Soul shack turns 50
A VINTAGE stereo stands out among the numerous plaques and photographs that line the walls of the entertainment area at musicologist Vaughn 'Bunny' Goodison's St Andrew home.
The aged turntable is no simple memento. Along with four 12-inch speaker boxes, it marked the debut of Goodison's sound system, Soul Shack, at Emmet Park in the summer of 1964.
The venue, located at Goodison's alma mater St George's College in central Kingston, was appropriate. He reckons about 800 patrons (mainly past students) showed up that night, rocking to American soul and local ska music.
Fifty years and countless gigs later, Goodison, now in his late 60s, is planning an event to mark Soul Shack's golden anniversary.
When he spoke to the Sunday Observer recently, he seemed more keen to comment on the transformation of Jamaica's sound system culture than celebratory events.
There are more 'sounds' now than when Soul Shack did the rounds, but according to Goodison they lack something he and his contemporaries have.
"Now, it's more commercial than anything else. I don't think people do it for love anymore," he said.
Goodison believes the sound system's role as social mediator has also waned.
"It was the means by which the inner-city underclass got their enjoyment, because they couldn't afford to go to places like the Glassbucket (club). Today, a soun' is more used to promote the deejay dem or a selector."
Soul Shack rarely plays out anymore. Most of Goodison's musical time is spent hosting the long-running and popular 'Rhythms' show on Hot 102 FM.
He started Soul Shack in what many consider the golden age of sound systems.
But it was more than music. Playing in some of Kingston's tough communities helped shape his social awareness. He was a member of the Trench Town High School board for over 25 years and helped broker the West Kingston 'peace treaty' that halted conflict between political factions there during the late 1970s.
One of the first dances Goodison attended as a teenager was by the Merritone sound system out of St Thomas. Winston Blake, whose father started Merritone, played at that event.
He agrees with Goodison that although contemporary Jamaican sound systems are more advanced technologically, few owners care for the history of the movement.
"We came up in the '60s when Jamaica was peaking in the best of who we are," said Blake. "If you wanted to get in the sound system circle you had to have knowledge of the thing because that's how people emerged in those days."
Interestingly, Bunny Goodison left Jamaica shortly after his Emmet Park date in 1964. He went to New York City to play semi-pro football and study electronics but returned after only three months.
"Bwoy, a couldn't tek the concrete," he laughed.
He was more at home manning the turntables for Soul Shack which made its name in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, a transitional period for Jamaica.
For Goodison, it was a time of personal satisfaction.
"The quality of life may not have been the best for a lot of people but there was a feeling of love and sharing. It was great being part of that with Soul Shack."