Eardrum Buzz (Chapter 3)

Eardrum Buzz is an irregular Dubdog feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

AfricanDubCh3

Title: African Dub, Chapter 3
Author: Joe Gibbs and The Professionals
Label: Lightning Records
UK Release Year: 1978

“What the fuck is this?” is not the exact phrase that would have been going through my 10 year old brain. The ‘fuck’ has been added by my 47 year-old self to emphasise the strength of reaction I had to hearing African Dub, Chapter 3 for the first time.

Opening with a heavy accented Jamaican voice declaring at volume, “They wan eya killa killa killa killa killa”. This echoes off into the sound of a deep bomb blast, immediately before impulsive snare rim-shots set the rhythm to follow; some opening to an album! Then a snare roll cuts through the heavy atmosphere, cavernous and tinny—how can something sound so thin and so loud?—before the powerful hook of THAT bassline underpins everything. All this within 15 seconds and we are truly on the way—the album has started.

Until this stage, my musical appreciation had been, in order: The Wombles, Sweet and The Beatles. Not exactly the musical diet that would have prepared me for such a heavy dub record, (not that I knew what ‘dub’ meant aged 10). “What the fuck is this?” indeed.

What followed is now so well known to me, but to my young ears this was difficult to comprehend as music. Questions abounded: Firstly, why were there virtually no human voices except for the odd call of ‘killa’ or ‘murder’ or ‘I wanna dub you’? Where was the verse/chorus set-up I’d become familiar with? Secondly, why the repetition? Apart from the odd fill-in, once a track had truly started, it was essentially the same thing repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, (as I heard it back then). Thirdly, why did some instruments keep cutting in and out, as if lost, only to reappear some 20 seconds later? And lastly, what were all those sounds that echoed in and out all about? The doorbell; the science fiction type noises I’d heard on Blake’s 7; the snapshots of a horn section, gone in an instant; and the odd vocal addition.

All these questions confused and excited my young mind. But what drove through all of this strangeness was the high fast rhythms cut by the drums, and the low, low, low bass hooks.

The accompanying sleeve intrigued also—if the music was revolutionary and somewhat threatening to my ears, the sleeve created a heavy visual accompaniment. Those dark brooding guys on the front joined as one staring directly at me, the unfamiliar architecture in the background line illustration, the red, gold and green jagged shards blasting from the sky. And the title! Who was the band? Where they called African Dub, or Chapter Three? And what did All-mighty mean?, a phrase I’d only previously heard at dreaded Sunday school, (no pun intended).

The context to this musical mayhem I was experiencing: A family gathering—maybe Christmas, maybe Easter—packed into my Grandmother and Uncle’s council house in Carshalton, Surrey; the front room barely big enough for the congregated mass there-in.

This album, more than any other, has had a massive impact on me. Not just on my musical tastes, but also on my inquisitiveness for discovering new sounds. I wasn’t sure I liked African Dub Chapter 3 when I first heard it. I certainly didn’t understand it. But it did intrigue me.

In terms of bands/music I’ve liked over the years since first hearing this record that I can draw a clear linage to, then my immediate patronage of Two-Tone as ‘my music’ when it hit the charts a year later is an obvious association. The b-side of the 10” Black Market Clash, with the dub versions of Armagideon Time and Bankrobber, was at one stage pretty much glued to my turntable for weeks on end a few years later. It wouldn’t be until my late teens and early twenties thought that I’d discover the delights of other dub producers such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Niney The Observer, and obviously King Tubby. Later, World Domination Enterprises, Meat Beat Manifesto, Mark Stewart and The Maffia, Tackhead, The Bug, and Kode9 and the SpaceApe, amongst many others, would be opened to my ears because I could trace aspects back to this album.

I will leave the final words of this post to Woebot, writing for The Wire magazine’s The Inner Sleeve feature, (August 2010, issue 318, p79): “The music is analogous to the artwork: visionary, bold, visceral, but also conjured from the barest essentials. This record as [a] physical entity has always functioned as a desire-creating machine. In his epic reggae study, Bass Culture, Lloyd Bradley told how the demand for it was so strong that the first UK copies were stolen overnight from a London shop before they even hit the racks. The disc’s power [is] undiminished with the passing years”.

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