Scotland's Mighty Oak & 5 Man Army Soundsystems – In Celebration of Jamaican Independence Day
From reggae and roots to dub and dancehall, music from Jamaica has influenced night-life throughout the western world since the 70s. And in our dear green place, the reggae scene is home to a thriving subculture of folk uniting under flags of green, yellow and red. So to celebrate Jamaican Independence Day, we swung by the African Arts Centre to meet Joe from roots sound system Mighty Oak and Dave from 5 Man Army to chat about musical influences, building their sound systems and the spirituality of the reggae community in Glasgow.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves and your involvement in Scotland’s reggae scene?
Joe: We started building a sound system about ten years ago in the borders and once it got big enough we started running events.
So what got you started on the sound system?
Joe: We’ve been into reggae since we were teenagers – we’ve been collecting for twenty years. I started producing reggae five or six years ago. Then Ben was around a guy’s woodwork shop and he had some speakers he’d built, Ben then offered to buy them from him and then he had to find some mids and tops from eBay and all sorts of random places and that’s how our sound system was built. It’s an eclectic mix!
How do you see the scene developing, do you think it will grow?
Joe: I think it will grow because dub reggae is getting more popular. But I think it will change a bit, and become less rootsy.
Dave: I think that’s the challenge that a lot of sound systems face, to play what pays the bills or play what got you into it in the first place, and see if you’re willing to bend at all.
Do you wish there were more opportunities for sound system nights in Glasgow?
Dave: Yes, definitely. But getting the right venues is really hard, you might get the right venue, but after three nights the council or local residents might shut it down. I suppose another side of it is people coming out to support the nights. Glasgow has about twenty sound systems but I don’t know how many play that often or if they play at all, and they’re off in other places. And it costs money, so there needs to be that support in order for it to continue.
What were your musical influences growing up?
Dave: I got into reggae through hip hop. I was a breakdancer in 1985 when I was ten. Then, I was introduced to the Scientist albums and then I found the reggae was speaking to me a lot more than the hip hop, it was the social commentary.
Joe: I grew up in London until I was seven and my brother who was a lot older than me was a hip hop DJ in the 80s. Then when I was a teenager I go into Jungle and then Ben and I went to our first reggae dance in Oxford. So hip hop, reggae, and Jungle are big for me, and African too.
Have you been to Jamaica?
Dave: Many years ago in 1989, it was amazing, very full on. I went to Ocho Rios on the bus, where Joe Gibbs’ studio was. I found a record shop and bought a few albums.
Joe: Reggae albums are going for so much now, and I think that’s part of the internationalisation of it. There’s such a big scene world wide and they all buy their tunes in the same places so the prices go rocketing. Records that came out a couple of months ago are already twice or three times the original price.
What projects or shows do you have coming up that you’re most excited about?
Dave: Doune The Rabbit Hole! I’ll be doing the sound for the reggae rent.
Joe: I’ll be doing a warm up set at the beginning. And generally the festivals, the Psychedelic Forest Carnival in September. We’re running the roots dome like we did last year. I’m also working on some new tunes!
So it’s Jamaican Independence Day, what do you think it is about reggae and Jamaican culture that resonates so much with people outside of Jamaica?
Dave: It was traditionally sufferers music, so people went to dance to forget their traumas and to forget their worries. They called it a blues dance.
Joe: There’s a huge amount of respect and love for Jamaican music and the roots of it. But it’s also become its own thing in the UK and Europe and the world now. We, for example, play hardly any modern Jamaican music. Some of it’s amazing but it’s gotten a bit more of a commercial sound and I find most of the reggae we play these days is UK and Europe, French, German and Italian. I think the sound system culture is so focussed on the music and how it sounds way above anything else, it’s about coming together. It’s the spiritual side of it that I think resonates with so many people, the message of love and unity.