Abiyah, Queen City Imperial Soundsystem
Explain what Queen City Imperial Soundsystem does and who runs it.
Pulling from diverse experiences and tastes, Queen City Imperial Soundsystem (QCIS) is a Cincinnati-based reggae DJ dream team of DJ Grover and Abiyah, as well as our sister and eternal third member, Boss Lady, currently on extended sabbatical. We are dedicated to playing reggae tunes, in various venues and live settings, solely on vinyl. QCIS currently has a free monthly residency, Basement Reggae, every second Saturday in the basement of The Comet (4579 Hamilton Ave.) in Northside (10 p.m.-2 a.m.). We are also available for booking at other venues and/or events.
Grover’s primary focus as a member of Queen City Imperial Soundsystem is mid-'60s through early-'80s rocksteady, foundation "boss" reggae, roots, rub-a-dub and pre-digital dancehall, entirely on 45s. In her DJing, Abiyah focuses primarily on early-1980s through late-1990s dancehall (conscious and otherwise), and often likes to move to di riddims and wine her waistline during her sets both on the dancefloor and behind the decks.
While QCIS is an egalitarian entity, Abiyah generally handles booking and public relations responsibilities.
How did you start?
Abiyah, Boss Lady and Grover first performed together as individual DJs in March 2011 as part of Boss Lady’s Reggae Fever event at Mayday in Northside. In November 2012, we rejoined and minted our reggae DJ collective as Queen City Imperial Soundsystem. For the last year, we have not only hosted our aforementioned monthly basement reggae night at The Comet, but have also opened for roots reggae legend Luciano at Washington Park
, performed at several Reggae Wednesdays in the Summer on Fountain Square
, participated in National Record Store Day activities at Everybody’s Records
, and kept the dance floor movin’ at private house parties.
Why is jamaican music relevant today?
Jamaican music, and in particular reggae, has historically been used as a tool to empower the voiceless fight against social injustice, and promote peace and unity among all people. Given the state of current world affairs, it is more necessary than ever and is quite possibly somewhat responsible for its resurgence in the mainstream. Even artists from M.I.A. to '90s hip hop stalwarts Smif-N-Wessun have released individual songs and/or EPs this year that are decidedly reggae-inspired. In these troubling times, humankind is looking to be unified in both the struggle and in happiness: Reggae music serves both purposes and forges common bonds where they previously seemed elusive.
What's a typical night like spinning for Queen City Imperial Soundsystem?
The vintage feel of The Comet’s basement lends itself to the vibe of a true Jamaican bashment (dancehall, to Americans). At Basement Reggae Night with Queen City Imperial Soundsystem there every second Saturday, Grover and I intersperse our distinct styles and selections via 30-minute sets in a round-robin style. On any given QCIS outing, one can expect to hear Yellowman, Althea and Donna, Sister Nancy, Barrington Levy, Junior Reid, Cutty Ranks, Sizzla, and Beres Hammond, among others. Reggae has always been a uniting form of music, and it is evidenced via our audience that varies from month-to-month, and has included hipsters, punks, skaters, curious visitors from upstairs and Rastafarians of all ages, including a few of Cincinnati’s legendary Rasta reggae DJs. The dancefloor is always packed and in constant motion.
Do you remember the first Reggae/Rocksteady song you heard?
As it most likely held true for many of us, the first reggae song I recall hearing as a youth would have to be Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” During high school, however, I was interested in the 2 Tone bands of the era, i.e., The Specials, English Beat, and one of the first fully reggae songs I was a fan of was Black Uhuru’s “Solidarity," as it was in heavy rotation on MTV at the time.
Spinning reggae is a labor of love for us at Queen City Imperial Soundsystem. As such, our primary goal is simply to continue to strive to bring the best reggae on vinyl from the early ‘70s through late ‘90s to the masses via our monthly residency, as well as any additional performance opportunities that are presented to us.
Booking inquires can be addressed to Abiyah at [email protected]
Please visit our Facebook
page to stay up-to-date with Queen City Imperial Soundsystem’s goings-on.
Interview by Sean M. Peters