On Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019, we began a five day mini-tour with the legendary sound system operator and producer Jah Shaka, who is widely accepted as the forefather of UK dub, and one of the world’s most respected authorities on modern reggae music! The tour brought us across nearly 2000km of German terrain – from the capital city of Berlin to the small town of Freising in the heart of Bavaria, and then north to the city of Dortmund before returning back east to Berlin. Each of the three sessions was in it’s own way unique, all with a different local sound system crew providing the necessary amplification and support! With little sleep in between the sessions, and large distances to cover between the cities, it was quite exhausting at times, but all in all, we think it’s safe to say that it was a very inspirational experience for everyone involved!
The idea of hitting the road with the mighty Zulu Warrior came up after our session with him in Berlin last October – just a few weeks after the session, we began contacting sound systems around Germany. Ultimately we decided to team up with Dandelion Soundsystem from Freising, Kunterbunt Soundsystem from Münster, and of course, our local Lion’s Den Sound System in Berlin, to present a 3-stop mini-tour around Germany.
Berlin – October 2nd, 2019. The anticipation leading up to the first event of the tour was immense! Despite the great turnout at last year’s event at YAAM Berlin – we were quite apprehensive about the outcome of this year’s session. Ticket sales were quite low, and we had been hearing from various people that the event was too soon after the last one, so you can imagine that we were quite nervous – even more so since we also didn’t know what to expect from the two following sessions! Nonetheless, we stayed positive and did everything we could to make sure the event went smoothly and was enjoyable for everyone involved, even though we had some real obstacles in our path!
Lion’s Den opened up the session at 21:00 with a nice roots and dub selection, and the first guests began to arrive. By the time Shaka stepped into the building around 23:00, there was already a nice crowd waiting for our honoured guest! We knew in advance that there were going to be some sound limitations, as the venue had been having some issues with noise complaints in recent months, but unfortunately we didn’t know how tight the restrictions would be until Shaka began playing his first tunes. Within the first few minutes the venue’s sound technician was already giving us our first warning, and I had to play the feared role of sound enforcer. This definitely wasn’t the way we wanted to begin the tour, but we did our best to find a balance that was acceptable for the artist, the venue, and the people who had come from near and far to hear some proper sound system pressure! It was no easy task to tell the mighty Zulu Warrior that we had to turn down the sound, and we’d like to apologize to everyone who was expecting a bit more from the sound system!
Despite the not-so-optimal conditions, we did our best to find an agreeable level for the venue and artists. Shaka’s selection was as always very uplifting, and he ended up playing nearly 6 hours until the lights went on around 6:00 a.m.! All in all it was a wonderful session, and a good start to the tour. We had barely finished the session and were already looking forward to the next stop on the tour!
Freising – October 4th, 2019. After about 6 hours on the road from Berlin, we reached Freising with only 2 hours until the session began. With a quick stop to check Shaka into the hotel, we continued through the small Bavarian town of Freising towards the venue, and finally found a sign pointing towards “Lindenkeller“. From here we drove up a miniature version of a winding mountain road, until we arrived outside the venue, which is perched on top of a hill in the center of town. After a quick meet and greet with some of the extended crew, we went downstairs to check out the venue. The sound and decorations were already set up, and some of the Kulturimpuls e.V. crew – a community of sound system enthusiasts including Dandelion Soundsystem, Jah Chalice Soundsystem and others from the region, who joined forces to create a platform for different artists and sounds, as well as initiating the Rootsbase Festival as well as the Rootsbase area at Fusion Festival. We were welcomed warmly by the crew and we soon felt right at home!
The session began at 20:00 – an early one as we had a strict 4:00 curfew – with a wicked set by Dandelion Soundsystem, featuring Ical Ises selecting and moderating and Basstafari on percussion and effects! By the time Shaka arrived, there was already a nice crowd, and it wasn’t long before the venue had reached full capacity! Towards the end of his set, Ical Ises told us a very heartfelt story about his first sound system dance nearly 20 years ago, and how it forever changed his perspective on reggae music. He recalled a huge stack of speakers which completely hid the selector from sight, and the immense weight and message which was conveyed to the people. That night he bought a t-shirt which he still had almost 2 decades later, and was wearing at the dance in Freising. The name printed on the shirt was Jah Shaka.
Shortly after 23:00, Shaka took over the controls of the beautifully crafted Dandelion Soundsystem – which is truly one of the finest I’ve seen and heard! Even if you don’t know the first thing about sound systems, I think you could appreciate the fine work which had gone into the construction and design of the speaker boxes. And thankfully we didn’t seem to have any sound restrictions, so Shaka seemed happy to push the limits of the sound and give the crowd the true Zulu Warrior experience. For the next 5 hours he took the session on a spiritual journey, and together with the beautiful decorations and lighting which had been set up especially for the night, as well as the energy of an eager crowd who had come from all around the area to hear him play, one could really feel the magic in the air! By the end of the session, everyone was positively buzzing with good vibes! As the sound and decorations all had to be out by 5:00, and we had already played until a bit after 4:00, the crew had less than an hour to pack up! With about 15 people helping out, the task went surprisingly quick. We could tell that this was the work of a dedicated sound system crew with years of practice between them!
Dortmund – October 5th, 2019. After a much too brief sleep, we picked up Shaka for the final leg of the journey – another 500km or more to Dortmund! During this second part of the journey, Shaka seemed more comfortable than he did the day before, and we were soon exchanging some stories along the road and having a nice reasoning! We arrived fairly late, as we had to take a couple breaks along the way, and checked Shaka into the hotel before making our way to our accommodation a few minutes away. Our superstar driver Ira decided to stay there to catch up on some rest before she picked up Shaka, and after a quick shower I grabbed a taxi, making it to the venue with less than an hour until doors opened! With it’s charmingly rough style – which was reminiscent of warehouse raves in the nineties – I was immediately impressed by the aptly named JunkYard, which is a former junkyard (who would have guessed?) on the north side of town. There didn’t seem to be any neighbours around, so that was definitely a good sign! I made my way inside and found the lads from Kunterbunt Soundsystem – who I had known for some years, as well as the sympathetic owner of JunkYard – who I hadn’t met in person up to that point – and his enormous dog who he had inherited when he took over the old junkyard a few years ago. We immediately hit it off, and everything was quite relaxed, despite us having arrived shortly before the session! We had a brief scare when the printer didn’t seem to want to print out the ticket list, but quickly figured it out and wrapped up the final details of the night!
With a slight delay, Kunterbunt began playing their first tunes, and the massive began to show up to the dance. By the time Shaka arrived for the third and final session of the tour, the venue was once again nicely filled, and we made our way through the crowd with Shaka’s infamous array of vinyl-filled suitcases. Shortly after he arrived, people began approaching the control area, asking for autographs and pictures with the mighty Zulu Warrior. It was interesting to see the difference in the crowd compared to the day before, as in Freising everyone seemed to be keeping a respectful distance and left him his space to unpack his records and hang up his banners in Freising. After a few minutes dedicated to the fans, he went backstage to have a little rest, and I did my best to have a little dance despite my growing fatigue!
Sometime after midnight, Shaka began setting up, and Kunterbunt began their final round of tunes. The sound was amazing as always (next to Dandelion, Jah Chalice, Lion’s Den and a few others, definitely one of my favourites in Germany!). As Shaka finally began to warm into his opening selection – his customary array of Bob Marley recordings – the venue was already filled from front to back, and Shaka once again proceeded to push the sound towards its limits, driving the custom-made “JB” pre-amp like a true pro! Like the night before, a lot of people had traveled from the surrounding areas, with a large crew coming from Münster – where Kunterbunt hails from and has steadily built up a solid following since the early 2000’s! For the next 5+ hours the veteran sound system operator proceeded to take the crowd on another musical journey from early roots, reggae and dub, to more modern sounds from the UK and abroad. As always at the Kunterbunt dances, it was a spiritual affair, and by the time Shaka began to play his final tunes and deliver his final speech – the massive was once again feeling positively energised!
On Sunday we still had some time to kill before we headed to the airport, so we stopped in a park in Dortmund and went for a little walk with Shaka, and chatted about the sessions, the sound system scene in Germany, future plans and whatnot. It started to rain a bit, so we jumped back in the van and hit the road to Düsseldorf airport, where we had a nice last meal together before heading to the check-in desk to send Shaka on his way home!
All in all, the tour was a very nice experience! It was really interesting to see the different vibe at each of the three nights, and to get to know some of the German sound system family! Big respect to everyone we met along the way, and to all of the people involved in making these three unique events possible!
Shouts to: Lion’s Den, Dandelion Soundsystem, Kulturimpuls e.V., Kunterbunt Soundsystem, Jimi Handtrix, YAAM Berlin, Lindenkeller Freising, JunkYard Dortmund, Krissi Juls Graphics, Ira, Anja, Teresa, Steffi, Seb and the dozens of other people who lent a helping hand passing out flyers, putting up posters, working the entrance, setting up and taking down the sounds and decorations, and everyone who came from near and far to hear the mighty Zulu Warrior!
Be sure to save the next date – December 7th, 2019 – as we’ll be returning to Mensch Meier in Berlin for three floors of musical magic, with the amazing Moonshine Recordings posse celebrating their 10th anniversary!