Gaika’s dad was a handy bloke to know. A Jamaican immigrant living in Brixton, he was a scientist with an enviable record collection who 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 and explores the positive impact of migration on music within UK and British culture.
“This isn’t just about reggae music or reggae culture,” Gaika tells It’s Nice That. “It is about being an immigrant.” Josh Wiley, an art director at Boiler Room adds, “The sound system is a red thread that links music in the Caribbean to grime, drum and bass and so many other genres of music that are huge parts of Boiler Room. It’s integral to the story of migration and music culture.”
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 a 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 sound system 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 26 August.
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