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African Head Charge - Drumming is a Language 1990-2011


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The On-U Sound record label has been reissuing the music of African Head Charge and what a boon that's been for fans of the duo's (percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah and producer Adrian Sherwood) impressive and extensive body of work. This 5-CD box set brings together the 1990 release Songs of Praise, 1993's In Pursuit of Shashamane Land, 2005's Vision of a Psychedelic Africa and 2011's Voodoo of the Godsent along with a new compilation of alternate mixes called Churchical Chant of the Iyabinghi.

This is one of those sets where, if you have a multi-disc CD player, you could just set the player to 'shuffle' and let it play infinitely; it's a given that you would never be disappointed with whatever bit of psychedelic reggae/dub/percussion/African music that comes your way at any given time. But taking the collection chronologically, your starting point would be Songs of Praise, which is also one of AHC's most-revered albums. The music is inspired by religious chants from around the world and the trance-inducing "Free Chant (Churchical Chant of the Iyabinghi)" sets the tone with a chant set to a slow groove where guitar effects sizzle like a brain in the throes of lysergic ecstasy. "Orderliness, Godliness, Discipline and Dignity" finds Bonjo tapping out a feverish beat on congas while guitarist Skip McDonald pokes and prods with brief bursts of notes to accompany a chant sung in mysterious dialect. Not all is so trippy though; "Hymn" is a joyous dose of poppy reggae with lyrics sung by a youth choir. Among the more intriguing cuts are "Dervish Chant," which takes a journey through the sounds of the Horn of Africa, the apparently Maasai-inspired "Cattle Herders Chant," the slow and mesmerizing "Ethiopian Praises" and the dub-heavy "Full Charge" where the chant is delightfully mired in a parade of effects. This set features 17-tracks including a rare remix of "Orderliness, Godliness, Discipline and Dignity."

In Pursuit of Shashamane Land begins with "Heading to Glory," a cut that echoes both Africa and India musically, through the psych-tinged minds of those seeking spiritual enlightenment. The sublime reggae of "One Destination" channels the aura of love that is Bob Marley's legacy while "Animal Law" is reggae in the style of dub that many listeners first became familiar with through extended-play remixes, and featuring an effect that, true to the song's title, sounds like a growling jungle cat. The funky instrumental "Fever Pitch" gets two go-rounds, with its initial offering being followed-up later in the album with "Fever Pitch (Raw Cut)" which, with the bass more in the background, sounds brighter than the first version. Previously-unreleased cuts include a frantic Patrick Dokter edit/remix of album cut "Pursuit," and "Rastaman," an ode to the Rasta way where percussion and organ are the only accompaniments to the chanted vocals.

The guys took more than a decade off after In Pursuit of Shashamane Land, not coming forth with new music until 2005's Vision of a Psychedelic Africa. The album is perfectly titled as it opens with "The Big Country," a tribal beat infused with dub effects and manipulated vocal snippets before moving on to the psychedelic reggae/spaghetti western mash-up of "Surfari," the avant-garde percussion of the cut that gives this box set its name ("Drumming is a Language)" and the (mostly) instrumental "Mr. Whippy Does Djibouti," which, considering its Horn of Africa-referencing title, is an appropriately surreal musicscape. Everything on this disc has been previously-released but there are a few rare tracks in "Ready You Ready Part 2" and two versions of "What is the Plan" featuring Mutabaruka. 2011's Voodoo of the Godsent finds African Head Charge in just as trippy and dub-happy mood, but songs like "In I Head," "The Best Way" and "Stoned Age Man" feature more conventional melodies than the preceding album, and that vibe continues throughout the album.

The set wraps up with a fifth disc entitled Churchical Chant of the Iyabinghi where Bonjo and Sherwood revisit Songs of Praise and In Pursuit of Shashamane Land, choosing five songs from each and presenting new versions of them here. "Animal Law" becomes "Jungle Law;" the version brings the vocals to the forefront and removes the dub effect growls, while "Dervish Chant" becomes the super-psychedelic groove "Dervish Dub." And so it goes with this offering of previously-unreleased versions.

Bonjo's drumming is transcendent throughout this collection as is Sherwood's production, and their psychedelicized mélange of reggae, African and global music is unparalleled. An included booklet features an interview with Bonjo and credits for the additional musicians who appear.

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