Musical legends Soul II Soul were honoured last week (June 2011) with a plaque outside Electric Brixton, formerly The Fridge, commemorating their first gig there in 1991.
The Music Heritage award, bestowed by PRS Music, who secure the rights of songwriters and composers, recognises unusual ‘performance birthplaces’.
Present at the unveiling were members Jazzie B, Caron Wheeler and Aitch and Q, amongst others; Lambeth Mayor Clive Bennett and Streatham and Brixton MP Chuka Umunna. Mr Umunna, a well-known music fan, made a moving speech saying: “My world was better because Soul II Soul were in it,” and berating the Brit Awards for never honouring the group.
Friday was also the launch of a monthly DJ residency for Jazzie B at Electric Brixton .
The Weekender managed to ask him some questions, despite being distracted by his gravelly treacle voice sounding exactly the same as it does on his records, more like he’s lazily rapping than talking.
Although Soul II Soul were, in their words, ‘three from the north and two from the east’ of London, he clearly has fond feelings for the south.
Starstruck Weekender: What do you remember most about that night you played here?
Jazzie B (!): It’s all a blur! The main thing I remember is, because we don’t have it like that any more, the smoke. The atmosphere, the intensity of the night. It truly was special and I remember it was pandemonium outside, which is always an interesting sign, people were holding up the traffic, all those things that you used to do in south London in those days. It was intense.
SW: What was different about south London?
JB: Things were a bit different back then: you had the frontline, anywhere from Railton Road to Atlantic Road up to here was the place to be; you had the particular guys in the area who were running things, keeping it under manners, under control. Then you had this building [The Fridge] the hub of the entertainment of the day. You had Brixton Academy just around the corner… for all intents and purposes, that’s the legacy of Brixton. And I think from an ethnic point of view all our people were here. Brixton had a great, interesting reputation at the time: excitement mixed with fear and the unknown. We’re talking about coming out of the ‘80s into the ‘90s, it was a transient time, and for a time Soul II Soul represented what was going on in London. [At the time soundsystems played reggae but Soul II Soul played soul, reggae, hip hop all mixed up together. They called their style the Funki Dred, invoking the ire of original Rastas who thought they weren’t true to the faith, but as Jazzie B has said they were born in Britain and weren’t afraid to mix things up. Especially at a time when Margaret Thatcher had just been ousted from the cabinet… ok, I’ll shut up now.]
SW: How has the scene changed here in south London now?
JB: We’re in a digital age now, miles away from what it was in the analogue days. Back then we wrote things down, carried filofaxes, beepers, a few had mobile phones; now we live in a world where it’s all virtual: we’re skyping one another from tour buses; we’re a world away.
SW: Has that changed how you make music?
JB: It’s changed how we all live, how we all communicate, naturally it’s part of the cycle of our evolution. The arts have become even more accessible and a different level of creativity is coming through.
SW: What was the importance of that night for you?
JB: Because we were rehearsing on a Friday night here it was a bit of giving back. The importance of the night was for club culture and what was going on with Soul II Soul because after that we set sail for the world: Australia, Japan, America, we were gone for nearly a year.
SW: So this residency here at Electric Brixton is just you, or it’s Soul II Soul? What have you got planned?
JB: The residency is Soul II Soul, it’s a soundsystem, an amalgamation of music and fashion. It’s the same people it always was. We live Soul II Soul: myself, Jazzie, Q, Aitch, B, we’re all still here. A happy face, a thumping bass, for a loving race.
More info: Soul2soul.co.uk