INTERVIEW: David Rodigan

Debi Ghose, presenter of the Brixton Allstars radio show, met reggae DJ David Rodigan at the Kiss 100 studios in Central London

Where did your love for reggae come from?

My love for reggae started in the ‘60s when I heard Blue Beat ska records and I heard songs such as ‘Phoenix City’ by The Skatalites. ‘My Boy Lollipop’ was a key record, and it was indicative of this new wave of music which had come in from the West Indies that was called ska. That was in 1964. I fell in love with this crazy backbeat then, which had this tremendous energy and was so exciting to listen to and dance to. I couldn’t understand some of the Patois on the records, but that made it even more interesting – having to discover what was being said on the more rootical recordings. In the summer of ’67, ‘0.0.7’ by Desmond Dekker and the Aces went into the British pop charts and the music really had arrived. As I collected these records, I got invited to DJ at people’s parties.

How did you progress from being a party DJ to becoming a broadcaster?

Well, I’d studied speech and drama, and was still collecting this music, then in 1978, there was a job going on BBC Radio London to present the Sunday lunchtime reggae show -Reggae Time. The presenter, Steve Barnard was leaving and they were looking for new presenters, and I got an audition and passed it.

Was it difficult gaining credibility as a reggae DJ as a white person?

It was in the sense that I was the only white presenter at the audition, and they actually stopped my audition and told me that although I knew a lot about the music… they were telling me point blank they were looking for a black presenter. I understood that perfectly because it was hard enough for a black person to get a broadcasting job in those days – why shouldn’t somebody with a West Indian background get a job as a reggae presenter? It made perfect sense. It wasn’t until several weeks later when I got a telegram to say they had played the audition tape to producers and record companies in the reggae circle, and they had all said, ‘You should use this guy.’ But what happened was that people were listeningto the show for a considerable amount of time before I got any public appearances, and they had assumed that I was a black Londoner – they got quite a shock at my first live gig.

Do you think reggae is still thriving in the U.K.?

I think it is still thriving, and thanks to Fabric, the FabricLive CD that I made and other DJs and so on involved in this music, there’s a movement within a young audience not from a West Indian background, who are finding this music fascinating. They are becoming interested because it has such a tremendous history to it, and that’s the difference between reggae and a lot of modern music. And reggae is moving, it’s very soulful, you can’t listen to ‘Satta Massagana’ by the Abyssinians and not be haunted by it, you can’t listen to any recording by Bob Marley really and not be moved by it. I defy anyone to listen to the Black Heart Man album by Bunny Wailer or Bob Andy’s Songbook album and not be moved.

Where is the home of British reggae currently?

Brixton is still very much the heartbeat of reggae music, simply because it has had an indigenous West Indian population since the ‘50s, Brixton Market and so on – its culture has been very much geared towards the West Indian communities that live within it, and you can still hear reggae on a regular basis – whether it’s on street corners, markets or coming out of car windows. I do a regular session at the Hootananny once a month, and I used to play at Mass every week. Brixton is very much the heartbeat of reggae music, andI think always will be.

David Rodigan DJs at the Reggae Train, Brixton Hootananny on the last Thursday of every month.