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Jazzie B: Back II his roots

SOUND MAN: Jazzie B

CALL JAZZIE B on the phone and you might expect him to answer from the studio. Or perhaps you’d assume he’d be preparing for his next gig.

But on this occasion, the renowned British DJ was in the garden.

“I’m just trimming the trees and that kind of stuff,” he revealed, as the sound of chirping birds rang out in the background. Who knew the soul star, dubbed ‘The Original Funki Dred’ was green-fingered?

“I’m not really, but it’s our heritage, innit? We’re agricultural people,” he laughs. “We can run but we can’t hide!”

If you find the image of Jazzie B pruning trees difficult to get your head around, you’d be forgiven. After all, the founding father of pioneering British group Soul II Soul is far better known for his work as a DJ and producer.

With the music maestro, born Trevor Romeo, frequently performing sets both at home and abroad, does he struggle to find the time for non-music related work?

“God makes the time, we have to live in it,” says the 53-year-old, who was born in London to Antiguan parents. “It’s about time management. And as I’m getting more experienced in life, I’m learning how to adjust and how to truly appreciate the fundamental things in life.”

Considering himself a God-fearing man – “Yeah, I believe so; I was raised like that,” he confirms – Jazzie is in a seemingly philosophical phase of life. Perhaps wisdom has come with age.

“I think it’s just wisdom, I’m not sure about the age,” laughs the married father-of-two. “But yeah, as you get older and you start burying people – old and young – it puts things into perspective and makes you wanna give thanks for life.”

Indeed the soul pioneer has a lot to “give thanks” for. From his early years playing sound system dances with his school friend Philip ‘Daddae’ Harvey, to giving life to what is, arguably, the UK’s best-known and most enduring soul collective, Jazzie has come a long way.

Jazzie and Daddae began playing mainly reggae via their north London sound system, Jah Rico. But after three years, the pair’s sound evolved and they became a soul and funk outfit – and so, Soul II Soul was born.

The collective made a name for themselves in the early 80s, through their dances, which saw youngsters of all races raving together. A true reflection of young London, it was fitting that Soul II Soul’s slogan became ‘A happy face, a thumpin’ bass, for a lovin’ race.’

The group’s rising popularity led to their legendary parties at the Africa Centre in London’s Covent Garden, which would soon mark the turning point for the black British music scene. The group’s cultural impact, thanks to their fresh sound and youthful image, caught the attention of Virgin Records who signed them in 1988, marking the early beginnings of international success.

With concert tours, club nights across the world, and, of course, chart success with the smash hit singles, Keep on Movin’ and Back To Life (the latter scooped the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group in 1990), Soul II Soul was on a roll.

Add to that a range of clothing that was emblazoned with the Funki Dred logo, and the group had created both music and a movement.


BACK IN THE DAY: Jazzie B in his earlier years

“We derived from a sound system and it was almost like it was a case of right time, right place,” Jazzie reflects on Soul II Soul’s beginnings. “With the press – guys like yourselves [The Voice], who were involved with this slew of talents from the next generation – we were able to talk about ourselves, from our perspective.

“I think that had a massive impact on everything, especially artists that followed. Because we went from talking to people who didn’t really understand what we were about, to people who also lived and could relate to our experience.”

He continues: “Soon enough, America latched on to what was going on in Britain. And the fact that we [in Britain] often gravitate to our own history via America, it meant that there was even greater focus on what was happening here. And it really was something.

“You were seeing dark-skinned black people on the screen, who were dressed in a way that people of that generation could relate to. Gone were the days of us wearing frilly shirts or trying to dress like the O Jays! It was a new style for a new generation.”

Often dubbed a pioneer for giving British soul a fresh and youthful renaissance, Jazzie says that part of Soul II Soul’s success came down to people waiting for the next “big thing.”

“What happened with Soul II Soul is that not only was there the music, but there was also an identity that I don’t believe existed before,” says Jazzie, who was awarded an OBE in 2008.“You had skinheads, you had Teddy Boys, you had rockers – but we didn’t really have an identity. We were just black.


SWEET MUSIC: Jazzie B with Soul II Soul vocalist Caron Wheeler

“And then there was punk, which was very quintessentially English, and that really sparked the evolution of youth. And post-punk, there was almost an anticipation for what would come next. With opportunity and timing, we were the next big thing to come along.”

Still going strong, Soul II Soul has a series of dates lined up for the rest of the year, including Let’s Rock Southampton, V Festival, and a special pre-Christmas show at London’s Koko.

Though the collective has no plans for retirement, how would Jazzie like Soul II Soul to go down in history?

“Like the sound system of sound systems,” he says. “There were a lot of political things happening at the time we came through that we were a by-product of. So I’d like us to be remembered almost like a conduit to our history.

“What happened with Soul II Soul could never happen again. As long as we’re remembered in a positive light, that’s a powerful thing.”

As for Jazzie, despite his many accolades, he defines himself quite simply.

“I am a sound man,” he enthuses. “Every day, I live the music – I’m a sound man through and through.”

Soul II Soul will perform at Koko, London on December 4. For more information, visit soul2soul.co.uk

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