Fable of the Label – Searching for Soul Jazz

October 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #70, October 2009.

Fable of the label profiles iconic labels past and present. This issue, Dan Rule plots the co-ordinates of London’s street level anthropologists Soul Jazz Records.

Stuart Baker doesn’t subscribe to the notion of ‘the next bit thing’. The founder and owner of consummate London global urban music imprint Soul Jazz approaches music as social and cultural evidence – as something to explore, to investigate and to draw connections between.

“Most record labels exist to represent the present, so they’re not interested in history so much,” says the 44-year-old. “The label has been as much about analysing our own role and position. What is it that a record company does? What is its function? What is its relation to music and artists and society?”

“I’ve never been able to quite explain it completely because I don’t have any sense of conclusion in terms of the records we put out.”

Starting its life as a record store in the late 80s stocking black American and Latin music imports, Soul Jazz became a label in 1991 and has since made a name for its detailed coverage of rare, minority street music the world over.

Replete with handsome packaging, extensive liner-notes and associated books and pubications, Soul Jazz releases have mined the vaults of jazz, Latin, Brazilian, soul, funk and reggae, to hip hop, dubstep, disco, electronic and post-punk. But it would be simplistic to describe the boutique imprint in retrospective terms.

“Everything we touch is certainly non-mainstream and certainly has come up from the street,” says Baker, “but we’re not aligned to a particular place or point in music.”

“I’m interested in different points of time and space historically, sure, but I’m not interested in looking back at all. Because I’ve never experienced New York in 1960, it’s new to me, you know, so I can absorb it as new stuff and then present it an a way where someone else can see it as new, even though it is historical.”

Defining releases include compiles Dynamite! Dancehall Style, the Studio One Story and New York Noise series, and more recently, double album compilations Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture (2008), Steppas’ Delight: Dubstep Present to Future (2008) and brand new compilation and DVD Can You Dig It? The Music and Politics of Black Action Films 1969–75.

“The initial starting point is always the music and my physical or emotional reaction to that music,” explains Baker. “But if I like it then I naturally try and work out why that is and start researching it and drawing connections, because really, I feel like that’s what most music fans do.”

“We did a record about 15 years ago called New Eureka: Culture Clash in New York CityExperiments in Latin Music 1970–1977,” he laughs. “It was really, really successful and sold about 75,000 copies and we realised that if we could sell 75,000 copies of a record with a name that long with a music that was clashing with anything that anyone else was putting out, then we could do anything.”

Can You Dig It? The Music and Politics of Black Action Films 1969-75 is out through Soul Jazz/Inertia

Visit: souljazzrecords.co.uk

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