The Reggae Legend David Rodigan has been Dubbed the “Gentleman Rudeboy” after championing Jamaican music for the past 40 years via a number of London’s radio stations (currently broadcasting on BBC 1Xtra). His DJ sets consist of reggae, dancehall, rocksteady and drum n bass and next year he’ll be bringing his high energy set to Splore as he makes his New Zealand debut. We caught up with the British reggae genius to talk about his 40th anniversary in music, being awarded an MBE and why he’s looking forward to playing Splore.
First off Congratulations on your 40th anniversary in the music industry! What’s been your highlights?
It’s been an incredible journey, one of the highlights has to be performing with the Outlook Orchestra in march 2018, we sold out the Royal Festival Hall on the southbank and we had special guest vocalist passing through singing Jamaican classics. Basically what I did was trace the origins of the music right back to the early 60’s with the scarre instrumentals and worked my way up into rock steady and then into jungle and dubstep to showcase the influence that the music has had across the decades. It was a great concert and it went down extremely well and we’ve actually just sold out the Royal Albert Hall for March 2019, so it’s been an amazing year. The BBC made a documentary about my career, using my narrative to reflect Britain's love affair with the music of Jamaica, it’s called ‘Reggae Fever: David Rodigan’, so in terms of wonderful things happening in my 40th anniversary, frankly I couldn’t have asked for anything better, it’s been incredible. I am very proud and very fortunate to do something that I love so dearly and share it with like minded souls.
Just taking it back a little bit to when you first started out, what drew you to reggae music?
It all started in the 60’s! It was the summer of 67, I was 16 and we heard this captivating music being played on pirate radio in the north sea and it was called ska and it was infectious! We were crazy about this music from Jamaica because it was completely different. The beat was back to front and it was so powerfully infectious, the momentum within the music in phenomenal and we couldn't understand some of the vocal tracks but then we were wowed by Prince Buster and The Wailers. There was a major gear change when rock steady came about and then came reggae and then roots rock reggae. The Wailers album classify was the keystone, I got hooked like everyone else and nowhere more so than down in NZ. The reggae bands in New Zealand like Kora and The Black Seeds make really authentic passionate reggae music and stay true to the origins of reggae music. Joe Dukie has the most incredible voice and not many singers have a distinctive vocal like he does, so there is a scene in NZ that I wasn't as aware of until my son came back and told me all about it.
You’re making your NZ Debut at Splore next year, are you looking forward to it?
Absolutely and I have to tell you having seen what i’ve seen online I can’t wait! It’s the most amazing setting, what i’ve seen on YouTube is just incredible.
What made you want to play Splore?
I have to be quite honest and say its partially because I was invited to. I believe you must await your turn and the reason I’ve not been to New Zealand in my 40 years of music is simply because of the dread of long haul flights. A lot of people have said to me you've been doing this for 40 years and you’ve still not been to NZ, which outside of Jamaica is one of the most important places for reggae music, so I can’t wait to come.
You’ve been dubbed the gentleman rudeboy, why do you think that is?
I got that name from never being disrespectful to other sound systems selections and there is a culture within reggae music called clash culture, essentially what it means is the sounds systems have teams or groups that hang out together and cut exclusive recordings that can only be played by them, for example Gregory Isaacs would sing a song from Bass Odyssey, he would change up the lyrics so that it can only be played by Bass Odyssey and that applied to all sound systems / clash culture. I got involved in clash culture in the early 90’s, It was process of elimination, each round someone got voted out, but everything you play has to have your name in it, if not you’re immediately disqualified. It’s highly competitive and very specialist, it has a hardcore loyal following - it’s a bit like a musical blood sport really. The things that they say to each other in order to antagonize each other, is quite remarkable - I would never join them in that almost verbal abuse, I used to always be polite and respectful to them and use humour to annoy them and wind them up. So, they said I was a rudeboy because I won some of these clashes but during all of this I have never disrespected them. I behaved as a gentleman would but the essence of what I was doing was rude. A rude boy traditionally in Jamaica was a boy who had no discipline, it's a bit of a contradiction really the ‘gentleman rudeboy’, who dresses in a three piece suit and comes on stage and talks properly and doesn't make unpleasant remarks against his competitors.
How did it feel to be awarded World’s Soundclash Champion and an MBE?
To win the world’s soundclash in New York in 2012 was an amazing experience, I had won others but this was the world championships, I was up against my nemesis Bass Odessy and in this case I beat them and it was an incredible feeling. To be given the MBE in 2012 was obviously a very significant moment, because what society is saying is that they recognise my dedication to broadcasting. Prince Charles presented me with the MBE and when he did he whispered in my ear “I love Jamaica and reggae music” and then he asked me what time my show was on again.
When you first started out as a DJ did you ever think you would be this successful?
Never ever ever!
What do you think is the secret to your success then?
That’s an interesting question and I guess it’s because I care about the music and i’ve always cared about the music. I take pride in seeking and finding it, I will go to great lengths to find new music and I always champion new music. What keeps it fresh and new is discovering new material and I’ve spent my life doing that not just as a radio broadcaster but as a club DJ.
Next year’s theme is celebrate at Splore, what are you celebrating this year?
I’m celebrating my 40th anniversary in music and I’m celebrating the joy of being alive. Beres Hammond has got this wonderful song that I can’t stop playing and it’s called ‘I’m Alive’ and you can hear in his voice and the way he sings he is more than alive. I celebrate that I am alive because many of us don’t have the privilege to live this long. The fact that all of us who are going to be at Splore are still on the planet and can enjoy life in perhaps ways some people can’t, we have to give thanks for that. So, I will be celebrating life, music, joy and happiness. Festivals bring people together who want to be together because they have a common bond of love, freedom of expression and a mutual respect for each other. That for me is priceless and that’s what splore stands for, it’s green, truly green and stands for all the things we believe to be true for the future of this planet.