Text: The Groove Thief
Blessed with one of the most entrancing melodies to be found within sound system culture, the Kunta Kinte riddim is not only innately powerful but also inherently mysterious. Inspired by the main character in Alex Haley’s classic book and subsequent TV series Roots, with dubplate cuts aplenty forging its legacy, it can be hard to know exactly what version is being played or which artists even deserve the credit.
#1. Creole – Beware Of Your Enemies [Gorgon Records, 1976]
The years are slightly murky, but this esteemed instrumental – famed for its potency on UK sound systems – originated from Creole’s underappreciated “Beware Of Your Enemies.” A spiritually-infused roots tune, Channel One first released that vocal track in Jamaica in 1976, although dated records only stem from 1977/1978 on both Cord and Gorgon Records before further releases on Hit Bound and Well Charge.
#2. The Revolutionaries – Kunta Kinte [Channel One, 1976]
Still on the Jamaican side, a dubplate instrumental version of the same riddim by The Revolutionaries – now called “Kunta Kinte” – also saw a release in 1976 (and eventually an overdue 2017 digital re-release via Pressure Sounds). A powerful take, it established the style that still resonates today: a captivating synth line caving to potent drums and bass.
#3. Aquizm & Mad Professor – Kunta Kinte [Ariwa, 1981]
The tune first crossed the Atlantic when obscure roots act Black Volts turned out a take in 1977; however, it was several key early-80s UK versions that propelled the tune to near-mythic status. Most notably played live by Jah Shaka, the song’s legacy became ensured in the hands of sonic maestros like Adrian Sherwood and Mad Professor; the former’s Singers & Players project furthered the direction of his influential On-U Sound Records, while the latter’s Aquizm (also spelled Aquizim) alias and Ariwa studio turned out multiple powerful dubplate interpretations. Thus, it really was due to persistent selectors that the tune ever gained traction. Mad Professor himself is attributed with this explanation:
About the Kunte Kinte origin. To solve the mystery get a copy of Roots, the film based on the Alex Haley book. The soundtrack that heavily influence[d] the dub classic is quite clear. Originally recorded by a virtually unknown Battersea group called Black Volts, the track was rough[ly] mixed by Paul (Smykle) at Island inspiring countless of versions. Unfortunately it was never released. At that time no one wanted to know about such instrumentals, for years only Jah Shaka and some sounds from the country like Wasifa, Nyashanti were playing that track. As usual, the stone that the builder refused…
#4. Blackstar – Kunta Kinte [Congo Natty, 1995]
Kunta Kinte then found a second coming within the UK junglist movement; its captivating melody fresh again over chopped Amen breaks. Amongst other samples and remakes, “Kunta Kinte Jungle” by Congo Natty aka Rebel MC aka Blackstar was a veritable anthem in 1995 (though there is also an earlier dubplate version):
#5. Rusko – Jahova [Sub Soldiers, 2007]
Onwards to the new millennium, the tune still consistently receives reinterpretation regardless of genre. Rusko arguably pushed it back into the cultural consciousness by way of “Jahova,” a wobble-heavy dubstep number that definitely relies on a previous incarnation of the tune.
#6. Idren Natural – Farover [Black Wheat Sounds, 2006]
Modern steppers – sound system style at its fullest strength – has allowed the Kunta Kinte riddim to really circle back on its self. Idren Natural’s “Farover” and its companion dub reconceive the early vibes, aimed at the dancer’s heart and feet, by melding spiritual bass-laden roots with a vocal harkening back to Creole.
#7. Macka B – Warrior Style (Kunta Kinte) [Ariwa, 2008]
Similarly, Joe Ariwa revisited the riddim for “Warrior Style.” A heavy conscious cut that empowers listeners to battle against Babylon, Macka B effectively blends all the elements together: ‘this a warrior style… this a warrior style; Nyabinghi Kunta Kinte, warrior style… this a warrior style.”
#8. Burro Banton – Nah Sell Out [Dub-Stuy Records, 2017]
Truly bringing the past forward, Dub-Stuy enlisted DJ Madd in 2017 to push the vibe farther into future bass territory. Atop that familiar melody and pounding low-end, Jamaican veteran Burro Banton targets the youth of today, the UK’s Rider Shafique celebrates the global presence of sound system, and France’s Shanti D flexes a different style indeed.
For the true riddim enthusiast, other notable modern remakes include:
– “Kunta Kinte Aboriginal Dub,” a strong steppers take from FLeCK
– “Kunta Kinte Riddim,” a heavy digital cut from Dub Kazman
– “Kunta Kinte (Warrior Style),” a nuanced digital version from Dub Invasion
– “Kunta Kinte,” a soaring psy-dub recut from Obeah
– “Kunta Version,” a cheeky mashup from yours truly