Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Punky Reggae Party Revisited

images“Anybody’s who’s meant to get it, gets it, and those who don’t, they never will,” says Don Letts. The filmmaker and musician is talking about the ways in which the rhythms of Africa have a habit of turning up in popular music from around the globe, most noticeably these days in the work of Vampire Weekend and Animal Collective. But Letts could just as easily be commenting on his own career as a DJ, writer, and member of the Clash posse, or as an accidental pioneer of sampling as a member of Big Audio Dynamite, the Mick Jones-led Clash sequel.

“Like a lot of great ideas, these things are stumbled upon rather than by design,” he says, somewhat understatedly. But when it comes right down to it, Letts’ life story reads like a series of 20th century music history flashpoints: From the time meeting with Bob Marley led to the Rastaman’s song “Punky Reggae Party”, to when, as a punk club DJ, he spun reggae when he ran out of punk discs (few existed at the time). “New wave/new phrase,” sang Marley. “Rejected by society / Treated with impunity / Protected by my dignity / I search for my reality / It’s a punky reggae party / And it’s all right.”

You might even say that without Letts’ point in the magic triangle, the resulting permanent alliance between the two major forms of rebel music might not have ever happened.


Filed under: cross cultural musical experimentation, film, Interview, Punk, Reggae, , ,

Big Audio Dynamite Far-flung as London Burns, 2011

“I guess you want to know what we think,” said Mick Jones at Wednesday’s Big Audio Dynamite show at Club Nokia. It was the fifth day of the London riots, but Jones was far from the frontlines of his native Brixton; he’s on the road this summer celebrating 25 years of B.A.D., the post-Clash project he launched with Don Letts, the punky reggae DJ and filmmaker who also bears the distinction of introducing Bob Marley to his “baldhead” friends. Thirty-five-years ago this summer, Londoner Letts faced-off police at the Notting Hill Carnival riot (that’s him on the cover of the Black Market Clash EP); the events there had once-upon-a-time inspired Joe Strummer to write, “White Riot”. What binds the civil unrest London sees now to then is of course police harassment of youth, particularly those in low income areas hard-hit by austerity measures that have decimated after school programs and depleted prospective scholarship funds. But there was no need for such heavy asides or stage patter from Jones or Letts: They rock the bells in their topical tunes largely from the ’80s which still spell out the matters quite plainly, whether the trouble is racial and with empire building (“A Party”), or the petty grievances and gross injustices that drive them crazy, which they call out in their eponymous theme song.  The pair also appeared to be having a blast playing together again, each of their compositions seemingly more pertinent than the last. Still sonically and sartorially sharp, Big Audio Dynamite’s old songs can easily be repurposed as songs for the New Depression, from the debt ceiling rap of “The Bottom Line,” to the new jam, “Rob Peter Pay Paul.” The audience with a mean age of about 40 was averaged with the help of kids who likely first heard of B.A.D. thanks to their appearance at the Coachella Festival this year.  Personally, I was just happy to be in the house with a friend, listening to two artists who I believe have merged music with message seamlessly for the duration of their respective careers, as well as during their time as collaborators.  B.A.D. are the true torchbearers of the work done by the Only Band That Matters, and I am truly sorry to hear that Brixton, an area with which the Clash was closely aligned, has been hard hit during yet another season of civil unrest in London. “I kinda wish I was home,” said Jones in answer to the question of the riots, then he struck up “Sightsee M.C.,” the 1986 B.A.D. song in which he and Strummer had as much as predicted the recent replay: “You can guarantee that she’ll burn tonight ‘cos England keeps the household white.”

Read interview with Don Letts, originally published in Crawdaddy! in September 2010.

More on Don Letts and the Clash in Keep on Pushing.

Filed under: Concerts, , , , , , , ,

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