(Exerpt from an upcoming feature on Lord Sassafrass)
R. Lowe February, 2013
It was 1986 at 2:00 in the morning, the night was especially hot and without a moon. Sassafrass was driving a motorcycle through the outskirts of Western Kingston with Ginger Tea, his hype man riding pillion. A hype man is a person who cheers on a performer at a dance which encourages the crowd to join in. This was not Sassa’s area, he was moving through a neighboring area, hoping to pass without drawing attention. In the darkness, Sassa steered left around a corner and Ginger Tea was steady leaning and looking right, at some activity on the corner. This caused the motorcycle to lose balance and wobble. Hitting the brakes, the bike came to a halt. Immediately, two men approached the bike. As they approached, the shorter, stockier man turned his head and exclaimed, “Hey Sassafrass! Ya gone foreign and mi nah hear ya voice again! Come chat pon the sound fe me.” The short man motioned over to the corner where Ginger Tea had been looking and Sassa could hear the music coming from beyond the zinc fence. Although Sassa was feeling kind of “boomy” (apprehensive/jumpy), there was pressure to comply given that he was not in his own area, but was being shown some decency.
Once inside the yard, there was a crowd of people moving in the darkness. A small set of lights were strung in the corner and on either side, Sassa and Ginger Tea could see a sound system with individual groups of men. This yard had two neighborhood sounds competing and Sassa immediately recognized the dj working the mic on one of the sounds, it was Gregory Peck. Sassa comments on many of the dance goers, “Them nuh really know Peck. So I stand up beside him to support him.” As Sassa settles into position, Gregory Peck turns to him and in his clear voice over the speaker boxes he shouts out pure attack lyrics against Sassa, trying to kill him! This was Peck defending his area as he was the local favorite. Quite likely that Peck wanted bragging rights of killing a hot dj who was scoring on the charts. Peck had not yet recorded much and had not yet made impact on the music scene, but he was ready for a fight. Peck then proceeds to run through a few riddims aggressing toward Sassa in relation to his recent time spent in New York, him being fat, and any other crafty insult he could manufacture. Sassafrass was almost knocked over, “I come there to support this guy and he try to kill mi man! Being a dj, ya have to be great to go into another dj area.”
Once Peck had his time on the mic, the crowd recognized that Lord Sassafrass needs to make his response and they beat the fence. At this point Sassa’s hype man Ginger Tea grabs hold of the mic and shouts to the crowd, “We nuh mix wid dutty bungle! All weh we deal with a nice n deacent peeeple. Hear dis, a strickly one, one. One me dealwid tonite people. Ecko Mnott one, Gentrees one, Sassa one! Come dung now Horseman.” Standing next to Ginger Tea, Lord Sassafrass takes hold of the mic and djs his song “Pocomania Jump,” “Poco jump, poco jump, make we do the poco jump…grow a Marveley inna one tenement. Month end come an me couldn’t pay mi rent…” Sassafrass commented, “The place tun over.” Sassafrass was able to depart that night with his pride, but was still struck at how Gregory Peck attacked him without provocation. Sassa recalls, “The little bwoi a try.” The next day, he reasoned with Echo Minott about the incident. Echo said, “Yeh a kill im wa kill u, a bus im waa bus, weh u tink? Yu was like dat bak in a de days. Yu want piece a everybody. Yu wrenk and feisty.” Ironic that it was Gregory Peck that followed Sassa’s Poco lyrics lead and later recorded one of his most recognizable songs “Poco Man Jam.”
Ricky Villa, original owner of La Benz Sound System.
LaBenz Sound, Selector, Jigsy
I first met Jigsy in the mid 1990s when he was working as selector and mic man for Labenz Sound. The sound had just arrived in Cleveland, Ohio as an attempt to cool out from activities in Jamaica. Ricky Villa (Father LaBenz) had decided to make the move from the "LaBenz Corner" in Jamaica to Cleveland, bringing with him his right hand - Jigsy. When Ricky Villa was moving, you could count on seeing Jigsy.
Well before he joined LaBenz, the very first sound that Jigsy worked with was Sharp Point. He then moved to a little community sound called Love Stone. His biggest break was when he left to go to a sound called Lionhouse. The next step brought him to LaBenz sound which was headed up by Sir Ricky Villa.
As many Clevelanders know, Ricky Villa died tragically around the year 2000. The death of Father LaBenz created a challenge for future for LaBenz Sound. Jigsy commented on the passing of Ricky Villa, "Taking up music and jus' put on the turntable, just see Ricky Villa doing it. Couldn't move with that. Even now I play certain type of music an' it touch my mind and feelings, even my heart. One time my friend say, ‘What happen to you?' an I just say, ‘Cho! You wouldn't even understand.' It reflect remembering my friend standing up beside me playing music and mi a talk. Dem tings is a reflection sameway." In 2002 Jigsy left Cleveland for Jamaica.
Some time passed and about three years ago, I started to hear about this selector in Kingston by the name of "Jigsy." Friends told me that this was Labenz's Jigsy, but I responded confidently in telling them that this was not the same Jigsy... but it was! Cleveland has a thriving Jamaican community and reggae music activities are plentiful, but we really have (arguably) not had any local/regional artistes buss big... until Jigsy. Jigsy has had a top ten tune with "Jigsy Dance," the dance itself is quite popular, Jigsy is the lead selector with Danga Zone's Jamaican Sound, as the selector for Danga Zone Jigsy has appeared at Fully Loaded, Elephant's Birthday Bash, Reggae Sum Fest (along with many others), he has led weekly dances with "Bembe Thursdays," produced new artistes music releases.
I spoke with Jigsy about his move to Jamaica in 2002 and asked what his first move was. "I was single playing LaBenz. I never had no help. Mi just try to take mi career to the next level by playing the music an' match up with the rest of the selector in Jamaica. Ca' you know down there live fire with sound system and selector. You haffe really good to stand out. It cost mi a whole heap of night's rest. Mi nuh get to sleep. We party every night - 24 hours. We have events every night from Sunday to Sunday. Mi no have no time for anybody. No time."
A key move was the connection with Danga Zone Sound and Jigsy provided some background on that first association. "It take a while, it was like a journey. Mi link up with them about 2003, going into 2004. Then comes a little change back in my life ca' I lose my best friend an' it take a whole heap from me fe get back pon track. Go through mi journey sameway and things don't really happen overnight. It's like this, I'm here in Kingston and those dudes are in Montego Bay. It's like three and one-half hours away from where I live. Them (Danga Zone) just create a sound. These friendly clash goin' on in MoBay. They want them sound to the next level. They want somebody who can deal with the sound the way they want. Them guy's talkin' to artristes. The artistes - which is my friend, New Kidz and Ninja Kid was there when all the men talkin' and say they want a selector. So mi flash right in them mind. They call me an' mi say, ‘Mi really don't want to play nobody's sound mi waan do mi own thing.' Mi take the bus from Kingston (to Montego Bay - home of Danga Zone Sound), big it up with the people. The first time them see me workin' sound inna MoBay, they say, ‘This really a different type of youth.' From there we jus' take it to a next level an' just bring it come a town where all the competition at. As a sound system ya have to have competition. We just match up with all the Kingston bad sound and be outstanding. From there Danga Zone jus' took off."