African Head Charge began as a challenge to Brian Eno. The liner notes for the dub ensemble’s new box set share the story how producer Adrian Sherwood read a 1981 interview about My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, where Eno described that album as his “vision of a psychedelic Africa.” Sherwood initially thought that statement was “pompous,” but decided to try his own hand at creating what it might sound like. Teaming up with Jamaican percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah, the result was the duo’s debut album, My Life In A Hole In The Ground. Alongside laying groundwork for the next four decades of this prolific project, it would find an altered version of their song “Far Away Chant” used to terrifying effect in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart.
As a sequel to their early album collection Environmental Holes & Drastic Tracks 1981 – 1986, African Head Charge have compiled the later years of their On-U Sound recordings in this 5CD, 9LP set. Alongside expanding their classic ’90s albums Songs of Praise and In Pursuit of Shashamane Land with bonus tracks, they have pressed 2005’s Vision of a Psychedelic Africa and 2011’s Voodoo of the Godsent on vinyl for the first time. The liners featuring an extended interview with Iyabinghi Noah are especially illuminating, with stories about unusual projects such as his cover of the theme song to Neighbours, an Australian soap opera starring Kylie Minogue, and a collaboration with Norman Cook before he changed his name to Fatboy Slim.
Churchical Chant of the Iyabinghi is the crown jewel of this collection. A set of outtakes from Songs of Praise and In Pursuit of Shashamane Land, described as “the dubbier and more out-there experiments mixed down whilst Sherwood was shaping the sound of the albums”, they have never been heard before. The basis of songs like “Dervish Chant” and “Animal Law” will sound familiar to anyone who’s lived with the originals, but these versions (“Dervish Dub” and “Jungle Law”) are even trippier. Listening on headphones, the stereo-panned hand drums and shaking percussion will rattle in your brain, while their ghostly vocal samples are applied with a liberal dose of hallucinogenic effects. The dreamy guitar licks of “Dub Some More” recall Sherwood’s work with post-punk group Maximum Joy, while the danceable rhythms of “Dub For The Spirits” are perhaps closer to his remixes for Primal Scream. Fans of AHC will be singing their praises for years to come. words/j locke
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