Aswad: The Other Cinema, London

ASWAD PLAYED on an Other Cinema music night, a reggae special, following a showing of Horace Ore’s Reggae and Step Forward Youth and a documentary about a reggae spectacular (?) at Wembley Stadium.

They’re not satisfied with the set they played that night; under-rehearsed through no fault of their own, things started cooking too near the end of the set for comfort. The disappearance of Bunny and Candy McKenzie throws all the vocal weight on the players, and although Chaka on guitar can handle it, young Angus Gaye wasn’t drumming as firecracker free as he used to, knowing that he had to divide his energy up between skins and larynx.

Time tough, since their Island deal fell through.

Aswad are generally acknowledged as the spearhead of the youth reggae bands. The first young band to go out and play in black clubs, white clubs, anywhere there’s an audience to please and excite. Now that bands like Black Slate and Steel Pulse are making the same crossover move, it’s all the more important that they don’t give up the fight.

New songs like ‘Jah Will Be There I-ternally’ and ‘Jah Love’, the “it’s not our wish that we should fight” chorus fragmenting into darting arrows of dub-afire, prove that they can easily coax an audience into wild applause.

They have a new sound to go with their new streamlined lineup — sweetly meshing close harmony voices, Heptones style. They have new music to make and new ears to captivate.

To achieve that end, the balance within the band, especially where vocals are concerned, needs to be realigned. Also, each musician must feel free in his mind, free to move more than they did on the admittedly small stage of The Other Cinema, where their visual appeal was low. Aswad can’t afford to wait for things to improve before galvanising into some attention-grabbing onstage dynamics.

They went down — a storm. They were (by the end of the set) as enthralling as they were when their album was doing well, they had a deal, and they were fresh and hot. The creativity is if anything stronger than ever.

Let’s hope Aswad get the chance to blossom fully.

© Vivien GoldmanSounds, 20 August 1977

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