Today sees the release of Drumming Is A Language – the second installment of ON-U Sound`s comprehensive reissuing of African Head Charge`s considerable back catalogue. The package comprising of 4 albums – 2 of which see vinyl for the first time – all expanded to doubles, plus a fifth LP of previously unreleased versions. Amounting to a total of something like 6 hours of music whose purpose is to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed***. There are 2 records from the 1990s – with the archival gems also dating from this period – and 2 from this century.
AHC`s `80s output was the result of stolen studio time – “wired” late night sessions. Edgy and paranoid. Tape edits on tape edits obsessively searching for rhythms within rhythms. Its use of “found sounds”, a mix of animal, human, and machine that drew on both the avant-garde and industrial. The recordings were most definitely dub, but also most definitely not reggae. These new reissues, however, are less an amphetamine-fueled quest for a psychedelic Africa, or a shebeen in a Sci-Fi dancehall, and more a set of modern grounations. Consciousness-expanding rituals of Rasta revolution designed to have all hearts beating like one – towards one destination. Peace. The use of vocal focal points on 1990`s Songs Of Praise, makes it almost pop, compared to the rest of ON-U Sound`s canon. This later incarnation of AHC is the most spiritual, and consequently the most accessible thing on the label. By segueing sacred musics from around the globe they`ve created a universal language. Children’s choirs, blues hollers, and buddhist mantras. Dancing dervishes, and deep south evangelists – who cross the River Jordan to the sampled sound of running water. Filched film dialogue, gated gurus, Gregorian monks, and plainsong. Lee Perry-like elders, mad possessed shamen – who summon bellowing spirits. Sufis and funky-drummer-driven warrior charges. The poetry of Mutabaruka and Prince Far I. Sequenced and overdubbed they all impart wisdom in ceremonies that call for love and understanding.
Nyabinghi gatherings constructed not just from a collective of akete – baandu, fundeh, and kete – a unity of clapping hands and stamping feet – organic thunder – but also synthetic lightning. Dodgy contacts buzzing, sparks flying along with the cymbals. Tesla coils doubling for juice harps. Gentle kalimba, balaphon, ripples carried high on the shoulders of gigantic beats. Tabla and iron gamelan chimes, dialed in and out. Funk breaks sampled, fragmented, and made to skank. Percussion spinning busy through phase and filter. Rhythms simultaneously seemingly unstoppable, and at the point of collapse. Tumbling in tides. Snares smashing. Rimshots ringing. Sound-effects crashing the party. Finding themselves spiked, and twisted, before being ejected.
If “god” is a unifying principle, well for AHC god is, of course, the drum, but also the bass. Less of a “line”, more an omnipresent, woofer-blowing, hum. Slapped strings bouncing bulbous. A rubberband (class) rock. Gurgling, sticky, and viscous. A primordial ooze, quicksand. Synths belching like bionic frogs. The bass` warmth off-set by icy crystalline keys. The remastering on these reissues is incredible, with details shining like stars in the dread meditations. Bringing out solos that I swear I never heard before. Guitars in treated emotional arcs – like a heavy metal fed into dub`s sonic reducer, and somehow coming out the other end heavier. Jolts of highlife-influenced Ju Ju. Tuareg twang, and bottleneck slide. Feedback fuzz and fizz. Fine fretboard filigree illuminating the shadows. Horns roar like rogue elephants. Chase the Loa, with Miles, through Benin, Haiti, and Louisiana. Rave`s bleep is co-opted. As are house`s anthemic pianos. All amounting to a pan-denomination love song – religion only division – floating somewhere out in space. In zero g. In search of a new eden. Healing chants with no place for bad vibes or vanity.
African Head Charge`s Drumming Is A Language contains the LPs Songs Of Praise, In Pursuit Of Shashamane Land, Vision Of A Psychedelic Africa, Voodoo Of The Godsent, and Churchical Chant Of The Iyabinghi. The boxset, and individual records, are available directly from ON-U Sound.
***Personally, in the weeks that have followed the passing of Andrew Weatherall, the music of African Head Charge did just that – provide comfort in my disturbed state. After seven days of listening non-stop to Andrew`s mixes, playlists, productions and remixes, the transition into the world that Adrian Sherwood and Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah created as AHC was an easy one. AHC were such an obvious influence on Andrew, that while not directly involved, I can hear him in everything. Everything on Drumming Is A Language sounds like something Andrew would have made or played – and so, for me, in my current frame of mind, essential.