The bass line reverberates off the walls in the low-lit room. The music blares from the large speakers positioned at the corners of the ceiling. The wide glass doors to the balcony are flung wide open to let in some cool breeze. The crowd sways almost in unison to the sweet sounds of roots reggae music.
This is ‘Dub Me Always’ brought to you by David Katz every 2nd Wednesday in the heart of Brixton at the well-known Ritzy Cinema, one of the oldest surviving cinemas in the UK. It’s music from the 60s, 70s, 80s, original soundtracks on vinyl from a sound system collection. Katz invites selectors from across the UK, and Jamaica, to play their valuable records as well as adding his own dub ‘voice’ from his personal stock.
Brixton, known for the race uprisings in the 1980s, is now one of the trendiest places in South London. And, although the area’s residential mix has changed somewhat, it still has a very healthy Caribbean presence and flavour. So, ‘Dub Me Always’ Upstairs at the Ritzy feels just right.
“I remember going there one night, because it's right there in the heart and soul of Brixton. It's a community space. I saw a woman spinning these records and I thought, hmm, I could do a reggae night here. So I approached the music manager about doing a reggae night and he said, Yes. That was back in 2004,” Katz recalled in conversation with Caribbean Today.
Now almost 20 years at the Ritzy, Katz, who is of Jewish heritage, reflected on his journey into reggae music. The American-born author, documentary radio and film producer, and music journalist was surrounded by music from very early in life.
He grew up in a small town just north of San Francisco in a household where his mother’s love of western classical music and opera, and his father’s great jazz collection filled the house with continuous music. It is that emersion that would eventually bring him to the music born in Jamaica.
“One of my father’s prized possessions as a teenager was a Billie Holiday 78 record. He also listened to the jazz station 24/7. He had Lead Belly’s 10 inch records. I also remember him bringing home Beatles records, The Doors first album, Santana’s first album. And my mother had Calypso records, which I still have,” Katz said with pride.
During his teen years Katz would frequent music events at a local concert hall in the little town of San Rafael where he grew up. He enjoyed classics, jazz, opera, and East Indian music. But, his reggae journey truly began through the only radio station in town, KTIM, that featured a two-hour radio show called Midnight Dread hosted by Doug Wendt every Sunday night.
Doug was a frequent traveller to Jamaica, and he was a real ambassador for the music and the culture, Katz explained. He was not just playing commercial reggae as released by Island Records or a major label. He went really deep into the music.
“I remember hearing tracks from a Studio One dub album on his show, Jukes Incorporation. I hear some deep Nyabinghi drumming with a little organ in the
background and this Holy Mount Zion chant, a guy coming on top with heavy Patwa, and stereophonic panning. So I was just like, What on earth is this music breaking all the rules? I remember in particular, the Revelation Time album Max Romeo released. So, these records had a huge effect on me.”
But, Katz’s profound transformative reggae moment would come in July 1981 when the Jack Ruby Sound System came from Jamaica and performed in San Francisco with the 50,000 Watts of Dub Power tour.
“It just blew my mind to smithereens. I just couldn't understand what I was experiencing. There were these custom handmade wooden speaker boxes of triangular stacks that filled the room with sound with this incredibly warm, rich tone… I remember they were playing, Burning Spear records that I knew from the radio and from the film Rockers, but they sounded nothing like that. They were being torn apart and bass dropping out and bass boosting up, and toasters doing these extemporaneous rhymes, free-styling on the spot. It was just incredible,” said an emotional Katz.
He wanted to learn more about reggae music, so he devoured any books he could find on the subject including was Timothy White's Catch A Fire, Reggae Bloodlines and Reggae International by Stephen Davis and Peter Simon. His search would take him to England in 1983, specifically South London where he immersed himself in the vibrant Jamaican community with its lively community reggae music radio stations.
Katz would eventually return home to begin his university education. With reggae now running through his veins, he returned to London to finish his final year of uni. Before leaving the US, he began writing about reggae music for a San Francisco-based music magazine called Wiring Department. It was in this publication where his first article on Lee Scratch Perry appeared. He used this article to approach Perry upon his return to London in 1986. The musician connected with Katz’s work and contracted him to ghost write his autobiography. Although it took many years, the book (People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee Scratch Perry) was first published in 2000. This solidified Katz’s career as an author and reggae music authority.
He writes on music and culture for major publications including The Guardian, The Independent, Caribbean Beat; produces radio and television documentaries; contributes to and writes his own books on reggae music and Caribbean popular culture. In fact, a revised and expanded edition of his book Solid Foundation: An oral History of Reggae is due out in March 2024. And of course, Dub Me Always gives Katz a chance to play the music he was baptised in back in the 1980s.
King Tubby’s UK with Father Cecil & Natty Harvey, Entebbe Sound System, Jah Youth the Roots Ambassador, Dennis Bovell, Gladdy Wax, Moa Anbessa, Sir Coxsone Outernational is just the tip of the iceberg of sound systems Katz has hosted at Dub Me Always.
Asked about the future of the music he loves so much, Katz noted:
“One thing about Jamaican popular music is you can never really predict where it's gonna go. It's constantly reinventing itself. And I think these days, it's not just one music, it's multiple strands at the same time. But, one thing’s for sure, there’s always going to be something interesting coming out of Jamaica. It’s an attitude, an approach, a feeling, and a liberty.”