Origins of Sound Systems

In the context of Jamaican popular culture, a sound system is a group of disc jockeys, engineers and MCs playing the different genres of music like Ska, Rocksteady or Reggae music just to name a few. The sound system is an important part of Jamaican culture and history and because of this it has set itself apart from many cultures. The sound system concept first became popular in the 1950s, in the ghetto areas of Kingston, Jamaica. Disc Jockeys would load up a truck with a generator, turntables, and huge speakers and set up street parties. In the beginning, the Disc Jockeys played American Rhythm and Blues music, but as time progressed and more local music was created, the sound migrated to a local flavor.

The sound systems now created big business, and represented one of the few sure ways to make money in the unstable economy of the area.  How it all works is that the promoter (the Disc Jockey) would make his profit by charging a minimal admission to the public. Adding food and alcohol for sale amongst thousands of people in attendance turned every gathering into a growing event. 

By the mid1950s, sound systems had now incorporated live musicians for the purpose of staging parties. By the second half of the decade, custom-built systems began to appear from the workshops of specialists such as Hedley Jones, who constructed wardrobe-sized speaker cabinets known as "Houses of Joy”. What began as an attempt to copy the American R&B sound using local musicians evolved into a uniquely Jamaican musical genre. 

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