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(L-R) BAMBII, organizer Alanna Stuart (shot by May Truong), and Nino Brown.

Rewind/Forward Turns The Volume Up On Soundsystem Culture in Toronto

The public art exhibit at Bloor & Bathurst celebrates Jamaica’s sizeable influence on the city's music culture.

by Andrea Nazarian

Photos by Jorian Charlton

Reggae vocals. Dub rhythms. Dancehall melodies. Jamaica’s influence on global music culture is undeniable. From Drake sampling island flows to bassheads thrashing to jungle and DnB at raves, Jamaica’s musical impact is everywhere. And while Toronto has the world’s third largest Jamaican diaspora, the Jamaican people who birthed these cultural contributions are often overlooked.

Caribbean-Canadian artist, music producer, curator and researcher Alanna Stuart conceptualized Rewind/Forward to shift this narrative. Rewind/Forward is a multimedia installation offering a full view of Jamaican-Torontonian soundsystem culture across eras, genres, and communities. 

The term ‘soundsystem culture’ refers to a music culture born in Jamaica in the late 1940s and early 1950s that revolved around bombastic street parties and booming music. Jamaicans hand-built their own intricate speaker systems, using them to blast out records to communities across the island. Soundsystem culture spread quickly throughout Jamaica, and created a form of artistic expression that celebrated community, music, and a love of island life. 

“Soundsystem culture is the foundation of all Jamaican music,” Stuart says. “It was a tool of rebellion for the poor people of Jamaica who couldn’t access radio and couldn’t get their messages or music on it. And here was this technology that was invented by Jamaicans who said ‘Fuck it. If you don’t want to play us, we’re going to create a piece of technology so loud that it’s going to blast across these neighbourhoods,’ and they popularized their own music in doing so.”

The Rewind/Forward public art installation at Bloor and Bathurst features monumental portraits, taken by Jamaican-Canadian photographer Jorian Charlton, of five renowned Toronto selectors (DJs) and soundsystem owners: Heather “Live Wire” Bubb-Clarke, Tasha Rozez, Ace Dillinger, Nino Brown, and Bambii.  

Part retrospective, part forecast – Rewind/Forward is accompanied by a website hosting video shorts, custom music mixes, and audio documentaries with personal stories spanning pre-Independence Jamaica to Toronto rave futures.

“The purpose of printing such large photographs and putting them on buildings where they can’t be missed is to insist on the presence of Jamaican people that birthed these cultural pillars we love,” Stuart says. “It’s also to inspire curiosity in the absence of soundsystem culture – that has influenced Toronto music culture – but isn’t visible in the same way as, say, London at something like Notting Hill Carnival.” 

“I want people to recognize that we exist. This exhibit is not just for the Jamaican or the Black or Caribbean community to learn from. We think of this identity of multiculturalism that Canada hangs its hat on. And when I think about being on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the multiculturalism act and welcoming people to this country, I ask myself, how prepared are we to actually nurture the people whose cultural forms we form our identity with?”

Rewind/Forward happens at a fully accessible site in the historically Jamaican Bloor & Bathurst neighbourhood at 845 Bathurst St. (formerly One Love Vegetarian) | MORE INFO