Gaika’s dad was a handy bloke to know. A Jamaican immigrant living in Brixton, he was a scientist with an enviable record collection, and possessed the kind of Caribbean connections that made sourcing sought-after 12”s a doddle.
It was no surprise, then, that one of the UK’s most intriguing and innovative musical acts gravitated toward London’s burgeoning soundsystem scene. Hulking stacks of finely-calibrated speakers, the soundsystem acts a totem -of defiance, of joy, of unity.
These are modes of being that Gaika is currently exploring with Boiler Room in his recently-opened SYSTEM installation at Somerset House. Designed as a collaborative campaign between the Brixton-born musician (and former graphic designer) and the live-streaming giants, it celebrates migration, music and culture 70 years after Windrush. SYSTEM, is a month long audiovisual series in August, explores the positive impact of migration on music within UK and British culture.
“This isn’t just just about reggae music, or reggae culture,” Gaika tells It’s Nice That. “It is about being an immigrant.”
Visual inspiration for the film he’s made for SYSTEM come from a variety of sources. “When you go to the Caribbean, or anywhere where there’s been mass migration, you have a phenomenon of houses made in the jungle. Money gets sent home in case of return, but people never return, he says. “They’re not interested in finishing the houses there, so you get these ghosts in the bush.”
In addition to those architectural hauntings, there are “the technological aspects of my upbringing; screens and scaffolding showing schematics from my dad’s work, overlaid on video from the carnival archive.”
He’s keen to use the show to interrogate the contemporary immigrant experience as fluidly as possible. “After Grenfell,” he says, “I went and filmed all these housing developments where’d they’d taken the cladding off, as if nothing had happened. We’ll just paint over, and forget about those people. They don’t have value in our society.”
There’s a musical aspect to things, too, with a weekly series of events taking place throughout August, featuring the likes of soundsystem stars King Tubbys, Chanel One, and Saxton Sound. In addition to the original material made by Gaika and others, there’s a whole host of archival imagery on display bequeathed by Black Cultural Archives,
Working within Somerset House has been “great,” thus far he says. “You run into people who aren’t used to the likes of me. That’s their problem, not mine. I’m not ever going to be made to feel like I don’t belong."
Anyone with any interest in the past, present, and future of what soundsystem culture is, and how it has reshaped the look and sound of British culture would do well to check the show out. It runs till 26th August.
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