French-Vietnamese DJ Works to Expand Jamaican Sound System Culture in New York

Fi2W is featuring stories by students in the Feet in 2 Worlds journalism course at The New School.

It’s called a tower of sound. A giant speaker system, filling a Brooklyn warehouse with the sounds and vibrations of a Kingston, Jamaica street party. French-Vietnamese DJ Quoc Pham has spent the last year building his own state-of-the-art sound system to mimic the sound system parties that are integral to the Jamaican music scene.

In this podcast, produced by Marcela Gara and María Teresa Alzuru, we explore sound system culture. Dating back to the 1950s, sound system refers to a specific type of street party that developed in Kingston’s poorer neighborhoods where many residents could not afford to attend live concerts. In order to bring the music to these areas, DJs would load up a truck with a generator, turntables, and huge speakers and throw massive street parties. It eventually became a lucrative business and among the few ways to make money in an unstable economy.

DJ Quoc Pham’s tower of sound. (Photo: Marcela Gara)

As Jamaicans immigrated to various corners of the world, sound system traveled with them and led to the creation of new music genres. DJ Quoc Pham was first introduced to sound system at a party in London, and he says it transformed his life. Now, in addition to building his tower of sound, he also throws sound system parties in New York where he invites artists who perform a range of musical styles such as traditional reggae and dubstep to participate.

While sound system isn’t new to the New York area—it was brought over by Jamaican immigrants during the immigration wave of the 1960s and 1970s—Quoc and several others are working to expand its appeal and introduce it to new audiences. Carter Van Pelt, a reggae and sound system enthusiast, has been throwing sound system reggae parties in Coney Island for the last few years in an effort to spread the music he loves.

No matter where the party is held, sound system is drawing larger and more diverse audiences where people of all ages can experience a tower of sound reverberates through your entire body.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.

Fi2W podcasts are supported in part by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and CUNY-TV.

AboutFeet in Two Worlds
Feet in 2 Worlds (Fi2W) is an independent media outlet, journalism training program, and launchpad for emerging immigrant journalists and media makers of color. Our work brings positive and meaningful change to America's newsrooms and has a broader impact on how immigration is reported and the ethnic and racial composition of news organizations.