As we near our celebration on Saturday of five years of Simmer Down Sound, I am humbled and gratified to see how it has evolved and grown. From a mellow Sunday night monthly at Door No. 3 at the Double Door in 2012, to one of the premier reggae residencies in Chicago today, Simmer Down has turned into more than just another reggae night. It is a full out movement which not only honors the extraordinary musical culture and legacy of Jamaica but also actively promotes the celebration of diversity, inclusion, unity and understanding.
In 2011, I could not have imagined that Simmer Down would become what it has, but I had high hopes when I named it in tribute to the legendary ska anthem, which Bob Marley wrote in order to plead with the youths of a Kingston embroiled with violence. The social, political and cultural climate we are experiencing today may be different from Marley’s Kingston, but his words were no less applicable when Simmer Down Sound was born.
The reggae scene in Chicago was both culturally and musically divided when Simmer Down Sound first opened its doors, and our experiment was simple. Could we create a night which would unite all genres of the Jamaican musical canon under one roof, and which would warmly welcome all of the different groups of people who enjoy those genres? Could we leave our ideologies, religions, and superficial distinctions at the door, and come together, “simmer down,” and celebrate?
I am happy to say that on the day of our anniversary, the answer to that question is an emphatic and resounding YES. Our events are infused with a unique sense of organized, yet organic chaos. We never know what will happen next, from the style of music selected, to the films we screen, to the vocalists who join in with us. We have created a space where there is room for all possibilities. Keeping our audience on its feet is our homage to the dynamism of Soundsystem culture.
Musically, the years have seen Simmer Down Sound resident DJs and host band Akasha progress exponentially in terms of acumen, collaboration, and reach. We have worked with established international artists such as Johnny Osbourne, Carlton Livingston, Ranking Joe, and Charley Organaire, and we have created a venue for burgeoning artists such as D.O.V.E. Muzik, Concrete Roots, Heavyweight Dub, and Dub Foundation and many more. We could not be more proud to be able to create room for both ends of the spectrum in our movement and to serve as a bridge between them.
Our fifth-anniversary show will be a perfect tribute to our accomplishments, introducing Jahdan Blakkamoore, a veteran artist from Guyana to the Chicago scene and also featuring his locally-based collaborator, Illuminati Congo. As is our tradition, we will also pay homage to Jamaica’s vinyl tradition with our resident DJs bringing you all their favorite tunes from Jamaica’s many genres. I look forward to celebrating with all Simmer Down regulars and warmly welcome all newcomers.