The Sound System’s Founder Talks Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise and the Sound Clash on the Sea

In the mid 1970s Keith Walford expanded his father’s mechanic business in Alexandria, St. Ann into distributing and stocking jukeboxes all over Jamaica. His used to spin music at private fetes before officially launching Bass Odyssey in 1989 along with then-partner Bunny Hayles and selector Tinna-One, who was later joined by Glamma G and the legendary Kevin “Squingy” Bennett. Squingy referred to himself as “the Michael Jordan of clash” and he helped to make Bass Odyssey a musical killing machine. Sadly he fell ill and passed away in 2009 but the sound has kept his legacy alive thanks to young selectors like Dwayne, Worm,  Skinny, and Charly Black who’s gone on to become a successful recording artist. Although Keith entered the political life in 2011, becoming a Member of Parliament representing St. Ann, his “World Sound From Way Out in the Country” is still going strong. Last year the sound celebrated its 25th anniversary by launching Jamaica’s first ever sound system festival, with plans to make it an annual event. This coming November Bass Odyssey will challenge longtime sparring partner Metro Media and Far East Rulers Mighty Crown during the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise’s first-ever Sound Clash on the Sea. Boomshots spoke with Keith as his sound prepares to make waves.  Interview After The Jump…

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What are your thoughts going into the first clash ever held on the high seas?
“It’s definitely gonna be the first time for us on such a cruise and we’re looking forward to it. We have heard about the first cruise and how successful it was, and how it’s a cross-section of people who want to have fun and enjoy themselves, and with hardcore reggae music you can’t go wrong. Bass Odyssey will definitely be providing that type of music to make certain that the people on the cruise are properly entertained and have a good time.

Last year’s cruise was more of a juggling thing. How will you be playing differently for a clash?
We have clashed just about any and everywhere that reggae music is played. So it will not be any different for us, but we’ll have to judge the crowd.

You know the hardcore clashes get a bit X-rated at times. This is gonna be more of a mature clash. A big people clash.

We want to make certain that our audience is appreciative of, without all of the different disrespects that might go into a hardcore clash elsewhere. Yes I think it would have to be different because we are anticipating a wider cross-section of people on the cruise, not like the regular clashes. We are thinking that this crowd is gonna be a bigger cross-section.

You have clashed Mighty Crown on several occasions. And in the past it has gotten a little heated. What are your thoughts going up against them this time?

To be honest with you, I did not know that it was going to be a clash. My sons are the ones who do most of the bookings now because I have so many hats that I wear, so I kinda handed it down to them. But whatever the occasion, as long as it’s reggae music, Bass Odyssey will rise to it. We have no doubt of the abilities that we have. We have been doing it for years all over the world, and Whether it be Mighty Crown or anyone else, we are quite certain that it will be a good entertaining clash. We have clashed them quite a bit of times before, and this should be no different: reggae music, keeping people entertained, keeping the vibes strong. That is what it’s all about.

What about you and Metro Media? Have you ever clashed before?
Yeah, Metro Media, we used to do it back in the day. They have not been on the clash scene a lot, but I’m quite certain they haven’t forgotten anything. In the early days there used to be a sound system in Jamaica named Jamrock who at that time used to be pretty popular. I think they’re still playing. There was a group of sound systems that used to clash each other just about every week. We used to look forward to it, but of course things took a turn for the worse because a lot of disrespect started creeping into the business.

Those days we were very friendly with each other even after the clashes. Nowadays people carry feelings and it gets kinda ugly if you don’t… [Laughs] You gotta be careful what you doin’, that it doesn’t get ugly. Of course this cruise is going to be a different scene.

There’s so much to look forward to. I’m quite certain that people who are going to be on the cruise will be looking forward to a mature clash. And we have no doubt that Metro Media will be able to provide that too. Yeah man, Metro Media is… I think their slogan is “the year-to-year sound.” They have been around the block, been there done that, like ourselves. As a matter of fact they have been in the business longer than Bass Odyssey. They are one of the sounds that has commanded respect all over the world.

Where did you come up with the name Bass Odyssey? It’s one of the best sound names ever.
[Laughs] Actually it was looking through some albums—today they call them CDs and whatever, but in the days of vinyl we called them albums. And we came upon this particular album by Jermaine Jackson [My Name is Jermaine]. Looking through the different tracks on it, one of them was “The Bass Odyssey.” Of course it linked back to a nightclub that was existing at the time called The Odyssey. And we always loved that term “odyssey” having fun. So coming upon the “Bass Odyssey” just hit the right chords. It was like winning the lotto, you know immediately that’s what you wanted. So we ran with it, and ever since that’s what has happened.

Stanley Kubrick 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Jermaine Jackson “Bass Odyssey” (1976)

The artists will tell you that in the earlier days they had trouble pronouncing “Odyssey” or calling it properly. People used to call it “Bass Oddy” or “Bass Dis.” It was a little problem for the artists pronouncing the sound properly for dubplates. But that didn’t last long. They all got the hang of it, and now it’s a household name sound.

Does your sound have a slogan?
Uh, “The Big Bad Bass Odyssey.” We have all of the Bs in there. Squinjy was one of the selectors who always referred to the sound as “The Big Bad Bass Odyssey.” And it caught on so we have just kept that. Different people have different slogans but that’s the one that sticks mostly.

Who will be selecting on the cruise?
Damian, one of the selectors that came up through the ranks and did all the things that selectors have to do to make their name, and he’s doing pretty well. It’s new territory for us but as I said it’s reggae music—and wherever reggae music is played, Bass Odyssey will be there playing it. I’m quite sure that we will do the job we were hired to do: keeping the fans entertained, letting the people on the cruise have a good time, and at the end of the day they’ll want to come back next year. That’s what it’s all about.

I know this is a tough question, but do you have a personal favorite dub in the collection?
Ahh—I would not want to put that out there. We do have numerous dubplates that are favorites for me, but you know it’s a sensitive business so we wouldn’t want to really put that one out there. But a lot of people now gravitate to one by Buju Banton who made this dub specifically for us that no other sound system can play: “It’s the great Bass Odyssey out of Alexandria.” Because of the exclusiveness of it, a lot of people really gravitate to that particular dubplate. And I myself, because nobody else can play it, it’s one of my favorites as well. There is numerous dub plates that I could name for you and I really don’t want to get into that. I’ll just say that one because Buju Banton really did that specifically for Bass Odyssey.

How does the tune go?
“This is the great Bass Odyssey out of Alexandria”—that’s where we’re from. “Inna the hills of St. Anne youth them plant the ganja.” [Laughs] Yeah, that one… It’s one of the ones that was done maybe just about ten years ago. But we go a long way back so there are exclusive dub plates that maybe every fan would tell you something different. But this particular one, no other sound system can really do this one, because all the lyrics were made specifically around Bass Odyssey and the communities that are nearby to where we are from. So the exclusiveness of it, it’s like whenever we play people always request it, wherever we go this is one of the songs that’s mostly requested. Because of the fact that nobody else can play it, so they don’t hear it on any other sound systems.

What riddim is that on?
It’s on the “War” riddim. Bob Marley “War.”

We’ll be listening out for that one.
Anything to let the music be stronger and keep it promoting all over the world. That’s what we’re all about.

Bass Odyssey ’90s Reggae Mix

Visit the Official Reggae Cruise Website for Reservation Information

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