Reggae icon David Rodigan touched down in Bristol last month to celebrate the release of his memoir Rodigan: My Life in Reggae. Recognised for dominating the radio airwaves since the late 70s and picking up cups across the world in sound clash tournaments, this award-winning broadcaster has more than a tale or two to tell.
Hosted by Bristol bass enthusiasts The Blast, Rodigan joined DJ and radio presenter/producer Tayo for a special Q&A session at Colston Hall, followed by an intimate dublate set from his vintage collection in The Lantern, with DJ sets from Smith & Mighty and The Blast DJs.
Sitting on a sofa on the main stage, with a vinyl player placed on a nearby coffee table, Rodigan took the audience back to the moment he first heard Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop, sparking his love for reggae as a young boy, right through to the moment he bumped into Bob Marley in a stairwell, which later landed him an interview and an exclusive first-ever play of Marley’s, Could You Be Loved on his Capital FM radio show.
The reggae legend was at home sharing anecdotes, whilst giving the audience a whistle stop tour of some of his favourite dub and reggae anthems. The crackle and pop as he played a King Tubby cut dubplate brought emphasis to the rarity of the records audience members were now witnessing, and the award-winning broadcaster’s passion that accompanied each record played brought the music to life as it vibrated across the hall. Before the show, Nitelife was lucky enough to grab a few words from the MBE-awarded DJ moments before he set foot on stage.
My first trip to Jamaica in January 1979, after being on air for five months, was a very special time for me
‘I’d have to say the best chapter of my life began when I started working in radio. Even though I have loved doing theatre and television work as an actor, radio enabled me to meet the stars of the music I had admired for so many years. I was getting high on my own supply, so to speak.
‘My first trip to Jamaica in January 1979, after being on air for five months, was a very special time for me. To be honest, my initial period in radio as a whole was incredibly exciting and rewarding, because no sooner had I started broadcasting, I found myself in Jamaica meeting music legends.’
Reggae music has been the heart and soul of Rodigan’s life from a young age, he could often be found at his local record store, checking out the latest 45s.
‘Reggae speaks for the people and it always has done. When I say the people, I mean from all walks of life. I think one of the greatest reggae songs to touch my soul is Feeling Soul by Bob Andy. It’s about being true to one another, being kind and gentle to each other and giving your best when it is asked of you. That song spoke to me personally and I know it has spoken to millions of other people as well.
‘If we look at the repertoire of Bob Marley alone, never mind Bunny Wailer or The Abyssinians, there’s a passion and a soul in these recordings that you cannot help but be touched by, in my opinion. When you hear this music for the first time, the lyrics, the melodies, the sweetness of harmonies, and the beautiful production, it’s difficult not to be moved by it. That’s what happened to me, and so many other people worldwide. This music touches people’s souls – that’s what it does.’
Bass-driven music has always played a major part in people’s lives
As Rodigan reflected back on how reggae music changed his life, he observed how the UK sound system culture, that’s now championed by a younger generation as well as its veterans, continues to thrive. ‘Bass-driven music has always played a major part in people’s lives. Dub music, for one reason or another, has led to drum and bass, then dubstep and, again now seems to be even more popular with young people.
‘I don’t know what it is about dub music, but it seems to turn on younger people more than older people. It certainly turned me on, too. I think there is a wonderful direct heritage that stretches back to the late fifties, not just here in Bristol, but in other major cities where West Indians came to live and brought their music and culture with them. Because it is a passionate music form, I think it is inevitable that if you’re given the opportunity to hear it in context on a sound system, where people are appreciating the music, it’s going to be difficult to not become excited by it.
‘I know this to be true with young people, because I see the looks on their faces at festivals when they see somebody like me, who is old enough to be their dad or grandad, playing these songs and responding to them.’
For over 40 years, David Rodigan has been one to look to for new music, so it was only right to ask as our conversation came to an end; who’s on the DJ’s radar this year?
I would definitely say you need to listen out for Chronixx, he is an incredibly gifted songwriter with some very refreshing views about the world
‘I would definitely say you need to listen out for Chronixx, he is an incredibly gifted songwriter with some very refreshing views about the world. He’s got a new album coming out with a reggae and gospel fusion. His comments on gospel music were very touching when I interviewed him last year in Jamaica. It was a real eye opener to hear the things he said in connection with gospel music and what it meant to him as a young boy.’
To hear more stories from the iconic reggae selector, be sure to pick up his book Rodigan: My Life In Reggae. It’ll be a struggle to put it down.
Rodigan.com // Words by Abi Lewis // Photography by Khali Ackford