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1000 Volts of Lullabies

“My mother played tape cassettes for me to fall asleep to, the orchestral bass heavy rhythms embellished with the smooth vocal cords of Ken Boothe, Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis were my lullabies.”

 I remember dancing to Midnight Starr’s Headlines in a basement at a Notting Hill carnival after party in 1986. I was ten. I was a seasoned ‘sound gyal’ with a role in my father’s sound system, JOE 90 Hi-Power that he had built  in the early 1980s. Joe 90 was a nickname that my father was given at John  Kelly Boys’ secondary school, because of his thick-rimmed glasses. Joe 90 was the child super-spy in the 1970s television series. I was the turntable  carrier, door opener, door holder, lift holder, dancer. The single turntable was my responsibility, walking from the high-rise blocks to the venue. I was big  enough to carry a piece of equipment, but small enough to squeeze past the box boys. I would dance in the middle of the dancefloor and warmed up the dance, well at least in my mind. A regular booking for JOE 90 was on Friday and/or Saturday night at the Granville Centre, on Granville Road, Kilburn. Nepotism granted me access to this big people space, where I raved with people more than twice my age.  

Embodied memories of this sound history have lain dormant for al most twenty years, including knowledge of record covers like Bob Marley  and The Wailers Catch a Fire and Rupert Holmes’ Escape (The Piña Colada Song); and artists like Frankie Paul and Marcia Griffiths. Which reminds me of my mother telling me off for singing the lyrics to Ian Drury’s Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. My mother played tape cassettes for me to fall asleep to, the orchestral bass heavy rhythms embellished with the smooth vocal chords of Ken Boothe, Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis were my lullabies. I recently realised that John Holt’s 1000 Volts of Holt was one of my many childhood soundtracks. 

In hindsight, my learning was visceral, and had become prominent when my two sisters and I formed Legs Eleven sound system, after playing out at an annual family gathering in our mother’s back garden in the  summer of 2011. We had practiced wiring up the sound system (set) many times before, but that was in practice at HQ (dad’s house), however this  preparation was no match for the angst and nerves as newly-formed sound  women. It was our first time lifting, loading and wiring up equipment. We were out on our own, and the only help we were offered was in the unloading of the equipment. We must have done something right, because we subsequently played our first gig at The Falcon public house, Queen’s Park in November of that year. 

Our father, Daddy 90, gave us the name, Legs Eleven, and handed  down his 7-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch record collection, as well as collections from other prominent North West London sound systems, Auto-Funk and  90s Vigilante. In addition, we grew up around the teachings of Rastafari and  Nyabinghi drumming, and dance has played a significant role in all our lives. Rare groove, soul, funk, R n B, house, and reggae derivatives, lovers’ rock, jungle and garage music capture emotional nuances and propel people to dance. The spiritual power of reggae music transcends global, racial and  generational boundaries to tell stories through, of, and about the oppressed and their resistance. Legs Eleven is Mics-woman (Mili Red), DJ (Princess) and me, Selecta/Operata (Xuxu). In the 1990s, Mili Red was an MC under the name Miss Military, and Princess was a singer/songwriter, who could  already beat match on vinyl. We occupy a unique space as sound women, and our biggest fan is our father, with his unorthodox teaching style. His ability to learn and teach challenges the pessimism of dyslexia and dyspraxia. Imagery, colour, sound, symbols, texture and space are just some of  the tools that he employs to pass on all that he knows about sound system culture.

Yassmin V. Foster 

Yassmin V. Foster is a scholar, artist, academic and sound (system) woman based in London, UK. She is a proponent of work that challenges the sup position that movement and dance created by black people are unworthy of scholarly investigation and validity. Yassmin is a Stuart Hall PhD Scholar at Goldsmiths University, she holds a BA (Hons) Anthropology and Media and  MA Choreomundus – International Master in Dance Knowledge, Practice  and Heritage. She has worked extensively in the arts, culture and education  and has presented her research across the UK, and in the US. Her current  research investigates ‘The Kinetic Architectural Experience of Black People  Through Lovers’ Rock in Britain, 1970 – 1980’. She champions interdisciplinary, cross-cultural and multi art-form collaborative journeys, whilst advocating for dance as intangible cultural heritage. 

© Yassmin Foster 

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