Bobby Digital is a key figure in dancehall music's international breakthrough. When I first visited him in the early nineties he'd recently contributed to Shabba Ranks' Grammy winning exploits, and was working with an incredible roll call of artists including Garnet Silk, Cocoa Tea, Tony Rebel, Bounty Killer and Lt. Stitchie. The main studio wasn't even finished back then. Digital B was a cottage industry, Jamaica style, but the music he created during that era has proven hugely influential. Writing the liner notes for this next volume of VP Records' Reggae Anthology series was therefore an honour, and an opportunity to revisit some great musical memories.
It’s a hot and humid evening in Kingston and cars are double-parked outside of Bobby Digital’s studio – a single storey house located in a quiet residential area just off the Molynes Road. Bobby’s son Giark opens the white iron-wrought gate. He’s in his twenties and a producer, just like his father. The family atmosphere at Digital B is no accident, and it’s been shared with countless artists and musicians over the years. Several of them gather by the open doorway, whilst others sit in chairs on the veranda. Kirk Bennett, the drummer for Beres Hammond is there and also various Firehouse Crew members. Tonight they’re going to be laying some rhythms in the studio round the back where Bobby Digital sits at the mixing-board, hunched in concentration whilst listening to a Garnet Silk track he recorded at the very same spot more than twenty years ago.
Music floods the room from two big speakers hanging suspended from the ceiling. There’s barely enough space for a keyboard, bass and guitar player – the drum kit’s set up in an adjoining room – but the history impregnated in the walls is palpable. The sound that Bobby gets from this room goes beyond any technical considerations. It has real soul, and is something that even the man himself can’t explain.
The story of his early life and his time at King Jammy’s during the mid-to-late eighties, when he helped kick-start Jamaican music’s digital revolution, is told on a companion volume called Xtra Wicked. Bobby had started to produce tracks for himself whilst still working for Jammy but he became increasingly prolific after setting up a mixing-board and tape machine in his front room, just yards away from where he’s now sat. That was in late 1988, when Shabba Ranks, Admiral Tibet and Johnny Osbourne were among his regular visitors and dancehall music was awash with exciting young talent. Over the next six years he’ll cater for grassroots’ tastes whilst inspiring selectors to play roots and culture in the dances once more – something that hadn’t really happened since Bob Marley was alive.