Aswad: Hulet (Groove)

IT’S EASY TO feel alienated by certain aspects of reggae, not the least of which is the idolatry afforded it by impressionable whites: ‘Milky Bar Rastas’ as the species is classified by John Lydon.

But does Rasta lyricism drag on a little too far? Do you pay your money and in choosing get wound up in a maze of shaky, meta-moralistic soothings and sayings?

Or again, would it be good enough to choose to recommend you to buy Aswad’s Hulet over Dylan’s Slow Train — an album and person one has damned considerably elsewhere — for no better reason than, well, it sounds groovier to me? No.

But then once you get past the pearly aesthetic gates — Aswad’s is a sprightly dub album, Dylan’s a dull American FM album — the answer is probably ‘yes’. Religious interest in religious reggae is always spread wider; Aswad is about collective will, not individual moralising. ‘Jah’ is probably best seen by we unbelievers as a myth, a reflection in language of an element of our society in which a collective will, which has already been recognised and has to some extent actively asserted itself, begins to take some form.

In other words, Aswad’s organisation is social; Dylan’s is CBS.

Which leaves me, obliged by space and employment to evaluate the object in hand (not my typewriter): Hulet, British reggae group Aswad’s second album.

As a reggae album, Hulet is unusually listenable. As a British reggae album, it’s produced by Michael Campbell and sounds seductively subtle, pleasantly adventurous — although it’s true that individual musicians, especially Drummie, are often sacrificed too far in favour of Aswad’s group sound. As the second Aswad album (coming so long after 1976’s Aswad on Island), it is or isn’t ‘Disappointing’.

If you know anything about them, then you don’t need me to answer the last question; if you don’t, it’s even dafter. Apart from a quota of pretty conventional guitar solos as per usual for reggae (and you can’t go much for them in as nice a room as this), Aswad are certainly a more rhythmically exploratory outfit than most, and more worthwhile checking out than anything stemming from a British base I’d care to mention.

I can’t stomach their preachy sleeve notes, because even if they are ‘better’ than most beat music Hard Sell graphics, it’s still someone telling you the ‘right’ way to live.

Sure as Satan I’m not about to tell you the ‘right’ things to buy but, relatively speaking, Aswad are a front line act if you’re looking for one.

© Ian PenmanNew Musical Express, 8 September 1979

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