ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION formed in the mid-nineties, the product of a government-sponsored scheme designed to teach young Asian men music technology, two teachers, their pupil and a local scenester inspired to come together and make music long after everyone else had gone home. Given a support slot in 1997 by Primal Scream, they blew their patrons offstage and inspired Bobby Gillespie to hail them as the best band in the world. Fiercely political, they fronted the prolonged but successful Free Satpal Ram campaign, even releasing a single to raise awareness of the man wrongfully imprisoned for murder because of the colour of his skin. Proactive in every respect, ADF are Britain’s cross-cultural, positivist answer to Rage Against The Machine and just about the only good thing to emerge from 18 years of Tory government. Community Music is their third and best album, cementing them not just as one of the most important bands in Britain, but as one of the best.
Their incisive social and moral fury is writ large through their music, as they weave together strafing guitars, enormous reggae basslines and block rockin’ beats with Deedar Zaman’s half rapped, half chanted vocals and elements of traditional Asian music. ‘Real Great Britain’ lays their template gloriously open, an incandescent vocal about the state of the nation at the turn of the new century backed-up with edgy guitars and the kind of insistent, propulsive rhythm that revolutions are inspired by. ‘Memory War’ and ‘Officer XX’ continue the virtuous onslaught, listing the offences of a nation and a culture that tolerate racism through ignorance and avoidance, as forthright as Public Enemy but less aggressive, as exciting as The Clash but even more creative and with greater focus.
That’s not to say that ADF are nothing but righteous preachers, raging in the name of Britain’s subjugated racial groups. The message is more one of cultural and spiritual harmony through diversity, positivity and unity, as expressed on ‘Collective Mode’ and the awesome, 21st century drum’n’reggae bass of ‘New Way New Life’. Meanwhile ‘Riddim I Like’ is pure dance music, instrumental and joyously funky, Steve Chandra Savale’s guitar strings tuned all to one note like a sitar, painting Eastern melodies over another gorgeously fat, infectious bassline. ‘Taa Deem’ takes the awe-inspiring, devotional vocals of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and marries them to pounding sub-bass and ferocious drum’n’bass passages, while ‘Colour Line’ is an eye-opening spoken-word rumination on the exploitative nature of world political economics by Ambalavaner Sivanandan.
Britain today is a country where racial tensions are at an all-time high and right-wing politics are more visible than at any time since the 1940’s. Now more than ever we need people like Asian Dub Foundation to help bring together communities and cultures that would otherwise be driven apart by ignorance and intolerance. Community Music is a glorious, unifying example of what can be achieved if our nation could finally grow up and demonstrate the same kind of maturity and intelligence that Asian Dub Foundation are so clearly possessed of. They used to sound like a riot being incited. Now they sound like a party being thrown. Punk guitars, Bollywood strings, Motown brass, drum’n’bass beats, dub basslines and electronica flourishes united gloriously with the spirit of Bob Marley, Chuck D, Malcolm X and Gandhi, moving into completely new territory both musically and spiritually. Passionate, inspirational, energising, innovative and enriching, make no mistake, this record is awesome on just about every level. Let’s have some more.
© Nick Southall, Stylus, 1 September 2003