The Sound System is one of the Jamaican musical institutions celebrated in the unique posters of Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson whose work has been exhibited in the UWI Museum; and one of the Jamaican musical gifts to many parts of the world. Indeed the world may celebrate aspects of sound systems that Jamaica no longer generates. This is the lament of Anthony Myers who runs Jam One International and who is co-founder and chair of the Jamaica Sound System Federation.. At a session titled Reggae Talks!, within the Freestylee Roots exhibition, he lamented the poor quality of the current output by what he called ‘reflectors’ rather than the traditional ‘selector’; the lack of musical knowledge and performance skill; and the absence of traditional community-based filters for much of the new material finding itself onto national airplay.
Myers joined University of the West Indies (UWI) graduate and Alpha Institute (former Alpha Boys School) consultant Dr Joshua Chamberlain in presenting on Sound Communities, from Mutt and Jeff to Klassique Disco. Chamberlain, who did his doctorate on Jamaican sound systems and their contribution to citizenship and nationhood, told the varied audience about two of the original sound systems and argued that “the social capital they and others like them have generated is mostly squandered, not to mention the loss of educational and economic benefits of the deejay trade.” He said that where sound systems were once seen as partners in development, that wasn’t the case any more.
The presenters engaged in a lively discussion with the audience, with much debate over the impact of technology and the ways to practically counter perceived negatives over current music standards.
The relationship between the music and the work of Michael Thompson was contextualised by Cultural Activist Carolyn Cooper, who edited the book Global Reggae, which includes some of Thompson’s reggae posters.