Interview with DJ War
DJ WAR is one of the founding fathers of the Italian reggae scene. By the name of Antonio Conte was born in Lizzanello (LE) and begins the musical activity in the local radios of the 70s in Italy, first in Salento and then in Bologna.
Between 1987 and 1988 he founded with Militant P the original nucleus of the SUD SOUND SYSTEM – then completed the posse Treble, Papa Gianni and Gigi D – who in the summer of 1988 in Italy will organize the first legendary Dance Hall and since 1990 will publish the first Italian reggae independent productions. The DJ WAR activity coincides withthe South Sound System until 1994, when both he and Militant P decide to continue for personal streets. From that moment he dedicated himself to build the WAR SOUND SYSTEM, one of the first self-built sound system in Italy, and began to promote Sound System Culture in Italy with countless dance all over italy. In the same year he recorded one of the first jungle vinyl in Italy and starts, in Salento, the POWER FM radio project. With the radio itself and with Dj Gruff promotes the first editions of the “GUSTO DOPA AL SOLE“, attended by the leading exponents of Italian hip hop and reggae. With WAR SOUND SYSTEM, DJ WAR took part in all these years in the major national and international reggae festivals and has promoted and organized several musical events in Salento to turn this type of events in the collective growth tool, always with an ear in regard to the promotion of young talent.
1: for the people who don’t know you, can you tell us about your beginnings in music and how you become involved with sound system
The passion for music has always existed in me. I was born in a family in which music has always been present: One uncle of mine played accordion and tambourine and another uncle played the mandolin. They participated in ancient rituals of serenades or of therapies for women bitten by the ‘taranta’ spider, and also played just to entertain friends and relatives on special occasions. I also have a guitarist cousin, who has founded the history of beat and rock in Salento. But mainly, it is my brother who really incited my passion. He is ten years older than I am. He learned to play the organ while he was studying in the seminary, and it was ordinary to see the musical notes of Mozart and Bach in my house. After he left the seminary, he continued playing in the church for a while, on which I accompanied him. I also followed him to the beat parties in the small clubs in our town, as well as to the private parties where everyone would bring the their private record collections and play them. Right at this time of beat, I listened to my brother’s records: Beatles, Equipe 84, Rokes, etc.. Then I started reading his music magazines (Muzak, Gong, Ciao 2001…) and then I started buying them myself. I also listened to a lot of music from the national radio network, from programmes like Alto gradimento and Supersonic. I took notes of what came out of the radio and tried to buy the records of the band that I liked the most. In the late 70’s, arrived the explosion of free radio stations. Every day, in every city and town, new radio stations opened. Such was the case in my town as well, and it was in one of these free radio stations that I started to broadcast my favourite musics.
2: when was the first time you saw a sound system, info and memories
After the high school, in 1982, I moved to Bologna, the place where I wanted to pursue my desire and passion for music. I started broadcasting selections of songs and presenting programs, at first on the Underdog Radio frequencies and then on those of Radio K Centrale. In the new wave era, among concerts, events and parties, I found a place where they played black music: the Riverside club. There, I found a group of DJs who played funk, electronic and hip-hop, among whom DJ R (who would later found the Century Vox) and DJ Papa Rodriguez were the leaders. At this time, I also met Jody Marcos (who shortly thereafter built the first Sound System in Italy). Thanks to them, I began to deepen my knowledge on the matter and on the techniques. In the mid-80s, I saw and heard a real Sound System for the first time. It was built between Londonand Bologna, while its base was precisely in Bologna, with more than 10,000 watts of speakers and crafted amp by Jody Marcos, Edo and Valentino (crossover and power amplifiers were built in London by Jah Tubbys). It was (indeed) called “Jody Marcos Sound System.” I was struck by the size of the system, but especially by that characteristic sound, the powerful base and highly defined medium and high frequencies tones. I thought, “one day I’d like to build one myself”.
3: reggae in the 80’s and the original sound system in london, can you tell us about your memories..
Like other people of my generation, I started listening to reggae for Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, the Wailers. However, coming from the rock and mod culture, I lived the time of punk and, thanks to the bands like The Clash, Police, Ruts DC and artists like Joe Jackson, I also got to know Anglo- Jamaican groups and artists like Steel Pulse, Linton Kwesi Johnson etc.. From there, I kept exploring the scene and learned of the artists who then became my fundamentals, such as Prince Far I, Michael Smith, and Black Uhuru. In parallel, I followed the nascent movement of Toasting, with artists like Papa Levi, Pato Banton and especially King Yellowman. Through the first cassette tapes, I got to know Jamaican sounds like Killamanjaro and Stone Love.
4: can you tell us about your productions in the reggae-dub, how you did you begin and when, info , memories…
In the late 80s, I started to realize that constructing and operating a Sound System was more than a simple desire for me, and I shared this dream with other friends such as Militant P, Treble, Papa Gianni and GiGiD. Although we did not live in the same place, whenever we met, we would end up doing a party, with records, turntables and microphones. After the first few names, in the summer of 1988, we used for the first time the name Sud Sound System. We did not have a place to play, and we still had little experience, so we started performing in private homes, on the beach, on the cliffs, in the countryside and in abandoned farms. We rarely had any materials but turntables, records, microphones yet we were full of creativity, drive and flexibility more than anything, even when we played in abandoned and neglected places. So, we started hosting small parties with friends and, thanks to the passion everybody had, the number of engaged people grew. This happened especially in the summer and during religious holidays, when every one of us came back to Salento. After that time in Salento, I went back to Bologna again, the centre of which, at that time, had been occupied by the so-called “Isola nel Cantiere“. Here, among punk and hard-core concerts, videos and performances, we started hosting a party called Ghetto Blaster, one evening a month. Around the core group of DJs (DJ R, DJ Papa Rodriguez and DJ War) the crew expanded, initially with Soul Boy and Treble, and later with Speaker Dee Mo, Gopher, Deda, the Camels, DJ Fabri. That was how we created Isola Posse All Stars. With them, I participated in the production of the album “Stop al Panico“, but after that, I devoted myself almost exclusively to making my initial project of Sud Sound System. The success of “Stop al Panico” pushed DJ R (with PF Pacoda and M Povero) to found the Century Vox Records and to produce our first record: “Fuecu/Ta Sciuta Bona”by Sud Sound System. The success of that record was beyond any of our expectations, all the medias were talking about it; they wanted us everywhere, for records, concerts, collaborations of all kinds: interviews, television appearances, films and contract proposals. In the meanwhile, we organized our first summer tour, during which we were more and more ensured that people liked our project. We participated in several TV and radio programs (Avanzi, Tunnel, DSE, Mixer), and we took part in the Tenco award as the new group of the year. Our success and example stimulated other groups to follow us and provoked the interests of the music industry, too. The following year (1992) we produced two other records and in 1994 the first compilation: Salento Showcase. At that point, we could have made our first album and built a real Sound System, but misunderstandings and differences of opinions led me to leave the group and to pursue old and new projects.
In 1989, along with Militant P, I participated in the “DMC Champion Tour” with the Jody Marcos Sound System. It was the first experience in my life as Sound Man and I took part in all the activities: I drove the van, I assembled and disassembled the Sound and, with Militant P, we made the opening act for the world champions DJs (DJ Cut Master Swift and DJ Pogo) and for Papa Winnie, a Jamaican singer who lived in Italy and that year had produced a record which proved to be a success. In 1992, I went to London for the first time and met Markie Lyrics (owner to founder of the RDK Hifi Sound System), who gave me the first lessons on how to build a Sound System. In the next years, I went back to London several times to learn on this subject. There, thanks to Soul Boy, I met Bruce, a sound technician of the “Soul to Soul” who built me the crossover and, once back in Salento, helped me building my Sound System. In 1995 in Rome, at Forte Prenestino, we had the RAS, the first gathering for self-built Sound Systems. In this first meeting, we were five, but in the next editions, the number kept increasing: finally, the Sound System fever exploded in Italy. One Love HP, Villa Ada, Bass Fi Mass, I&I Project, Ghetto Youth, Black Heart, Rhomanife and Hi Grade were the frequent collaborators of my Sound Systems. During the various editions of the RAS, my crew was composed largely of Soul Boy, Pepsee and the TSK, from Brindisi. In the very intimate atmosphere, we all collaborated for the success of the event.
5: musically your influences and what you like/liked most
Between the late nineties and the beginning of 2000, new Sound Systems were built, also in Salento, like Salento New Bass, Sound Massive, Ghetto Child, I-Militant and BlackStarLine, which had become the most powerful Sound System of Salento. At that time, consequently, the number of events increased and, with the arrival of summer, lovers come from all over Italy, often with their own music centres. During the same period I organized various events on beaches with my Sound System, at farms (for example the Talega, near Otranto) and in the places such as the Horse Club of Torre dell’Orso, where many artists, not just from Italy, had the opportunity to play. In 2002, I organized a big event, a three-day gathering in a campground at Torre dell’Orso, where there was an extraordinary participation of the public (about 15,000 people). Almost all the reggae artists of Salento and the best of the Italian reggae scene (One Love, Dj Gruff, Rhomanife etc.) performed on that stage, in addition to the legendary Soul Boy.
6:what do you think about sound system in uk- europe .situations, problems and prospectives
Reggae was born from a integration of different styles and has always influenced the evolution of other genres. At the same time, it reflects reality, by which it is affected. The production and the quality of reggae is a mirror of the society by which it is surrounded. I must admit that I do not like certain new forms of reggae, with an exaggerated use of the auto-tune, questionable lyrics and scarcely cared productions. Fortunately, the themes and styles of reggae have been returning to those that are more congenial to me, like roots and new roots. The UK scene has always been one of my favourite, mainly for the constant presence of Sound Systems and artists who have never abandoned the music of the origins. Sound Systems such as Jah Shaka, Observer and Channel One are demonstrations. At the same time, I have always followed Sound Systems and producer like Saxson (which promotes also very good DJ style artists), Manasseh, Vibronics and Zion Train (which I like for the experimentation with roots and electronic music) with interest. Over time, Italian reggae has gained a structure, so that artists, Sound Systems and crews have attained their own identity. Unfortunately, one of the largest gatherings in Europe, the Rototom, had to “emigrate” to Spain for political reasons. Moreover, the enthusiasm and the interest in reggae by clubs, social centres and organisers have encountered a period of stalemate, maybe because of the over-exposure. A drop of
interest can sometimes be physiological and necessary to stimulate self-criticism and the search for a higher quality. The birth of new gatherings, new artists, many new Sound Systems, new productions and the return of the vinyl make me hopeful for the future.
7: reggae in the europe ..sound system culture in Uk, France, Italy and Spain this the future?
I think that in Spain the reggae movement is a more recent phenomenon and therefore is still growing. France has been a multi-ethnic country for several decades and both reggae and hip-hop have already been adopted by several generations, as languagesand lifestyles, and the events and the productions are of high quality. UK is a special case, because it has always been the home of reggae. Since the early 60s, Brixton, the neighbourhood of London, has had the highest concentration of Caribbean and particularly Jamaican immigrants, so reggae has always been the soundtrack of that neighbourhood. Unlike these countries, in which artists and their productions are often supported by smart policies, art is neglected and often it is even repressed in Italy. In the Salento area, for example, the organisation of reggae events has been the target of repression for years. Checkpoints, raids, inspections, seizures, charges against clubs, festivals and camping sites have put a strain for more than a decade on both the public and the organisers, which caused the loss of the interest and the participation. But there is much initiative and, even though it has been difficult, both artists and organisers did not give up: they has kept going or they started organising things again, while new ideas came to life.
8: sound system as a culture, a business or just the “voice of people”
Historically, reggae was born and has evolved as a function of the Sound System: the ideal medium to enjoy reggae music is precisely that mobile club, which can be assembled in any place, without a stage, in close contact with people, so that distance is eliminated and participation grows. The practice of the Sound can become a tool for social transformation, because, with the music and with the microphone, artists can send important messages of justice, rage against those who oppress the people and peace for those who share these ideas. While dancing, you can release toxins and negativity and thus reggae has also a therapeutic function and is not just playful.