‘Dance a yard before you dance abroad’ refers to the notion of conquering your own territory before trying to conquer someone else’s. It’s a term heard in the lyrics of reggae songs, a DJ’s diss to another, or a demeaning phrase (cuss) used to put someone in their place. Basically, know yourself! However, the essence of the term, culturally, musically, and historically bears so much more than the words themselves and as such has forced me to uncover just that. The biggest issue being however ‘where is my yard’.
Dad & B-Force (his sound system)
Born into a sound system household in the mid-1980s, the 3rd daughter to Guyanese and Jamaican parents, born in Brent, North- West London, where the essence of Reggae music held such significance, it was by no fluke that sound system would become my first real education, love, and lesson in life.North-West London, in the 1980s was home to some of the most prolific sound systems, namely Java of Kilburn, Tony the Paddington Terror, People’s Sound and Peckings Sound to name a few.
From a young age I crafted my own individual time with my father, away from my siblings, it was strictly us two and his sound system, called ‘B-Force’. It was then between the flashing lights of the mixers, the effects machines, and the wires of speaker boxes, that my love for sound and music was founded and that came via my love for my father. Hours spent in the attic, cocooned by bass & vinyl records, and fascinated by my father’s immense seduction to music, I observed so much through “music-tinted glasses”. Shelves and shelves of vinyl’s, mainly reggae made up my father’s collection, all neatly compacted into his hand-crafted cabinets, the mere extent of his collection and woodwork was so impressive that I was inspired to create in the same way. He was, what is now referenced as a “rude boy”, and his musical influences were always centered around the culture that he knew and grew up in.
Mum, sisters Avi & Deanie, embryo Thali
In addition, my mother describes how when she was pregnant with me, she would go to dances and rave the night away, and I believe the vibrations impacted the young fetus in a melodic way. My childhood was renowned for blues dances that went on until the early hours and even days in some cases. My older sister was known as the dancer and at parties always hyped by family members to dance and even today remains so rhythmic. However, subconsciously my focus was to become skilled at my own craft that being, sound, music, and technology. Not knowing at the time what that really was at the time, did not dissuade me from learning more as it was enough that it was the tangible passion of my father and that it would dually allow me to master my own talent and allow personal time with him.
So, with such a rich family environment, that was then boosted by a strong musical foundation, building my own sound system was inevitable. In addition to this, at the age of four my direct exposure to Jamaican music would be created through my mother’s first cousin. Through him I learnt of the sound clash, Sun Splash phenomena and renowned artists such as Ninjaman, Sanchez, Likkle Weng Weng, Lady Saw, Lady Patra, and Pinchers. About Kangol, Clarks, khaki pants and clique suits, all of which were signatory to Jamaica, having never visited before then, the real education of my heritage started via this facet. The knowledge aided my musical awareness, and I would learn how to ‘chat’ the mic and write my first lyrics under my cousins’ guidance. This was my first genuine experience of ‘Coming as I Am’, and having the freedom to do so. These early experiences are imperative to my personal journey, in particular my childhood and adulthood.
From these early experiences until now, I have created, evolved and journeyed through music to higher meditations to CAYA Sound System. This is owing to the lyrics and beats of the music and even more so my heritage, my ethnicity, my sound, my system. Learning and ultimately growing into Thali Lotus and for the first time succumbing to what was and is innate within me: an innovative, creative, and musical being: a sound woman.
Creation of CAYA
‘It all started with an epiphany; everything happens for a reason’
In 2014, whilst attending Notting Hill Carnival I had an epiphany, which would go on to shape and impact the rest of my life, the birth of CAYA Sound System. It was bank holiday Monday, and I was stood by Channel One Sound System and the vibrations, energy and people created a mystic in the air. So much so, that in that moment I was filled with inspiration and knew that my happiness and future was in such creative music energy, CAYA. This was further endorsed by a sistren who called me the next day and said, “I had a dream sis, that you had a sound system, you had a whole load of events, and you left the venues a lot tidier than the man dem.” We both laughed but that ultimately was the start of CAYA sound system.
Over the course of the next year, I would spend much time gathering knowledge from the elders and practitioners. From V-Rocket in Nottingham to Cultural Roots in Bedford, Peoples Sound, Festus Coxson, Black Cat Sound in London, and Apex Hi-Fi in Cambridge to name a few, all their wisdom helped shape CAYA.
CAYA turntable & control tower (Africa Day Celebrations, 2017)
In the beginning CAYA Sound System was ascribed solely to roots, reggae and dub genres however has grown to include all African-derived music. Made up of 16 loudspeakers, comprising of tweeters, 15- & 12-inches diaphragms by Fane, 18inches by Precision Devices, a turntable, a custom built Mostec Preamp, H&H effects machine and strictly vinyl music collection. In 2016, at the time of its formation CAYA was one of only a handful of female sound systems in the UK, created to express and develop cultural heritage and empower other females to do the same. CAYA uses music as its main facet to enhance and dispense values and sustainable development in society and as a tool to promote positivity and enrich societies affected by a wide spectrum of social factors.
However long before the massive speakers, I dreamt of how I could use music to change the world and in 2016, I brought that dream to life, when I founded CAYA (Come as You Are) Sound System. I believe I was created with an innate passion for music that was then cultivated by my father’s sound system and the influence of the culture.
Rise of The Omega (ROTO) Flyer, 2018
The audial element of sound system cemented my love of music and its physical size, inspired me to always think big but in my own unique and authentic way – CAYA. From the birth of CAYA sound system, to all the derivatives that have now been created from it – a children’s book, merchandise, digital art, academic writings, sound art and live performances, to name a few – that dream has become a reality.
Creating CAYA however was not without its challenges, being a female in a predominantly male environment, acted as a complete juxtaposition to the testosterone-filled sessions which created negative experiences at times. Not having a turn to play, my mic being taken without permission were just some of the experiences. However, where some might have been disturbed or saddened by these experiences, they instead compelled me to do more and expand from solely a sound system, to a music enterprise and audio business.
Only now can I see how I was subconsciously laying the foundation for a much greater innovation, which would only come into being, on later visiting Africa.
Now despite seeming like distant anomalies, culture and technology are a lot more closely related then given credit, especially in the case of sound system culture and technology. To clarify:
‘Culture and technology are in a constantly expanding positive feedback loop. The greatest changes in human culture are almost always the result of a technological innovation. However, a technology capable of a cultural shift can only have come from the culture itself. Without the culture’s choice to refine the technology, the practical applications would have been left as only fleeting ideas; technology will only be developed if the culture has some immediate and apparent use for it. Although a culture will develop a technology based on its inherent valence towards a particular application, that culture cannot possibly fathom the ultimate repercussions of its collective decision. The inherent multiplier effect in the feedback loop along with unforeseen applications of the technology will guide the “trajectories of cultural evolution” 
Thali Lotus, 2022
This supports how CAYA sound system developed and evolved into CAYA Audio. Sound systems and the associated culture have naturally created a sonic humanism without guidance and intervention from external interventions or government support. It is the culture that has guided the technology, where the culture is interwoven, just like it is in many others. However most striking in sound system culture is the period that it has made such an impact within. As despite Reggae, Roots and Dub being creations of the mid-20th Century, the culture that it has created supersedes its time in years. From a very counterculture reputation to catwalk-level fashion, collaborations raging from innovative technology to academic writings, sound system is a phenomenon like no other. Just like technology, it allows for every opportunity to be and continues to produce more prospect, talent, and innovation with time.
When I first visited Zambia in Southern Central Africa in 2019, my desire to create what is now the CAYA X3E microphone was sparked by what I believed to be my love of music, but on reflection is owing to a much deeper ancestral interconnectedness. With civilisation dating back as far as 300,000-125,000 years BC, with the remains of Kabwe Man being discovered here in 300AD, my resonance to the country is owing to that. For the first time in Zambia, I began ‘dancing a yard’ with the innovation, permission, and creativity to then ‘dance abroad’ in the UK.
Founded in 2020, CAYA AUDIO is the manufacturing and production arm of CAYA and is set to launch in 2022 with the first product in the range being the CAYA X3E microphone. The name, X3E stands for multiplied by 3 Es, Educate, Entertain and Empower, which describes the different domains that the X3E mic can be used within. Diverse in its purpose and application, the X3E aims to cater for a range of functions, users, and settings, the first of its kind in its provisions and perspective. Sound technologies such like the X3E mic, is said to be a relatively new phenomena; however (as I have come to appreciate) they have always existed in forms, such as the drum in Africa.
CAYA X3E Microphone
A microphone’s presence in sound system culture is paramount, as not only does it amplify the voice of the operator in the simplest form, but it also curates the setting, the frequency, and the vibration of the environment, without which a dynamic flow could not be communicated or received. The CAYA X3E is the vocal cord of CAYA Sound System, but even more so the audial zeitgeist of sound system culture, migration, displacement, ancestral heritage, civilisation, and communication. The creation of the MEMs electret CAYA X3E microphone aims to take sound system, and the wide genre of drum-enthused music, to the next level by way of allowing its users to perform, interact and enhance each musical experience.
Essentially knowing where you are coming from, in order to know where you are going to, innately has an affect on all of us unbeknown to us. Through a longing, a calling, a drive, an intuition, we naturally move towards our passions and, often, the things that we were exposed to in our formative years both physical and spiritual. To be able to officially ’dance a yard’ creates a confidence and natural expansion to ’dance abroad’ with the foundations having been conquered, the culture created, sound systems built, and microphones technologically engineered, the only thing left to do is to expel one’s voice to then conquer greater territories.
 Ehrich, Paul R. Human Natures: Genes Cultures and the Human Prospect, Island Press, 2000. Pp. 253-279.
Thali Lotus is the founder of CAYA (Come As You are) AUDIO, Sound System & Enterprise. First established in 2016, CAYA has gone from a female designed, engineered and led touring sound system to an Audio manufacturing Business. In addition CAYA offers a range of DJ mixes, NFTS, and children’s book. Learn more at https://cayasounds.co.uk/
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