The Alpha School of Music, with support from American Friends of Jamaica, was pleased to organize an applied workshop exploring Jamaica’s distinctive sound system culture as part of its Reggae Month activities on Monday, February 27. Moderated by Alpha instructor Dr. Dennis Howard and featuring panelists Tony Myers (Jam One International) and Ronnie Jarrett (8 Miles Music), the workshop, titled “Sounds In The Sound System: Jamaica’s Distinctive Approach to Recorded Music Performance,” explored the unique evolution of sound in the Jamaican sound system fraternity and the broader entertainment ecosystem.
Sound systems, which originated in the fifties in Kingston, established themselves as a crucial part of the music and entertainment industries. As implied by their name the first sound systems were identified by their sound. At one time, sound system operators could describe the shape of their sound and were able to separate the sound into multiple frequencies in order to enhance multiple, sometimes as many as seven, frequencies. This is different from a traditional public address, or PA, system which typically offers only high and low frequency modulation. The Sounds In The Sound System discussion explored these topics and more.
In the 1960s, the sound system became an instrumental part of the Alpha Boys School student experience thanks to Sister Ignatius. ‘Iggy’ was the first Jamaican Sister of Mercy to run the Alpha music department and the first to operate her own sound system. Mutt & Jeff Sound System became an important learning tool for Alpha students at the time, much like the sound system was a critical platform for developing and promoting Jamaican artists around the country. At Alpha, the sound system was more than a professional tool, it was also a learning tool. “A lot of the [Alpha] graduates, including people like Ilawi, Johnny Osbourne, and countless others, benefitted from Sister Ignatius playing her Sound System here at Alpha,” said Alpha’s Bandmaster, Gay Magnus. “She used to do it just to expose the boys to a variety of music so it was like a listening analysis course for them.”