In November 2017, the Bass Culture Research Project held ‘Bass in the Attic’ at the Ritzy, Brixton. This event was to highlight Black Music heritage and was part of the Being Human Festival. This interactive event invited participants (including me) and the local community to share their stories and memories of Black British music. Mykaell Riley recollected his time as an artist with Steel Pulse and the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra. Dr. Joy White (Grime expert and Ethnomusicologist) shared her experiences of clubbing and brought in fliers that demonstrated how events were promoted during the rave and underground scenes. Established Lovers Rock artists Victor Romeo and Janet Kay shared their experiences in music, acting, fashion, the ‘Stickman’ walk and appearing on Top of the Pops. The audience also shared their musical experiences and vinyl collection. Overall it was a successful event because it enabled participants the opportunity to recollect and share their stories on Black British music. The idea of documenting stories and sharing memories of Black British music is significant because such (future) heritage needs to connect and bond with audiences, families, communities etc.—memories are indeed important and precious—as demonstrated at this event.
My Life story (sort of…)
My story reflected on musical memories in the 1990s. I’m from Harlow and I was not exposed to Black British music. The only connection I had was due to my (British) Guyanese father—who always played reggae and had parties at home. After he died, his friends were out of the family picture and I lost that cultural connection at such a young age. From what I have learned from his short life in Britain (and from what I could remember), he was an outsider in society but would heavily immerse with his mates and celebrate his Caribbean culture and roots. His best mates (my Godfathers) were from Barbados and Jamaica. When he could, he would actually hang out East and North London (mainly Walthamstow) to be with his fellow Caribbean mates.
I also felt an outsider due my race. Basically, I grew up in a working class white town. At school I was the only non-white child and was listening to what everyone else was listening to: chart pop, rock and dance. Also I was never popular, I only had a few selected close friends, I guess we were the ‘geeky’ group although I wasn’t really brainy at the time! There were some opportunities where I was exposed to Caribbean culture. My best mate’s dad was a bus driver and his route was the number N73 in London. Erika and I would hang out at the Tottenham Hale bus garage and listen to reggae in the canteen as well as talking to her dad’s colleagues who were Jamaican/British Jamaican. Back at high school, we discovered pirate radio by accident and picked up Jungle music. I started to gain a reconnection with my cultural roots but found it so hard to discover on the name of artists/producers mainly because the DJ would not mention them!
A few tunes that I grew up with in the 1990s…
Rebel MC – Black Meaning Good (Tribal Bass)
One tune that really resonated for me and took me ages to find out that it was Rebel MC AKA Congo Natty (I was a fan his music before in the late1980s)—but then of course it became a chart hit. Everyone was into this tune at high school, but I was the only one who bought the album. Not sure why though, maybe it had something to do with the album title, with me from a white town and that…
Shara Rambarran Talking about Rebel MC ‘s Black Meaning Good Image by Hillegonda Rietveld
After high school, I was the only one who went to study music at my local college. My college classmates were from other parts of Essex and they all had their own identities and tastes in music. I had the advantage of being more exposed to other musical genres such Britpop, alterative rock, techno etc. This encouraged me to seek more on Black British music especially as Jungle was getting popular. I religiously hanged out in my local record store and discovered the following timeless music:
Maxine & Dubwise
This jungle tune reminds me of Romford on a Saturday. Essex was totally aware of jungle, and in time, you could hear it everywhere: indoor/outdoor markets, out of Ford Escorts etc. This tune really caught on though, in particular the version with the horns section (as opposed to rock version). It’s very energetic and just shouts out ESSEX. I consider this to be my ‘townie’ memory (as well as shell suits)! It’s worth mentioning that Dubwise and the label Renk Records is owned by Junior Hart, whose son is Marlon Hart, otherwise known M-Beat.
Bomb The Bass featuring Spikey Tee
I have a lot of ? for Tim Simenon and Bomb the Bass. Tim Simenon experimented with hip hop, electronica, and more importantly reggae and dub on the album Clear. He collaborated with the likes of Bim Sherman, Justin Warfield, Will Self & Benjamin Zephaniah. This particular track however, Spikey Tee’s ‘Darkheart’ resonates with me the most. The dub version is dark but yet at the same time it’s uplifting to listen to as well—it just works. This album inspired me to make experimental music back in the day (and I blew my student loan on my first Akai sampler and various synthesisers).
You may be familiar with the saying ‘don’t judge its book by its cover’. If I’m honest with you, I did with this with particular CD single that I picked up at Trumps Records:
I was fascinated with the group’s name and had no idea on who they were. I was blown away with their music: a mixture of heavy guitar riffs, electronica, deep bass lines, mesmerizing beats, and reggae. To me the music sounded way ahead of its time—it was a mixture of live instruments and electronic sounds—and that to me was unusual. Audioweb were from Manchester with British Jamaican lead singer—Martin ‘Sugar’ Merchant—who used to be in the Sound System scenes including the Saxon Crew. I felt a connection with the music with the group because I was very drawn to the genre-blending and of course, reggae. To me, that idea of mixing rock, electronica, and reggae produced was a great sound.
Audioweb had one major hit, a cover version of The Clash’s ‘Bankrobber’. By this time, I was studying music at Sheffield University. I was so desperate to watch them live. I rang their label’s press office, Mother Records every week asking for updates! I finally got to see them in February at the University of Liverpool in 1997. There was a packed crowd and surprisingly everyone knew the words. I was even more surprised to see Audioweb’s biggest fan, Ian Brown dancing behind me. Everyone did go crazy when they played ‘Bankrobber’. It was such a buzzing and energetic show. It was so good that I managed to get hold of the set list with Martin Merchant’s footprint on it. My ex-best mate and I accidently met Sean McCann the bass player at the back of the venue and he got us into the after show party. I met the group, and they were all buzzing especially Martin and Maxi (the drummer)—they couldn’t believe that the crowd knew the words. I do have images of this event but I’ll save it for another time!
Roots and Routes…
These memories are important to me—not only they remind me of my youth but also my father and cultural roots. For me, it was more of an individual discovery rather then ‘growing’ up with it. I think if my dad was alive it would have have been a different story (he would have made me listen to a lot of reggae!). I am from a mixed cultural background and if I’m honest with you, I really don’t know much about my father’s family. Therefore, it is the music, the culture (and popular culture) and the Bass Culture Research Project that is repairing the lost connection with my father. To be continued…
© Shara Rambarran