Jah Shaka, the London roots reggae artist who inspired legions of acts across genres, has died. His management confirmed his death on Wednesday, 12th April, and did not provide a cause of death. Jah Shaka’s precise age was also unknown, although it’s been reported that he was around 75.
Jah Shaka – also known as Zulu Warrior – spearheaded the sound system scene in London. Shaka had moved to the city from Jamaica in 1956, and faced a wall of xenophobia from white society. “In the Windrush time, in London, on the doors of the houses, there were signs saying ‘no blacks, no Irish and no dogs’,” Shaka said of the time, as per In Sheep’s Clothing. “Growing up, our parents would tell us, ‘You have to work very hard to overcome such a system, such a regime.’”
Jah Shaka – Babylon
Bringing the sound system culture to London allowed Shaka and his contemporaries a space for community. “When people left Africa for the Caribbean, all they could bring with them was their music, their songs and their memories from home. So, over the years, this is all that people had to keep them together,” Shaka told the Red Bull Academy in 2014.
“In the 1950s and 1960s in London, there were house parties – 50, 60 people with only record players. It helped families know other families, which was important at that time because the people were so forced to be segregated.”
Shaka would go on to be one of the most influential players in dub and reggae, and his sound system developed a huge following – his rise and life was chronicled in the film Babylon, in which Shaka played himself.
Through his record label Jah Shaka Music he would release songs from artists like Max Romeo and Johnny Clark – and Shaka himself was responsible for some of the scene’s biggest tracks.