African Head Charge / A Few Favourites

African Head Charge have a new long-player up for pre-order, A Trip To Bolgatanga, their first on On-U Sound in well over a decade. I figured that now would be a good time to track the project’s trajectory, by listing a few favourites, album by album, cherry-picked from the outfit’s 40-year-plus career. 

Adrian and Bonjo African Head Charge

Stebeni’s Theme / My Life In A Hole In The Ground / 1981

Centered on the friendship and musical partnership of Adrian Sherwood and Bonjo Iyaginghi Noah, AHC began as pretty extreme experiments in sound. Using the studio as an instrument, the pair searched for “rhythms within rhythms”.* Along the way pioneering the use of samplers, DMX, and AMS delay. Adrian ripping song structures to shreds around Bonjo’s river of percussion. The taut beaten skins of the boula and markeur. Ritual licks of the lewoz, mende, padjabel, and toumblak. These experiments akin to those of BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop – both breaking rules and attempting to push everything way past where it wanted go – but inspired by King Tubby and Lee Perry. Adrian at the controls, distressing dials, phasing all fucking parameters, administering his auditory altered states like Timothy Leary handing out hits of LSD. Within this weird psychedelic whirlwind Stebeni’s Theme is a standout. A hugely influential piece of electronic music, it, to my ears, is effectively proto-afro-house. I guess you can put that down to the cute call-and-response, and the tribal bashing of the big bass drum. Despite being recorded in studio “dead time”, well past the witching hour, and constructed in part from snippets of Alan Lomax’s famous field recordings, with cheerful chirping circuits courting its congas, Stebeni’s Theme possesses all the joy of a live jam. It stands in stark contrast to the skeletal sonics of the surrounding nuggets, such as Primal One Drop. 

African Head Charge Hole In The Ground

Dinosaur’s Lament  / Environmental Studies / 1982

A study in subtraction. The sub-bass sucking a serious speaker rattling, room shaking, vacuum. A black hole containing disembodied koto strings, and scratchy percussion. Creepy crystalline synths. The reverb feeding back, and rising to a roar worthy of the title’s terrible lizard. 

African Head Charge Environmental Studies

Bazaar  / Drastic Season / 1983

Bazaar has its groove totally deconstructed, reduced to industrial reverberations, stuttered, stop / starting snatches of strange stringed things. Each drum hit generating a swirling orbit of debris and decay. Yet, somehow, miraculously it manages to hang on to some semblance of melody through the maze of cavernous echo. Inspired by William Burroughs` cut-ups and kind of prophetically predicting hip hop’s beat-juggling (plus pre-dating Bill Laswell’s conceptually similar Praxis project), this is a demented, deranged, “designer dub”, landmark. 

African Head Charge Drastic Season

Language & Mentality / Off The Beaten Track / 1985

According Bonjo, Language & Mentality was African Head Charge’s “breakout” track. Slow, subdued, and suspended in a spooky, mournful minor key, it borrows a clip of Albert Einstein discussing the importance of language in relation to thought. A melancholy meditation on the meaning that man ascribes to life. Suggesting that this “instrument of reasoning” is what separates the human race from the rest of the animal kingdom, to a mix of machine and hand drums. The song’s success with stoner students resulted in requests for live gigs, and so, where AHC up until then had been a studio-only project, Bonjo, began putting a touring band together. 

The album’s titular tune is also outstanding… twisted metallic timbres, tight repeters, and grumbling, belligerent bottom end, interrupted by random explosions of elements devastated by delay. Its signature, this sort of Balkan see-sawing violin hook. Throw It Away is the thud and thump of tribesmen stomping, stamping from foot to foot. 

African Head Charge Off The Beaten Track

Dervish Chant / Songs Of Praise / 1990

This whole LP, Songs Of Praise, is stunning, but if I can have only one track from it then it would be Dervish Chant. Multi-tracked vocal samples – again, from Alan Lomax’s archives – synergise with Sci-Fi synths on a slow, dark, heavy, and trippy, Nyabinghi noir. Dervish Chant just pips its neighbours due to a shredding Skip McDonald unleashing a fearsome fuzz guitar solo.

African Head Charge Songs Of Praise

Fever Pitch / In Pursuit Of Shashamane Land / 1993

A chunk of funk, gurgling, and growling, with Tackhead muscle – care again of the mighty Skip McDonald – ably assisted by one Hugo Nicolson, and countered by ethereal vocals. It might not have been a bona fide Balearic beat, but it sure as sugar could have been. “Shashamane Land” was the point where AHC shifted away from studio trickery to an electronically augmented but more “organic” sound. Where song structures, many written by Skip, slipped back in, and the virtuosity of the assembled singers and players was allowed to rise out of the dense detailed dubwise, and, when appropriate, to the fore. Gone are the sharp, brutal, industrial and experimental edges. 

Another highlight is holy, hallucinatory, Heading To Glory, which, to the shimmer of sitar-like strains, hand-in-hand with King Selassie, travels between West African JuJu and North African Tuareg.

In Pursuit Of Shashamane Land

Ready You Ready / Vision Of A Psychedelic Africa / 2005

For a long while the label was dogged by a series of financial misfortunes, a disastrous string of distributors and promoters crashing down, but AHC returned to ON-U in 2005 with the Brian Eno-acknowledging Vision Of A Psychedelic Africa.** On Ready You Ready, frogs, cicadas, and a children’s chorus combine on a sunshine-saturated sing-along. Guitars gyrate and generate great highlife licks, some of which are sent spinning backwards. Tape op trickery topping the whole lot off. 

Vision Of A Psychedelic Africa

In I Head / Voodoo Of The Godsent / 2011

Following another, slightly shorter, hiatus, Voodoo Of The Godsent, paid tribute to Prince Far I – on Take Heed And Smoke Up Your Collyweed – and conjured / summoned another personal favourite in the shape of In “I” Head – church piano and clipped rhythm guitar carving out a chopped up chug. The lead letting loose with a lewd Link Wray rock `n` roll rumble, while stuttered chants explode into ecstatic shouts / exclamations. Those of a Balearic bent might hear echoes of Transglobal Underground’s classic Templehead. 

African Head Charge Voodoo Of The Godsent

Microdosing / A Trip To Bolgatanga  / 2023

Microdosing is the piece of music that’s currently promo-ing AHC’s first new album in 12 years, A Trip To Bolgatanga.*** The set in places showcases Ghanan maestro musician King Ayisoba, both on vocals and kologo – a traditional 2-stringed lute. In keeping with this, the single is great griot gear – all be it treated to gating and myriad  effects. In the background a Nyabinghi ceremony is in full swing. On-U’s trademark bionic bass booming. Amid flashes of funky organ, a rhythm guitar adding its skank. I`m lucky enough to have heard the whole album, and honestly, it might just be their best yet. 

A Trip To Bolgatanga


*Conceptually Adrian seems to have criss-crossed with Brian Eno at least a couple of times. There’s Eno`s now legendary “Vision Of A Psychedelic Africa” quote, which, while it didn’t inspire the first AHC album, it did kinda describe the end result. Also in 1979, Eno gave a famous, often cited, lecture, titled “The Recording Studio As Compositional Tool”. During the talk Eno praised Jamaican producers, and described dub reggae as the only truly, totally, electronic music. Adrian and AHC’s improvisations are a damn fine example of Eno’s theories put into practice. I guess this creative “paralleling” finally became a circle when Eno remixed Lee Perry’s Sherwood-produced Makumba Rock. 

**One of the things, in retrospect, that I find really interesting is that Adrian in someways musically mirrors his friend and frequent collaborator, Lee “Scratch” Perry, in that he’s widely recognized as an innovator and hugely influential, but that his work – at least to date – has missed out on mainstream / commercial success. Similarly both Perry and Sherwood seem to have shared inexhaustible imaginations, and a Trojan / Herculean work ethic. Continually cranking the studio handle. Constantly turning out new tunes and rhythms.

***The alternate mixes / outtakes from Songs Of Praise and In Pursuit Of Shashamane Land found on 2020’s collection, Churchical Chant Of The Iyabinghi, released in the interim, are also well worth checking out. 

Churchical Chant Of The Iyabinghi,

African Head Charge’s A Trip To Bolgatanga can be ordered directly from On-U Sound. 

On-U Sound Logo


African Head Charge – Dervish Chant

African Head Charge – Dinosaurs Lament

African Head Charge – Bazaar

African Head Charge – Throw It Away

African Head Charge – Pitched Fever

African Head Charge – In I Head

African Head Charge – Stebenis Theme

African Head Charge – Ready You Ready

African Head Charge – Off The Beaten Track

African Head Charge – One Love One Heart One Destination

African Head Charge – Heading To Glory 

African Head Charge – Microdosing 

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