Sounds of Oppression

by Roy Wallace and Daniel Johnson

Two video essays on Reggae Innovation and Sound System Culture.

Sounds of Oppression

The history of the reggae sound system inheritance passed down through generations in various music styles (Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae, Dancehall and various sub-genres where it has fused with other cultures). The words and phrases describe the same fight concerning social exclusion within the Black diaspora. The crisis in mainstream UK Reggae scene concerns the ‘invisibility’ of Reggae music or lack of recognition where elements of the culture are being used within the mainstream entertainment and media outlets. Reggae and Sound system culture is also undervalued within the African-Caribbean culture with the essence of the cultural practices now stigmatised or diminished in favour of contemporary music genres and commercial interests focused on celebrity.

We would argue that the musical legacy should give recognition to the ‘roots’ of the Reggae and sound systems within Jamaican culture which has been replaced by commercial rather than authentic interests in the practices. Often those from the authentic origins are easily exploited and replaced in mainstream UK media by ‘sanitised’ celebrities which could be viewed as institutional racism working to exclude the authentic voices in Reggae. In this twenty-minute video essay we will explore some potential alternatives to current trends and examine what steps might be required to return ‘The Lost Inheritance of the UK Reggae scene’ to its righteous place in contemporary UK culture.

From Sleng Teng to Skanking in the Dancehall

From Sleng Teng to Skanking in the Dancehall a comparative analysis of UK and Jamaican reggae through the work of King Jammy and Daniel Johnson

In this video essay presentation we will assess the impact of 2nd wave Jamaican reggae on the British sound system culture/music production through comparative analysis of the work of King Jammy (One Time Girlfriend) and contemporary re-mix version (Skanking in the Dancehall) by Daniel Johnson. By tracing this journey by means of a case study we intend to evidence the historical and ongoing relationship between Jamaican and British reggae in the mainstream UK music industry which consistently privileges indigenous Jamaican music production over promotion of authentic UK reggae artists.

We will argue that while Jamaican reggae is ‘visible’ on an International level, this ‘incorporation’ of reggae into mainstream popular culture, overshadows the authentic British reggae experiences. This privilege also suppresses the essential slavery narrative which is inherent in reggae and instead ‘whitewashes’ contemporary UK reggae voices through promotion of ‘culturally acceptable’ icons who negate British colonial history through the use of celebrity and association with national broadcast interests of the BBC in particular (Radio 1Xtra). The privileging of acceptable icons such as Rodigan, Seani B, Chris Goldfinger etc help de-politicize the Caribbean slavery experiences and instead re-package the authentic narrative of reggae within a post-modern consumerist culture.

This case study seeks to re-present the unique relationship between Jamaican reggae and its impact on British reggae from ‘Sleng Teng’ to Grime music, we will argue that previous reggae genres have been influenced by King Jammy, the 2nd Wave (electronic) reggae music production and help re-connect the importance of keeping the story of street authenticity alive and highlight the original reggae connections with the Caribbean to younger UK generation through Electronic Dance Music.

To compliment this presentation, we would also offer a ‘live’ joint performance of the original (One Time Girlfriend) and re-mix version (Skanking in the Dancehall) by both King Jammy and Daniel Johnson.

About the Authors

Roy Wallace Senior Lecturer University of Northampton

Artist, musician, documentary filmmaker and academic with thirty years’ experience in UK and European punk scenes. Main feature works include; The Day the Country Died: A history of anarcho-punk in the UK (2006), Bloody Bloody Belgium: a history of the underground music scene from 1970’s -2014 (2014), Big Time: Punk in Belfast 1979-82 (2003) Assembly Required – Buzzcocks (2017), Squeezin tha Juice – Inner Terrestrials (2018) Co-founder Monad Journal 2017. His most recent PhD research explores the emergence of the ‘video essay’ in academic teaching and learning at Higher Education level and is the founder of (unpublished at present March 2020).

Daniel Johnson Associate Lecturer University of Northampton

Bio: Daniel is an associate lecturer in Music and Media studies at the University of Northampton. His journey outside of formal education has gained him recognition as a DJ Producer and music artist, performing across the UK and Europe, working with and alongside some great names in the Music industry and reggae fraternity. The benefits from the two practices inspired Daniel to establish the In Music In Media Social Enterprise project, which offers young people support in their development through a range of music activities and programmes. The programmes are targeted at young people in general but has a strong emphasis on those in challenging circumstances and from disadvantaged backgrounds. The activities specialise and show the value in music styles and art forms that have derived from the Reggae and Sound system culture and are accredited as valid Music skills in the British national curriculum.


For full references and citations please visit the following sites:

Sounds of Oppression:

From Sleng Teng to Skanking in the Dancehall