Don Letts Interview : “You can’t silence the artist”

The generation that brought us punk rock always had a lot to say, but despite most of them being pension age now there will be few still more active than Don Letts, the man who brought the term “Punky reggae party” into the movement’s lexicon. As the regular DJ at it’s seamy ground zero The Roxy,  Letts would play dub reggae cuts between sets from The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Damned amongst others, seeding an interest that would eventually lead to the pumped up hybrid Two Tone.

Letts is 63 but his passion for reggae and Jamaican music in general has never dimmed; in 2017 he began curating his own Turtle Bay series of podcasts, each of which explores a different aspect of the genre, from its origins in the late nineteen fifties to the history of the ground breaking Trojan label. Questioned, he reveals he has a very specific target audience for them – “Me!” – but there’s a freshness to his approach in focussing on music rather than anecdotes that makes each hour-long episode essential listening.

As a first generation British black man he’s also had his share of experiences at the abrasive frontiers between class, race and culture, but when it comes to the hand of censorship his view is proportionate: “You can’t silence the artist, but for me the artist has to acknowledge their responsibility. Equally though, you can’t just blame them for issues which are part of wider societal problems. Part of art is to inform, respond and react and in that context.”

Still an optimist pushing things forward in his own way, Don Letts remains confident in the power of music to bring people from radically different backgrounds together – just as it did in 1977.

You can read the full interview here.

Photo: Don Letts DJ-ing at the Roxy, 1977. Credit Erica Echenberg/Redferns

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