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Asian Dub Foundation - Rafi's Revenge

  by Adrian Janes

published: 24 / 4 / 2019

Asian Dub Foundation - Rafi's Revenge
Label: Select Label
Format: N/A


In our 'Re: View' section, in which our writers look back on albums from the past, Adrian Janes finds that Asian Dub Foundation's superb 1998 second album 'Rafi's Revenge;, which has now been reissued, criss-crosses genres to create truly multicultural music.

This reissue of Asian Dub Foundation’s breakthrough second UK album proves the worth of awakening new generations to old records, even one that (unlike many reissues) actually achieved both critical and commercial acclaim, reaching Number 20 on the album chart at the time of its original release in 1998. Descriptions of their music namecheck a seemingly bizarre variety of genres, from reggae to jungle, rock to bhangra. Yet the incredible achievement of this album is to invite sympathy for such floundering by critics, as Asian Dub Foundation really do draw upon these influences and more, and from them make coherent, fierce, powerful statements. Opener ‘Naxalite’, for instance (invoking Bengali Maoist guerillas in a manner comparable to Public Enemy’s Black Panther references) is founded on a fast, reverbed jungle rhythm that takes it into dubwise sonic territory. Dr Das’ bass, even amongst a set of highly talented musicians, deserves special mention for the superb feel and flow of his playing from the outset. Over this foundation vocalist Deeder’s style is like a Jamaican dancehall MC at a political rally, agitated and agitational. Much of ‘Buzzin’’ clatters along frantically, with Chandrasonic’s guitar surging forth. Yet the band expertly drops the intensity for brief reggae interludes, overlaid by sampled Indian flute, in a microcosm of their characteristic approach. That such juxtapositions fit rather than jar is testimony to their musical skill and confidence in it. Bad Brains are one of the few bands at all comparable in this ability to play seemingly incompatible styles and make it work. There is a raging energy to much of ‘Rafi’s Revenge’, the fuel that comes from having long felt oneself denied self-expression (whether it be in music or politics), and now seizing the day. Titles like ‘Assassin’, ‘Hypocrite’ and ‘Charge’ sum up this potent venting of frustration, though the seemingly incongruous one, the dub-steeped ‘Tribute to John Stevens’, shows a trace of ironic humour (Stevens was the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner). The protest against a general state of injustice finds its strongest focus in ‘Free Satpal Ram’. (Ram, imprisoned for murder after an altercation in a restaurant in which he claimed self-defence, had already been in prison for over a decade at this point, and wasn’t released until early in the next century.) With Chandrasonic’s dynamic guitar driving the chanted chorus, it takes its place alongside other protests against police and judicial injustice, like Linton Kwesi Johnson’s ‘George Lindo’ and Angelic Upstarts’ ‘The Murder of Liddle Towers’. ‘Operation Eagle Lie’ is a further protest against police brutality and harassment, where the furious guitarwork is as eloquent as any lyric. But there is space for reflection too, best summed up in the reggae rhythm and yearning classical Indian violin of ‘Dub Mentality’. Even more than a musical style that, at its best, is amazingly flexible and imaginative, for Asian Dub Foundation: “Dub is a place/We come to argue and debate.” It’s part of the wonder of music that a group of East Londoners of Indian heritage, as with their fellow Londoner Jah Wobble, should find and become fluent in a musical language that supposedly doesn’t “belong” to either of them. In these days of argument over “cultural appropriation”, it’s surely significant and important that musicians remain as alert as ever in their openness to influence, to create great things in turn. The real problem, of course, is in not giving due credit to their sources of inspiration, but from the name of the band itself to collaborations such as the jungle-based but tabla-graced track ‘Culture Move’, which features the half-Jamaican MC Navigator, it is not Asian Dub Foundation’s. Despite the society against which they rail, some hope is given by the more restrained dub stylings of ‘Black White’, which celebrates “the unity we have found”, and is also expressed in the track ‘Change’, where a blend of jungle and rock rhythms with Indian singing in their midst realises musically the idea “Be the change you want to see.” This reissue is accompanied by a disc of remixes, dub versions (e.g. ‘Naxalite’, as reworked by Adrian Sherwood) and a live ‘Charge’ that again brings Public Enemy to mind in its righteous dynamism. If it was released separately it would offer more than many other albums: as an accompaniment to ‘Rafi’s Revenge’ it makes for a doubly powerful package.

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Asian Dub Foundation - Rafi's Revenge

Asian Dub Foundation - Rafi's Revenge

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