After a resurgent 2015, On-U Sound will kick off the new year with vinyl re-presses of the first four African Head Charge albums. All have been re-cut at ‘Dubplates & Mastering’ in Berlin for maximum bass pressure. They also include printed inner with sleeve notes by Steve Barker (On The Wire), and digital download cards for full album.
The groundbreaking debut album My Life In A Hole In The Ground from 1981 plays on both the title and concept of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Built upon sparse backing tracks constructed by Adrian Sherwood, the producer invited Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah (who had studied under Count Ossie in the rasta drumming camp at Wareika Hill in Jamaica) to lay down hand percussion patterns and breaks on top, augmented by stereo-strafed effects and the occasional burst of Sun Ra-style horns. The result is a unique mixture of traditional African rhythms, dub and free jazz. Features DJ favourite “Stebeni’s Theme” and “Far Away Chant”, used to famously gruesome effect by David Lynch in the film Wild At Heart.
Second album Environmental Studies from 1982 saw African Head Charge working manipulated and vari-speeded 1/4 inch tape loops that were re-recorded back to the multi-track, soaked in reverb and delay, and then applied to the performances of the musicians, not to mention extensive use of found sounds and field recordings, hence the title. The brainchild of Adrian Sherwood and percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah, the group forged their own undefinable sound on these early albums which sound eerily contemporary, pre-dating the experimental bass music of labels such as Hyperdub and Tectonic. Features contributions from Bruce Smith (The Pop Group), Style Scott (Roots Radics) and Deadly Headley (The Wailers).
Their third album Drastic Season from 1983 was described by producer Adrian Sherwood as “experiments in active frequencies, out of time noises, rhythms within rhythms, and endless tape edits”. More so than most that make the claim, African Head Charge could truthfully make the assertion at this stage in their career that the music they were making was a genre unto itself, defying categorisation. Loose echoes of traditional African percussion music, field recordings and roots reggae inform the mix, whilst some parts conjure up the stripped-back post-rock of Can or Tortoise.
Originally released in 1986, Off The Beaten Track still sounds forward thinking, forging a new middle ground between dub and electronic music. Programmed chants and unexpected sounds (barking dogs, breaking glass, gypsy violin loops) are dropped onto a fluid rhythmic bed. A landmark recording in the integration of sampling technology and live instrumentation.
Features contributions from Jah Wobble (Public Image Limited), Skip McDonald (Sugarhill Gang/Tackhead) and Albert Einstein (the theory of relativity)!