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Rest in Peace, Jah Shaka. The Zulu Warrior.

It’s a difficult one to explain Jah Shaka to those who have not been lucky to already know his story. Godfather of sound systems? King of UK reggae? Both are high claims and yet still don’t seem to do him justice. Zulu Warrior as he is also known transcends any category. You cannot put him in a box and his music goes the same way.


He was born in Clarendon Parish, Jamaica. His date of birth and name was always a mystery. Shaka moved to London from Jamaica as a child in the late 1950s as part of the Windrush generation.


At an academy lecture run by Red Bull he said the following “When people left Africa for the Caribbean, all they could bring with them was their music, their songs and their memories from home. So, over the years, this is all that people had to keep them together.”


As per sound system tradition, Jah Shaka started as an apprentice at Freddie Cloudburst sound system, responsible for keeping his sound system in good condition. After years of maintenance work, he began playing records on the system and started to build his own.


Approaching 1980, Jah Shaka Sound System had built a cult following. In the session, Shaka harnessed a very spiritual atmosphere, and in 1980 he played himself in the film Babylon with an iconic scene that always makes you wish you were in a session, bass rumbling, sirens ringing excessively. That essence of playing everything at level eleven, reverb, echo, and effects units, influenced so many to push everything that bit further. Not just in dub, but in so many other genres, including jungle, dubstep, and punk. If Shaka wasn’t your influence, then he influenced your influence.


Whilst many sound systems followed Jamaica drifting towards dancehall music, Jah Shaka stayed true to roots and dub, promoting the music and Rastafari. This perseverance meant that sound system culture kept its strength and remained to be shown to the rest of the world, whilst Shaka formed an orthodox philosophy which many sound systems now abide by. Jah Shaka toured the world with his music and huge discography. Commandments of Dub is a series of albums he released which deserve a special mention, as well as the works he did with Horace Andy and Johnny Clarke.


In 1992 he established the Jah Shaka Foundation to carry out assistance with projects in Ghana, where the foundation bought 7 acres (28,000 m2) of land in Agri, 30 miles outside of Accra. The foundation distributed educational and medical supplies to children in Jamaica, Ethiopia, and Ghana.


To be a sound man or woman, seeing Jah Shaka on his own sound system felt like a pilgrimage. Those dances were different. “Shaka ruuule” “gwan Shaka” crowds cheer as he continues to play past the end of the night, on the same authentic speakers that have been running for decades pushing bass and treble. To have your music played on his sound was the highest stamp of approval for any artist. I recently shared a story that I heard some years back, of a time when Jah Shaka played through to the morning and the session was still rammed. The room was dark and everyone was still dancing and skanking, then a door was opened to the outside, and a ray of light beamed across the hall and perfectly lit Jah Shaka up like he was the messiah or a prophet. There are many chronicles of Shaka’s career that I expect will be told over the next weeks, and years to come and everyone I see, I will read. I encourage people to share their stories of this legend.


I'm not a religious man despite having been to church. In a Shaka session there is a spiritual connection I felt that I could only imagine a religious person would feel in their church, temple or other places of worship. Sound system became ritual, Shaka was the priest. Many people I have spoken to have felt the same. He remained operating until his sudden and sad departure spreading the same message from the start. He was wholly dedicated to sound system culture and Rastafari. He was a good person. A humble prophet.


I wish condolences to all of Jah Shaka's family including his son Young Warrior, and all of Shaka's closest friends.




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