Producer, musician, Jah Shaka known as the Zulu Warrior the Jamaican reggae/dub sound system operator who has been operating a South East London-based, roots reggae Jamaican sound system since the early 1970s has died . His name was is an amalgamation of the Rastafarian term for God and that of the Zulu king Shaka Zulu.
Born in Clarendon Parish, Jamaica, an area which has produced numerous roots reggae stars, from Toots Hibbert, Everton Blender, Barrington Levy and to Freddie McGregor.
Young Warrior UK said on Instagram: We smiled, we laughed, we cried, we travelled, we sat, we reasoned, we made music. The love between a child and a parent cannot be measured or under estimated.
My heart, my body hurts BUT the duty continues and your work will never go in vain. To say I love you is a total understatement. I am you and you are me. We are connected in ways I can’t even explain; we sense each other then boom suddenly we see each other on the street, the motorway anywhere. I always know when I will see you; so I also know you will always be around and with me. After the pain the work for me continues and begins. You always knew I would take care of everything and that; I will.
Jah Shaka started out on the Freddie Cloudburst Sound System as an operator, before setting up his own sound system. By the late 1970s Shaka’s system fast gained a large and loyal following due to the combination of spiritual content, high energy rhythms, massive sonority, and his dynamic personal style. That following notably included many of the pioneers of post-punk such as Public Image Ltd and The Slits. In 1980 Shaka played himself in the film Babylon (directed by Franco Rosso, although he directed the scene he appeared in operating his Sound System in a soundclash at the climax of the story.
Shaka stayed true to his spiritual and distinct musical style during the 1980s when many other Sound Systems had started to follow the Jamaican trend towards playing less orthodox styles tending towards slack dancehall music.
In 1989, Shaka visited Jamaica and worked with many musicians there, including King Tubby.
In 2002, Jah Shaka appeared before a large crowd in New York City’s Central Park. Live footage of Shaka is featured in the documentary All Tomorrow’s Parties based on the musical festival, which was released in 2009.
The Jah Shaka Sound System continues to appear regularly in London, with occasional tours of the United States, Europe and Japan.
#WCFF2023 are deeply saddened to hear that the iconic Jamaican & London-based DJ & reggae/dub sound system operator @jahshakamusic has died. In a career spanning over 50 years, Jah Shaka played himself in the 1980 film Babylon (directed by Franco Rosso, although he directed the scene he appeared in, operating his Sound System in a soundclash at the climax of the story. He was also a champion of migrants rights for many years. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans around the world. #RIPJahShaka
On his own record label he has released music from Jamaican artists such as Max Romeo, Johnny Clarke, Bim Sherman and Prince Alla as well as UK groups such as Aswad and Dread & Fred. He has released a number of dub albums, often under the Commandments of Dub banner.
Artists featured on more recent releases include both established singers like Tony Tuff, and new emerging artists like Rockaway and Principle – who have sung over riddims produced by his son Malachi, known as Young Warrior.
On social media the world shared their respects:
Angie Le Mar said on Instagram: A very sad day. My Brother called me to tell me the news of Jah Shaka’s passing. I am absolutely devastated! Waiting for my Mum to wake up and tell her that her Godson Nev has passed, got me sitting on the Veranda. We just spoke to him two weeks ago, talking about getting to Jamaica to’ sart owt ah few tings’, as he would say, told me he was proud to see me looking after Mum, and just blessed me. Every time Nev visited my home he would not be without bags of gifts, so many, the wonderful African outfits we wear, are gifts from Nev, he was a very generous man, taking care of so many, internationally as well, through his many charities. Whenever my Mum was returning to Jamaica, we would have to let Nev know, we can’t carry all the gifts he constantly showered my family with. Always checking on me and family and loved my Mum dearly, great friends, mutual respect! When I say, this is a big loss to the world, I mean it deeply, he was a kind generous soul. I knew him all my life, raised in the same Church, Brockley COGIC, his Mother Missionary Powell and my Mother were close friends, so this is deep. I am sending out my deepest condolences to his family and friends. We have lost a great man and an absolute Legend to the Music Industry RIP ❤️
Yes a cultural icon dear to our hearts pary of the soundtrack to our lives. First felt the power of #JahShaka at 18 yrs old in Phebes club in Hackney; the sound turned on and drew all the power and place went dark; then baseline shook ones bones to the core #africanwarriorspirit
Shaka’s uncompromising “Warrior Style” has inspired a host of new UK reggae artists and Sound Systems such as Eastern Sher, The Disciples, Iration Steppas, Jah Warrior, Channel One Sound System, Conscious Sounds, Aba Shanti-I and Zion Train. Non-reggae artists such as Basement Jaxx have cited Jah Shaka as being their best night out ever.
Jah Shaka events are renowned for attracting a wide audience from all backgrounds, races and ages. His dances attract numbers previously thought unthinkable for this genre of music. Shaka believes it to be a testament to the quality of the message that he expounds in his choice of music and his Rastafarian beliefs. His followers are known to be vocally ardent, and have developed dance steps that resemble African war dances.
Jah Shaka’s music has had a profound influence on genres in the UK like Junglist, a ghetto style born out of the UK soundsystem culture. Jah Shaka’s son Young Warrior has now started his own sound system, to great acclaim. Drum and bass is also deeply influenced by Jah Shaka’s sound system frequencies, and a number of the DJ’s who feature in that genre, such as Congo Natty frequently name check Shaka’s sound. Don Letts has also frequently referenced the influence of Jah Shaka on John Lydon and on the punk scene as a whole.
Shaka has also established the Jah Shaka Foundation to carry out assistance with projects in Ghana, where the foundation has bought 7 acres (28,000 m2) of land in Agri, 30 miles outside of Accra. It has also managed to distribute medical supplies, wheelchairs, library books, carpentry tools, drawing materials and records to clinics, schools and radio stations in the Accra area establishing important links with the local communities. Shaka himself was actually a youth worker years ago, and has regularly been quoted encouraging youths to study geography and history so they know “what’s happened, where it’s happening and who’s doing it”.
He was described as the “greatest soundman that ever lived”.