of these awards. There are four types of honors, and this is the most distinguished order of the British empire, MBE. Knighthood is, obviously, above that. OBE, Order of the British Empire, etc. It’s the way the government and, significantly, royalty acknowledge the work of the people in service to the country. So that, for example, when the honors list was published on the 31st of December in The Daily Telegraph, and I read it, there was my name alongside a stonemason, a chap who’s been given an MBE for the work he’d done in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

OH WOW, OK.

And I’m sure the vast majority of the readers of The Daily Telegraph had no idea who he is. We know, some celebrity, you know, who’s famous for being a celebrity is, because they are in the media, they are a celebrity. We don’t know Mr. Ramish Mahad who’s given his service to the Asian community in Manchester, for example.

SO THESE AWARDS REALLY RECOGNIZE PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE.

And that’s the significance of the awards. People are put up for these awards, nominated, and their lives are looked at by a committee to see whether or not they are worthy of this, given the service they’ve given to their communities and their industries and their businesses or whatever it may be. All sorts of people, you know, from those who are serving Britain as a members of the armed forces, medicine, science, the literary world, the academic world, stonemasons, engineers, etc. From all walks of life, Rob. And my award was for services to broadcasting. In fact, I was blown away, ’cause I did not expect that.

Prince Charles makes Rodigan a Member of the Order of the British Empire (2012)

WHEN I HEARD THAT THE CEREMONY WAS IN BUCKINGHAM PALACE I IMMEDIATELY THOUGHT OF PETER TOSH AND U-ROY.

[Laughs] Who didn’t? Yeah. “Chalice In The Palace,” U-Roy.

YES, AND PETER TOSH SINGING “LIGHT THE SPLIFF, LIGHT THE CHALICE, COME MEK WE BUN IT INNA BUCKINGHAM PALACE…”

I mean, again, very significant. Peter Tosh’s commentary and U-Roy “lick a chalice in the palace.” The irony, though, is that the attention I’ve had in the Jamaican press has been phenomenal. I mean, one of the reasons I was nominated to receive this award was because of its significance in recognizing the music that I’ve broadcast all me life, which is reggae. And I had a personal letter from the Secretary of State thanking me and congratulating me and thanking me for the work I’ve done for reggae music in this country.

THE SECRETARY OF STATE IN JAMAICA?

No, in England. but the Jamaican press picked up on it . And I was once introduce to Michael Manley, and he knew exactly who I was and what I’d done and told me so. I can’t tell you how humbled I was by that. Michael Manley?

THAT’S MAJOR.

Telling me, “Yes, thank you for what you’ve done for our music and our people.” You know about me? [Laughs] Similarly, when I was introduced to Edward Seaga in London. So, you do your work, don’t you? But sometimes you don’t know who’s listening and who’s acknowledging it.

RIGHT.

But I think the award is significant in terms of its recognition. The music’s been here a long, long time. But I’ve defended and pushed British reggae music from day one, and everyone knows that.

THAT IS TRUE, AND I WAS ALSO STRUCK BY ANOTHER LAYER OF SIGNIFICANCE. IT’S GOOD TO SEE THIS RECOGNITION FOR REGGAE MUSIC SO SOON AFTER ALL THE TROUBLES IN THE UK, AFTER JAMAICAN CULTURE WAS SORT OF SCAPEGOATED. THERE WERE DEFINITELY CONSERVATIVE VOICES BLAMING THE RIOTS ON “THESE PATOIS-SPEAKING YOUTH.” SO TO SEE SOMEONE LIKE YOURSELF HONORED FOR CELEBRATING JAMAICAN CULTURE REALLY STRUCK ME AS SIGNIFICANT. DID THAT CROSS YOUR MIND AT ALL?

To be honest it didn’t, but it has now because you’ve just spoken those words. I didn’t consider that, Rob, to be honest. Which may sound rather selfish of me. I hope it doesn’t, but upon reflection, yeah, that’s incredibly relevant. I guess because I was so shocked that I’d got this… I just, finally, I couldn’t believe it.

UNDERSTANDABLE.

And in many ways I still can’t believe it. But, yes, you’re right to say so. It is of course very significant given what happened here last summer—and some of commentary in the right-wing press towards the culture that they believe has evolved within modern youth as a result of West Indian influences. There’s definitely been a fusion of Jamaican speech and British speech, and it is now street talk, you know, without a doubt. And some people have an issue with that. London cockney meets Jamaican, Kingston patois and the two fuse and you get [speaks in slang], “Aight mate, here, you listen, aight….” It’s whole different language, you know. If you listened to them talking in the street you’d be hard pressed to discover what they’re really saying. Really, really tough, that speech.

ISN’T THAT ONE PURPOSE OF PATOIS, TO KIND OF DISGUISE YOUR LANGUAGE FROM THE RULING CLASS OR THE SLAVE MASTER? 

Exactly. Yeah.

AND ALL THIS IS HAPPENING IN 2012, WHICH MARKS 50 YEARS OF JAMAICAN INDEPENDENCE. AND IT SEEMS WE ARE HEARING MORE REGGAE INFLUENCE IN POP MUSIC THAN EVER. BUT OF COURSE MOST OF IT IS MADE OUTSIDE OF JAMAICA. ARTISTS LIKE RIHANNA AND BRUNO MARS ARE CHARTING WITH REGGAE STYLE SONGS. AND AT THE SAME TIME YOU HAVE THIS ISLAND POP MOVEMENT IN JAMAICA. DO YOU FEAR THAT THE BIRTHPLACE OF REGGAE HAS OVERLOOKED THE RICHES THAT THEY HAVE? 

Yes. Definitely. There’s no two ways about that. I mean, you and I both know that. MTV culture, BET culture, rap culture has had such a profound influence on young Jamaicans as a result of the fact they have televisions, which are directly connected to satellite services, which bring them music which is not made in Jamaica. Videos which are not made in Jamaica. Styles and fashions which are not made in Jamaica. They are going to be influenced by that. They can be in their front room or on their laptop watching MTV or watching a Jay-Z video or Bruno Mars or a Tinie Tempah hit or whatever, made in London. And they can think to themselves, “Wait. Hang on. I could do that. I look as good as him. I can sing like him. I can build a rhythm like him. I’ve got my laptop here. I can do this.” And what we’ve had is Island pop. They’re bubblegum records. That’s what they are. They’re bubblegum records. You know, we had bubblegum pop in the ’70s, and this is bubblegum island pop. It’s referred to as “Island Pop.” Popular music from the islands or “Carib-pop.” People refer to it to make a fusion music, but sadly, in my opinion, a lot of it not terribly well made, professionally recorded or produced. The end result… and some of the video as well, you know that, some Jamaican videos often leaves a lot to be desired. But be that as it may, a hit song is a hit song. And these songs are hits in Jamaica, but they don’t translate beyond Norman Manley Airport.

I THINK THAT IS THE KEY POINT. WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT “2 DI WORLD,” THEY NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THE WORLD ACTUALLY WANTS.

That is the problem. The kids in Weddy Weddy on a Wednesday night are going crazy to them in their sprayed-on tight jeans and their hairstyles and dancing in troupes of six men. All of which has been carefully practiced and rehearsed. Now there’s nothing new about that. People are like, “men dancing together, that’s funny.” There’s always been male dance troupes and female dance troupes going back… I remember boys dancing together in a club 1960s and showing each other…  So there’s nothing new in that. You know the famous line “everyone has their 15 minutes of fame.” So someone can be famous that night, somewhere, for something they did that was, you know, they can’t sing, they can’t rap, but they can dance. This music is made to dance to, and they dance to it. And it’s theirs, and they identify with the language. The subject matter may be relevant to something that happened in the news that week, and it’s a current rage in, you know, Portmore or wherever.

RIGHT. NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

So it’s played in a dance in Portmore, and everyone in Portmore who knows everybody else goes crazy. And that hype is generated in Jamaica—but, unfortunately, nine times out of 10, it’s not translating itself beyond Jamaica. Because what the rest of the world looks to Jamaica for is reggae and dancehall. This music is not reggae, and it’s not dancehall. It is pop, in the way that Lady Gaga is pop. The rhythms are not dancehall. The rhythms are not reggae, or, for example, let’s look at, just briefly, Augustus Pablo, the Far East Sound—1971, ’72, ’73, ’76. Alright? There’s a distinct movement in Kingston created by engineers — the Java Java, the early dub albums, Lee Perry, Blackboard Jungle. There’s nothing remotely like that happening in Jamaican music now. Zero. In fact, if those songs were to be played on the radio in Jamaica, people would probably turn off. They wouldn’t know it… What’s this?

RIGHT. LIKE THE TUNE SAYS “DON’T YOU FUMBLE, JUST BE HUMBLE.”

What is this? You know, Blackboard Jungle? Lee Perry and the Upsetters? What’s that? Young people don’t know.

THAT IS TRUE. 

This is a tragedy, in my opinion, of Jamaican culture. It seems to me they’ve ignored and almost airbrushed elements of their own history, musical history, out of existence.

PART OF THE PROBLEM IS THAT THERE ARE NO INSTITUTIONS TO CELEBRATE THE MUSIC. I THINK OF WINSTON RILEY BUILDING HIS OWN LITTLE MUSEUM AND THEN GETTING FIREBOMBED. AND THEN ALL THOSE RECORDS FROM THE JBC ARCHIVE GOT STOLEN. THERE ARE SO MANY FRUSTRATING, TRAGIC EXAMPLES. 

Exactly. And I mean, have you heard any radio DJ in Jamaica that’s taken up the banner?

NOT REALLY.

Nor can I. So what does that say? That speaks volumes for the state of the country’s own view of itself historically and musically, and it’s very, very sad. Have you read a book called Dead Yard by Ian Thompson?

YES I HAVE, AND I THOUGHT THERE WERE SOME CHEAP SHOTS IN THERE. BUT HE MAKES SOME FAIR POINTS AS WELL.

There were moments when he definitely took cheap shots, but overall it was a very poignant, significant, honest and frank, and brutally frank observation of the Jamaica you and I both know. So that’s where we are with the music. The music I love has taken a wrong turn, overall.

BUT JUST TO PLAY DEVIL’S ADVOCATE I WOULD SAY THAT YOUNG PEOPLE DON’T ALWAYS WANT TO HEAR OLD SONGS. WHAT ABOUT THE NEWER DANCEHALL ARTISTS? DO NO MAVADO SONGS MOVE YOU AT ALL? 

Yeah, one or two, but I can’t tell you what they are off the top of my head, because I can’t remember them. Do I want to run out and buy them? No! [Laughs] I mean, I have voiced a couple of tunes from Mavado, you know, and I would say this about Movado: He has the most haunting tone of voice.

YES HE CERTAINLY DOES.

Haunting! I mean, really. Like in the way Barrington Levy’s voice was haunting.

SO YOUR PROBLEM IS MORE THE RIDDIMS THAT HE’S SINGING ON?

The music that he sings on is what does my head in.

OK FAIR ENOUGH.

You know, I think that some of the things he’s done have been, you know, rather good. But, much of what he’s done has been most decidedly forgettable.

WHAT ABOUT KARTEL? DID YOU PLAY HIS RECORD “CLARKS”?

“Clarks” was the one song by that man that I thought was bloody great! Great Dancehall! Fantastic song! And I played it consistently in the dancehall because it was just brilliant. But there were some records that were truly appalling in terms of their content. Toe-curlingly embarrassing. Cringworthy, you know. Just how could you make a record that’s so specific, you know. And that “Rampin Shop” tune where he stole somebody else’s rhythm. He stole Neyo’s rhythm, didn’t he?

YEAH IT WAS TAKEN FROM A NE-YO RECORD.

Yeah, he just blatantly robbed… He just took it. You know, come on. Who do you think you are? So I think the music has taken a wrong turn overall, but there are exceptions to that comment. Notably, people like Protoje, Tarrus Riley, Romain Virgo, Konshens, etc. So it’s not all bad news. I think that the Raging Fire album is a very important album. I think it’s refreshing, original and powerful. I think that there are things to come. Jah9 is a very impressive artist.

There are lights in the distance, you know. Apparently there are new bands and individuals who want to be recognized, but they’re not given airplay by sound systems in Jamaica and not given airplay on the radio. It’s very difficult for them, you know. Jah9 is one example. Raging Fire is another example. No-Maddz, you’ve heard of them, another example. They’ve made an entire live album at Tuff Gong. I think it’s like a 90 minute live, non-stop recording. But I mean, who’s heard of the No-Maddz? You and I have, but, are they in the Jamaica top 10? No.

No-Maddz “Rise Above Profanity”

David Rodigan vs Barry G – Radio Clash 1985

CD 1

01 Intro Clash
02 Rodigan Dubplate
03 Echo Minott Sleng Teng Dubplate (Barry G)
04 Sugar Minott – Jamming In The Street (Rodigan)
05 UK Sleng Teng Riddim Computerized (Rodigan)
06 Wayne Smith – Under Me Sleng Teng (Barry G)
07 Tanto Irie – Every Posse Get Ready (Rodigan)
08 Tenor Saw – Pumpkin Belly (Barry G)
09 Patrick Andy – Sting Mi A Sting (Rodigan)
10 Wayne Palmer – Dem Nah Sting (Barry G)
11 Maxi Priest – Caution (Rodigan)
12 Papa Levy – Bonnie & Clyde (Rodigan)
13 Pompidou Dubplate (Barry G)
14 Michael Palmer – Pull It Up (Rodigan)
15 Wayne Palmer – Suzie (Barry G)
16 Aswad – Bubbling (Rodigan)
17 Aswad – Rainfall, Sunshine

CD 2

01 Maxi Priest – Spring Time (Rodigan)
02 Melody Beecher – Till I Kissed You (Barry G)
03 Sugar Minott – Mind Blowing Decisions (Rodigan)
04 Frankie Paul – The Closer I Get To You (Barry G)
05 Gregory Isaacs – Private Beach Party (Rodigan)
06 Leroy Sibbles – No More Of That (Barry G)
07 Tetrack – Chant Down War (Rodigan)
08 Hugh Griffiths – Down In The Ghetto (Barry G)
09 Little John – Piece Of Me (Rodigan)
10 Little John – Tickle Me (Barry G)
11 Thriller – Tickle Me (Rodigan)
12 Unknown – 45 (Barry G)
13 Frankie Paul Dubplate (Rodigan)

CD 3

01 Smiley Culture – Police Officer (Barry G)
02 Smiley Culture & Asher Senator – It~Rs Coming Down (David Rodigan)
03 Unknown – Road Block (Barry G)
04 Hopeton Lindo -Rodigan
05 Simple Simon – Barry G Dubplate
Plus nuff more tunes…

 

Big request to @Gumkojima for transcription assistance

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