David Rodigan

David Rodigan

David Rodigan, DJ extraordinaire, is an institution in reggae circles. His Kiss FM show has been running twenty years now, although it was his stint on Capital Radio that saw him crowned as Britain’s leading reggae ambassador on the airwaves and also in Jamaica, where his clashes with Barry G became the stuff of legend. “Rodders” has clashed with plenty of other big-name sound-systems since then, including Bodyguard and Kilimanjaro. Whilst armed with more dub-plates than most soundmen could ever dream about, Rodigan doesn’t rely on music alone to engage with his audiences. A natural and highly entertaining raconteur, his shows are live performances in truth, lit up by the force of his personality and the sight of a self-confessed, sixty-year-old “crazy baldhead” throwing down all the cuts that matter and having a whale of a time. At a Rodigan gig you don’t just hear tunes. He takes you inside the music by explaining where it came from, where he was when he first heard it and all manner of other incidentals that bring the songs to life. At no point is his livewire delivery ever too dry or academic. If he just happens to give you a history lesson it’ll be one that’s full of wit and keenly observed, and chances are you’ll never be able to listen to that particular song again without remembering the night he played it. Now that’s what I call a DJ, and the fact that he’s now in demand the world over means a great many other people feel the same way.

As well as his club appearances, Rodigan’s also a major draw at music festivals in the US and Europe. Those audiences aren’t all made up of grassroots’ reggae fans, but younger people who discovered the music in chill-out rooms at drum & bass and garage events, or via those “everything but the kitchen sink” style compilations labels such as Soul Jazz pioneered, and that were clearly aimed at the iPod generation. More recently, Rodigan’s been attracting converts from the dub-step contingent, whose first exposure to reggae and dancehall classics came after hearing them sampled on tracks by the likes of Jah Dan, DJ Madd, Radikal Guru or Marcus Visionary. In the light of “proper” reggae’s dwindling mainstream presence [Gyptian excepted of course], these newcomers are providing the music with much-needed forward momentum and so it was no surprise to learn that Rodigan had been invited to play at London nightspot Fabric’s Friday night sound-clash, and then compile a mix set for their label.

“Fabric has been a whole new experience for me and it’s been absolutely fascinating,” he says. “A few years ago, Jazzie B did a night at Fabric and I played a short set, but one of the main events I was involved with was with Caspa – he’s an amazing dub-step producer, and he wanted me to be on his album, then I was invited to play at the launch and it was an amazing experience because I saw the vitality and energy of young people, and it just reminded me of being sixteen again, when I heard dub music for the first time. I was able to play my vintage Tubby dubs and they just went crazy because it’s the same root, the same origin and the same source… And the love that came back onto the stage was really something to behold.”

Rodigan’s selection kicks off with Augustus Pablo’s King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, which he fondly remembers first hearing on an Island Records’ 7” back in the mid-seventies. The late King Tubby can also be heard at work on Big Youth’s Waterhouse Rock and the dub master’s own Roots Of Dub. Joe Gibbs & Errol T’s cut of the Burning Spear hit He Prayed continues in similar vein and then it’s old-school dancehall hits like Tenor Saw’s Ring The Alarm and Super Cat’s Don Dada which pick up the baton and run with it. From thereon, it’s nowadays classics all the way courtesy of Collie Buddz’ Come Around, Shaggy’s Church Heathen, Alborosie’s Kingston Town, Cham’s Ghetto Story and Beres Hammond’s Can You Play Some More… True to form, Rodigan doesn’t leave out UK-based artists and producers such as Bitty McLean, Frenchie and Curtis Lynch Jnr, and who would have imagined that Sweden could spawn a dee-jay as good as Million Stylez – star of this Police In Helicopter Remix?

There are those who probably think Rodigan was being diplomatic when choosing from such a broad canvas but in actual fact, this diversity is a true reflection of how the reggae business is right now. There’s room for all comers and whilst many Jamaicans will beg to differ, good reggae and dancehall can result from literally anywhere in the world at present. I should point out at this juncture that Rodigan’s new album [called Fabriclive 54] isn’t a mix set in the accepted sense of the word, but more of a compilation.

“Everyone knows that it is rather difficult to mix reggae because of its pace and tempo,” David explains. “It just doesn’t mix the way that house mixes but I assembled the songs in the order that I thought fitted best in terms of the structure of the music and then we went to the studio and put them together that way with some jingles. We thought about doing a live mix, but decided that it would be more accessible without me doing my whoops, hollers and pull ups.”

There’s one song on the track listing I haven’t mentioned so far and that’s Stop That Train – a dub-step reworking of the Keith & Tex hit produced by David’s son Oliver, who works under the name of DJ Cadenza. This is something Rodigan hasn’t widely advertised in case he’s accused of nepotism. Naturally enough, he prefers that people judge the track on its own merits, rather than being prejudiced in any way. Its inclusion came about after David overheard his son playing a version of Stop That Train he didn’t recognise. When Oliver told him it was own creation, dad asked him for a copy and started to introduce it at some of the dub-step gigs he was playing.

“The response was absolutely amazing!” he says proudly. “And then I knew my instincts about it were right when some Italian DJs I’d played it to said, ‘What’s that version of Stop That Train and who’s it by?’ I never told anyone it was by my son. I just told them it’s by a guy called Cadenza but then Caspah and some other guys heard it and liked it. There was some genuine feedback to it and so when it came to doing the album I thought, ‘Why not?’ He’s nineteen and he may be my son but this has been created as DJ Cadenza and not as Oliver Rodigan, and you would never realise that unless you knew it already, or had read the small print on the album. Anyway he got it professionally remixed and re-mastered, and then he phoned the original producer, Derrick Harriott, sorted out the contract and the publishing and did everything else that made it possible for it to be included on the album. Technically, it’s Derrick Harriott’s rhythm but Oliver created a new melody so that was a major difference. It was a sample, rather than a version and only a four or five second sample at that but Derrick said yes and so we included it on the album. I think it’s valid, and I hope others do too.”

Like it or not, dub-step demonstrates how reggae has evolved over the years. It’s where the music’s cutting-edge presently resides and even the Marley family agree, after inviting Hatcher C to play at their annual Bob Marley event in Miami early next year.

For the rest of our interview, which took place at Kiss FM’s offices in the West End, David and I talk about the state of play in Jamaica, the closure of so many studios, distributors and pressing-plants and the wholesale changes brought about by the Internet. He’s an astute observer and still remarkably upbeat, despite the occasional outburst about the faster dancehall rhythms flooding out of Jamaica. Then again, he’s every reason to feel enthusiastic. Once upon a time, only London audiences could hear his shows on Capital or Kiss, but now the whole world can listen thanks to the Internet. Yet for radio personalities like Rodigan, there is a downside. For example, there’s even greater competition than ever before and by virtue of file sharing, there’s no such thing as exclusive music anymore unless you make it yourself. Also, we can all turn broadcaster and make our own podcasts and playlists, so how has this affected someone like David Rodigan?
“Well there are so many Internet radio shows, and there are so many pirate or community radio shows as well,” he begins. “The show on Kiss FM has now been reduced to sixty minutes and I work with that because I want to give the best sixty minutes you can get within what I call “the reggae rainbow,” or the spectrum of the music but gone are the days when you’d listen to Steve Barnard on a Sunday lunchtime back in the seventies and that was your only point of access to reggae apart from Mike Raven’s r & b show on a Saturday night, when he might play a few West Indian records. It was that sparse and that barren but now it’s everywhere. You can find any piece of reggae music with ease, whether you Google it or look for it on YouTube and if there isn’t a video on YouTube, then it’ll be some image instead, which is fantastic. Someone sent me a link to Wreck A Buddy by the Soul Sisters and I had to laugh. This is an explicit record that came out in 1970 and they’d illustrated it with photos of Mods from that period so in three minutes and ten seconds I heard this slack reggae record, Wreck A Buddy by the Soul Sisters; looked at some great photos and been given a history lesson. It’s phenomenal, and I have to salute Major Laser as well because what they’ve done, they’ve taken elements of the music and really brought it to somewhere else. They’ve done wonders in introducing a new audience to the music because of their repertoire and their presence… They’ve taken the music beyond reggae and it was a privilege to play with them at Carnival on the Red Bull stage.”
We’ve said for years that if reggae was afforded a level playing field along with every other genre it would conquer the world and we’re seeing the truth of that now…

“Exactly. Just look at the response it gets in European countries like Germany, France and Italy, and then look at what happens when some wise guy in an advertising agency sits down in a meeting and says, ‘This is the music track for the new Heineken ad,’ and starts playing a Prince Buster track or something. Amazing! We’re hearing songs on mainstream television and in cinemas as part of major advertising campaigns that would never have been played on any radio station, and I find that utterly overwhelming, I really do…”




About johnmasouri
John Masouri is a long-time author and music journalist specialising in reggae and its many off-shoots including dub, ska, roots and dancehall. The author of Wailing Blues: The Story of Bob Marley's Wailers, published by Omnibus Press in 2008, he is currently working on a biography of reggae singer Peter Tosh, due to appear next year. In addition to book projects, he continues to write articles and reviews for Reggae Vibes (France), Riddim (Germany) and Echoes - formerly Black Echoes - which is renowned as Britain's No. 1 black music monthly. His work has also appeared in Mojo, Music Week, the Guardian, the Observer and the NME, as well as magazines in the US, Caribbean and Japan.

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