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Pioneer Jamaican producer Sonny Roberts honoured with blue plaque

today21/07/2023 6

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Pioneering Jamaican producer Sonny Roberts is to be honoured with a blue plaque.

Roberts was known for opening Planetone, the first Black-owned recording studio in Britain, just three years after moving to the UK from Jamaica in 1958.

The plaque, which will be located at the studio’s former location at 108 Cambridge Road, Kilburn, is set to be unveiled on what would have been Roberts’ 91st birthday on July 26.

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At the studio, artists such as Mike Elliott, The Marvels, Robert ‘Dandy Livingstone’ Thompson, and Tito ‘Sugar’ Simon recorded tracks as well as early work from the trombonist Rico Rodriquez.

After his success at Planetone, Roberts started his own label, Sway before his best-known label in the seventies, Orbitone.

With Orbitone, Roberts distributed a variation of British Lovers Rock and Nigerian genres such as Highlife and Hiplife — sounds that would form the foundation of Afrobeats.

One of his biggest successes’ was producing and releasing Judy Boucher’s ‘Can’t Be with You Tonight’ which reached #2 in the UK Charts and holds the record for the first Caribbean female singer to have the longest stay in the UK charts at 14 weeks.

Roberts was also responsible for introducing Afrobeats to England, bringing the Nkengas over from Nigeria to record some of the earliest examples of the genre.

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His record shop in London’s Willesden Junction became the hub for Black music and even saw Roberts introduce Jools Holland to American DJ, Afrika Bambaataa.

In the late 90s, Roberts returned to Jamaica where he remained until his death in 2021.

In honour of his contribution to UK Black music, the Nubian Jak Community Trust in association with Trojan Records, are installing a blue plaque at the site of his former studio.

The ceremony will take place on July 26 at 108 Cambridge Road, Kilburn at 3PM.

Guests attending the unveiling include Jazzie B, Akala, Terri Walker, Leee John, Peter Straker, Omar, Junior Giscombe, Maxwell D, General Levy, DJ Jiggs, Daddy Ernie and more.

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Playing on the evening will be Gladdy Wax, Nigel Q, The Pekings Brothers and Sir Breena Sound System.

Cleon Roberts, daughter of Sonny Roberts said: “Your trailblazing work in music has woven themselves into the very fabric of mine and most people’s lives, inspiring generations to come, and carved a path for artists and musicians. I celebrate not just your achievements, but also the indomitable spirit that propels your family forward.”

She continues: “Your symphony of dedication, passion, strength and honesty continues to resonate, leaving an enduring legacy for all who listen. Congratulations, Dad, on crafting a symphony of greatness that will forever echo through time”.

Becky Buckle is Mixmag’s Multimedia Editor, follow her on Twitter

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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