Jah Shaka in New York City, 2002
|Genres||Roots reggae, R&B, dub|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano|
|1968 to present|
|Labels||Jah Shaka Music|
Jah Shaka has been operating a South East London-based, roots reggae Jamaican sound system since the early 1970s. His name is an amalgamation of the Rastafarian term for God and that of the Zulu king Shaka Zulu.
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 had rapidly 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.
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.
On 23 September 2000 he suffered numerous injuries during a house fire.
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.
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.
Shaka's uncompromising "Warrior Style" has inspired a host of new UK reggae artists and Sound Systems such as Eastern Sher, The Disciples, Irration Steppas, Jah Warrior, Channel One Sound System, Conscious Sounds, The Rootsman, 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.
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".