Jazzie B: Classic creations

By Scott Kara

Jazzie B from Soul II Soul talks to Scott Kara about club culture and being pioneers of the sound system.

Jazzie B had lofty ambitions for Soul II Soul. Photo / Supplied
Jazzie B had lofty ambitions for Soul II Soul. Photo / Supplied

One of Soul II Soul's most famous tunes, Keep On Movin', came about when a party at Covent Garden venue the Africa Centre - kind of like the group's spiritual home - got shut down by the cops in the late 1980s.

It's also founder Jazzie B's favourite song from the back catalogue of the British club-R&B-soul group and soundsystem.

"Truly, it's my favourite because of the sentiment and what it is all about it," he says on the phone from London ahead of their opening night slot at Splore on February 17. "We got raided by the police at King St, at the African Centre, and it was a case of us not letting that sort of thing hold us down. We're goin' to keep on movin'. That's why for me it's one of the most significant songs."

And, almost 25 years on, Soul II Soul are still going, albeit with some comings and goings, breaks, and a few dodgy musical offerings over the years.

Keep On Movin' was one of the many standouts on Soul II Soul's debut album Club Classic's Vol.

One from 1989.

"The whole record was ground-breaking," says Jazzie B unashamedly. He's right. It's a classic. There's the 80s house oonst-meets-disco of Happiness, the deep funk and cooing serenade of Feel Free, and then the beautiful a cappella version of global hit Back To Life sung by Caron Wheeler (who still tours with the group).

The Soul II Soul philosophy and sound is perhaps best summed up by Jazzie B's rhyme "a happy face, a funking bass for a loving race" from Jazzie's Groove, the last song on Club Classics. So basically, it's sophisticated and soulful arse-shaking music.

He got his first sound system up and running in 1977. "Now, everyone and their mums are a sound system," he chuckles. But the real roots of Soul II Soul started taking hold when Jazzie B and his cohorts - among them Bristol producer Nellee Hooper who has gone on to work with the likes of Madonna, Bjork and Massive Attack - became one of the leading underground sound systems in the 80s.

"I've always described Soul II Soul as a sound system that's a way of life so we bring the music to the people. Back in the old days it wasn't as controlled as it is these days where you have to go into a club or whatever, but for us we see it as a way of life. And we see ourselves as a vehicle and we play the type of music we play for people to enjoy ourselves," he says.

"I take great pride in the fact that we were the post-70s instigators of the mobile sound system featuring different artists which has now become almost like an industry standard. We are the original, traditional sound system with the MC, the singers, and that's what Soul II Soul is about."

Back in the 80s though they had a master plan for world domination when they came up with the songs for Club Classics Vol. One.

"We were playing as a sound system all over the world - and America was very acute to what was going on, and so was most of Europe. So [by releasing an album] our idea was that we would become the biggest sound system in the world, meaning that everybody else would have to play our music, which is the biggest accolade you could probably ever get.

"And the whole club scene was developing, so I guess we were in the right place at the right time in terms of our ideas."

They came pretty close to living up to those lofty ambitions, especially with Back To Life being a chart topper in Britain and a top five hit in the US. But with success, they became, as Jazzie B puts it, a victim of their own circumstance and they never had it as good again.

"That level of success is one of the greatest problems one could ever have," he laughs.

The popularity of the group floundered, and it wasn't helped by the fact their recorded output has been fickle, apart from the excellent Vol. II: 1990 - A New Decade, the follow up to their debut.

Not that Jazzie B is down about it - and besides the legacy of Club Classics Vol. One lives on in more ways than one.

"Everyone of us, even today, who was involved in the record however large or small, everyone is still eating food from it."

LOWDOWN

Who: Soul II Soul founder Jazzie B
Where & when: Splore, Feb 17-19. Main stage, Friday, 10.30pm
Listen to: Club Classics Vol. One (1989); Vol. II: 1990 - A New Decade (1990)

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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