June 26, 2016
By: Kimberley Small
The three Italians had a way of speaking over each other. Sometimes they allowed the other to finish a sentence, just so they could speedily add their own. It was apparent that they all had the same thoughts, and were all excitedly trying to convey identical opinions and reasons for embracing reggae and dancehall as their musical expression. It was a cacophonous conversation, but one that demonstrated that Nando, Fabio and Rico of the Sud Sound System, all wanted to say the same thing.
Sud Sound System is, as the name suggests, a sound system. But they are also a band, based and formed in Salento, a southern region of Italy. The three Italians travelled to Jamaica earlier this month, at the behest of stalwart Jamaican singer Richie Stephens. While touring with the Ska Nation Band, Stephens was introduced to the musical collective who have been performing reggae and dancehall with commitment and enthusiasm for the past 25 years.
In the 1980s, with the international spread of reggae and dancehall, places like Italy were introduced to people like Yellowman and Bob Marley. Also in the 1980s, while Jamaica was in political turmoil, Italians suffered the threat of the Mafia. Similarly, the group parallels the treatment of the dialect of southern Italy with Jamaican Patois, as a language form befitting only those of the lower-class majority.
“It is our identity,” Nando said, noting the shame often aligned with broken speech.
Though the real convergence, the group agreed, was the similarity in bass culture.
“Bass culture,” Nando and Fabio nodded emphatically between each other.
“G Major, G Major!” Rankin Lele (an Italian sound engineer who works closely with the Ska Nation Band) exclaimed, while plucking at an imaginary bass guitar. According to Lele, when the G Major chord is played repeatedly and with increasing speed, it affects the human brain, eventually inciting a euphoric feeling. He likened the repeated drum and bass patterns in reggae and dancehall to the pizzica or the tarantella, an old fast and frenzied folk dance, performed to music played with the same frantic energy. It was believed centuries ago to be the cure for a tarantula’s bite. Curiously, the Sud Sound System connects this archaic part of their cultural history to the reaction they get when they play dancehall and reggae music to their audiences in Italy and across Europe.
“Sud Sound System is a very big deal,” Lele told The Sunday Gleaner, revealing that the group regularly plays for crowds of tens of thousands of people. “Ask anyone if they know Salento. Of course, they know it!” he continued. The ‘anyone’ Lele refers to are Jamaican artistes who have musically collab-orated with Sud Sound System. Among these, Lele lists Morgan Heritage, Capleton, Sizzla, Bling Dawg, RDX, and Luciano as some of the artistes the group has worked with.
REGGAE AS A WEAPON
When asked what inspired their dedication to Jamaican music, the response was buffeted around in a jumble of words that eventually come together through Nando.
“Reggae is the weapon,” he said unsmilingly. “Unite, we win. Wake up the conscience,” he continued. The most outstanding similarity the group finds between Jamaican and Italian music is that it serves as a vital aspect of the nation’s culture, particularly from the perspective of the lower-class majority.
“We have guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, full band,” Nando said in an attempt to provide the level of dedication the group has. “But we are also sound system,” Rico was quick to add.