Toppa Top 10: Ten Iconic U.K. Sound Systems

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Words by Nadine White


1-jah-shaka-london-1984-number-5-stephen-moscoPhoto: Stephen Mosco

Hailed as Europe’s biggest street party, Notting Hill Carnival has gained worldwide renown since it was first launched in 1966. It’s like the UK’s answer to Trinidad Carnival, or Crop Over in Barbados, minus the tropical weather and sand, of course.

Carnival was born from the ashes of social discontentment and was deeply inspired by the cultural heritage of inner city London’s then-newly-arrived Caribbean population. Many individuals who migrated from the West Indies brought an invaluable treat with them – sound system culture! With equipment that included amplifiers, speaker boxes, mixers and turn tables,  sound systems were the mobile discotheques that spread Jamaican and Caribbean culture into England. This soldered the very fabric of Notting Hill Carnival. For years, the event has been looked forward to by London and the entire UK’s Caribbean massive as an annual re-connection with the essence of ‘home,’ while also serving as a wider celebration of diversity welcoming to all of London’s ethnicities.

What’s more, the streets become embellished with the vibrance not unlike that which exists within the Carribean — from the food and costumes to the airhorns and music. Every year, some 40 sound systems provide over one million patrons with a booming, eclectic accompaniment of tunes.

We have accomplished the near-impossible by parsing through the UK’s many sound systems for a Top 10. Most of these sounds can be heard at Notting Hill Carnival; we’ve included some directions, so those of you who are in London Town this weekend can know where to find them.

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