Category Archives: photography

People Reality: An Interview with Kenny Knots

Some will undoubtedly have heard of Kenny Knots through his work with a wide range of UK and European producers from Mungo’s Hi Fi to ManassehCultural Warriors to Jah Warrior.  Others may know him as the one-time singjay on northeast London’s Unity Hi Fi where he recorded digi dancehall hits like “Run Come Call Me” “Watch How The People Dem Dancing” and “Ring Up My Number“.  I met Kenny Knots in June of 2008 at his studio in Leyton, Northeast London, where we talked for an hour or so about his music, London sound systems, sound-tapes and videos, and a range of other topics.  Joining me on the bus ride to Leyton was Pras who is responsible for taking these photos.  There is some talk online of a solo album coming soon on Scotch Bonnet records, so keep an eye out for that along with any other Kenny Knots releases and please do enjoy the interview.

How did you get your start in music?

I spent some time back in the day in the first studio producing Unity music which was Must Dance International–which is Jah Bunny, Ruddy Ranks, Redeye, Elroy from Black Slate.  You know all these kinda people around so I got a pretty early insight to wha gwan inside the studio environment, so it was always kinda good on that behalf.  And I always had ideas, I could go to a dance and not, like–you have some singers and some deejays they rehearse very hard even to go to a dancehall, you know.  But I be the kinda man that don’t do much rehearsing, like on that department.  You know, just go in a dance, hear something ina your head, you know and say bwoy a dat me a go with and you just spit off a thing–like you just sing a thing or you deejay a thing, because I do a bit of both, you know, inside of the music industry I sing, I singjay, I do a bit of deejay, I do a bit of this, do a bit of that.  I try to fill my life with the music still, no matter how it a come from, you know, even a guy give me a link the other day who does dubstep and stuff like that and some minimal kind of beats.  And, you know, to be a artist would you only paint houses, or would you only paint cars, you know or would you only do drawings and never do paintings–so I look at it in that perspective.  For me, music is an all around thing, when I first started working inside of this place here and doing my little thing its like, people were sent to me that done r&b and stuff like that.  I could have turned them away and said I’m a roots purist, or try and learn from the experience and I chose to deal with the experience and find out what comes from it.  And it was fun I done about seven months of recording, like trying to create beats in a different style–which is nothing to do with where like perhaps I eat my bread from, but it was all very good and I cherish them moments. So, a so it go .

Who were the big sound systems in your area and what artists were you influenced by?

Well, influenced by, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, D Brown, you know.  The one that really give me the kickstart was I heard Nitty Gritty, and I never heard any kind of singing like that in my life!  I said bwoy me haffi try that style deh–and I tried it, and I went down to the Must Dance studio, I kept singing this song over and over and over: watch how the people them dancing, watch how the dance crowd dancing and the man say you know something, mek we voice a tune. And, my first time really in front of a microphone, you know like, in a studio with headphones on it was new, different to like just singing outside–there was a few people in the studio at the time and there was words coming–put in that word there and put in that word there. You know, and we put them in and Redeye and Ruddy, who really kinda arranged the music for Must Dance, they say alright then boom–sing that piece twice, sing that piece once, come back with that piece deh thats a nice likkle phrase  try that one deh again. And it was about maybe five, six hours, seven hours and the tune was voiced up, it was sounding good.  I struggled badly on harmonies, didn’t know anything about harmonies and stuff like that, but they said come on, you can do it.  So thats how “Watch How The People Dem Dancing” was created, and I felt more confident in myself as an artist coming along, you know, young fresh and green.  Obviously at the time it wasn’t very much like–you know you had like Johnny Osbourne and them and Tony Tuff and they was releasing their music like conscious ites, but you also had the other side which was like, very dancehall–light, about girls and stuff like that, you know.  And I went ahead with that like “Ring Up My Number” and stuff like that and, you know, same thing, just moving up the fire every single time.  And even around here–because that was kinda Hackney, Stoke Newington side–like this side, Leyton, Leytonstone, Walthamstow, there was a few little sounds from round this side deh.  As a youth I had a sound called Boss Intruder, with a brethren called Beefy, you know and so forth, it was a lovely time.  We never had many speakers, we never had many amps, and we used to play like in house parties–them times it was alright to have a house party and like, you jam for the whole night.  Now you’ll get in trouble straight away with the police and rae rae.  So even at that time deh, buying a preamp, we got a guy called Reese to build us a preamp, and it was silver and it looked like a bomb, it was sloping like that.  When we was on the bus with the preamp someone said to me, like, what is that thing you’ve got in your hand and me say bwoy its a thing to play music.  Ohh its a thing to play music okay, so what’s this button do? And at the time I didn’t really know what the button done yet cause we just picked it up I was bringing it home to go and play it, so I was like I dunno that ones the bass, that ones the treble.  You know, long time inside of the sound system thing.

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Filed under dub, interviews, london, photography, reggae, uk

Pongalo Picotero

Its been a while since I last posted photos from Barranquilla here, so here are a few more shots.  As you may know from earlier posts, my girlfriend Carlota and I spent a few months in Colombia last year, during which time we were able to soak in as much music and sound system culture as our schedule would allow.   Many of the illustrations seen here are the works of William Gutiérrez and of Eddy from Soledad (whose last name I’m not sure of EDIT: It turns out that Eddy is the same person as Edilberto de la Hoz, who constructed my own replica picó.  Thanks to Fabian for clearing that up) I think a lot of what catches people’s interest about picós (sound systems/pick-ups) is the distinct style of decoration and adornment with the fluorescent colors, psychedelic portraits, and boasty tag-lines.  When I first started reading up on Colombia’s music scene and looked through some of the old pictures that Fabian has compiled at Africolombia, I was immediately fixated on the whole aesthetics of of the picó–from the shapes of the speaker boxes to the lettering, the texture, to the adoption of characters from music, politics and pop culture.  A small slice of this audacious style can be glimpsed in the photographs on this post.  If you would like to learn more about the painters and illustrators behind this popular art form, and can read some spanish, I direct you to Fukafra–a blog created by Dairo Barriosnuevo, himself a Barranquilla resident, visual artist, and popular historian.  There you will find detailed discussions of painters like Belimastth, Alcur, Gerson, and Dairo himself–valuable historical context for the aesthetic captured in the images below and above.

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Filed under b/quilla, champeta, colombia, photography

Photographic Graphic: Gladdy Wax

I stumbled across this picture today and thought it would be a nice one to share here.  Prasanna Balasundaram, my good friend and at that time neighbor, took this shot of the Gladdy Wax crew in action at Clissold Park in the Stoke Newington area of London.  An elder statesman of the North London reggae scene, Gladdy Wax ran a record shop in Stoke Newington for many years, and has operated his beloved sound system for over three decades.  Before establishing himself in London, Gladdy cut his chops in Birmingham on the infamous Quaker City sound (more info here).

P also took the photo that is on the header graphic of this blog, along with many others documenting revival sound system events around London in the spring and summer months of 2008.  I will continue to post some of my favorites of these images in an ongoing series here, so–maximum respect to Prasanna Balasundaram out of Toronto, Canada.  Don’t stop shooting my friend!

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Filed under dancehall, photography, reggae, uk