Label Love: Soul Jazz Records


Label Love: Soul Jazz Records

The last of the six essential record labels

by Dwiputri Pertiwi


One of the favourite sayings of a music nerd of a certain age group is that they wish they lived sometime in the past: be it in the 1950s, 60s, 70s or the 1980s. How they wish to be part of a certain generation to experience all the stupendous music available at the time. And I’m not going to lie; I certainly had those inclinations back in my younger days. “Oh what I’ll give to listen to and buy Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’ in 1972,” I once told myself.

Yet I now firmly believe that we live in perhaps one of the best times to be a music fan. Not only can we listen to all the recordings of the past at a click of the mouse (or a visit to a decent record shop), we have instant access to almost all recorded music of the 20th century, and it’s most likely easier to obtain than in the past. And one of the factors that make me happy to be around now is the flux of record labels that specialize in (but not limited to) releasing reissues and compilations of the upmost quality. Now-Again, Soundway, Strut, Analog Africa, Numero Group, Rhino, Sublime Frequencies, Kindred Spirits, all are excellent choices for fans looking for high quality reissues. Yet for me London’s Soul Jazz Records takes the proverbial biscuit.

Founded by the enigmatic Stuart Baker, not only does Soul Jazz Records specialize in the various shades of “black music” namely funk, ska, soul, reggae, dub, roots, dancehall, house, bossa nova, samba, hip hop, jazz, dubstep, future bass, and a whole host of others, it also branches out to a plethora of other genres that aren’t usually associated with a label bearing that name: punk, new wave, country, electronica, and southern-rock to name a few. “We are indeed an independent label and as such see ourselves as quite removed from the mainstream music industry,” Stuart told United Reggae.

And it doesn’t end there, Soul Jazz also now ventures into producing DVDs and books to boot, as well as boasting its own label and physical record store under the moniker of Sounds of the Universe. “Five years ago we decided to develop our publishing offer within music books and films, in order to move in a different direction from other labels. This seems to have worked. In the future I would like to develop a digital model for what we do, that incorporates music and books and film in some way.” Stuart added.

More specifically, its Soul Jazz’s close and fruitful relationship with a few well respected labels, most tellingly Clemet Dodd’s Studio One, the true home of ska and a hugely important site of early reggae and modern Jamaican music that perhaps really sets them apart. If you have no understanding of Jamaican music, a brief foray into Soul Jazz’s Studio One reissues and compilations will solve that once-and-for-all.

Besides the excellent production on the reissues, the care, detail and love put into the booklet and liner notes is something to behold. It’s not unusual for Soul Jazz reissues to feature a 100-page booklet filled with invaluable information and stunning photographs. Add to that a superb graphics-design team and you’ve got yourself a pretty perfect label that defines our generation.


Ffonz’ 5 Essential Soul Jazz Records/Universal Sound Compilations:

  1. Freedom, Rhythm and Sound – Revolutionary Jazz and The Civil Rights Movement 1963-82
  2. Dancehall – The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture
  3. Bossa Jazz – The Birth of Hard Bossa, Samba Jazz and the Evolution of Brazilian Fusion 1962-73
  4. Can You Dig It? – The Music and Politics of Black Action Films 1968-75
  5. Studio One Story

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