25 February 2008

Blackbeard Dub

I go through phases with reggae. In recent months I've been listening to old Roots and Dub elpees almost exclusively for the purposes of home relaxation, or when 'chilling out', if you will. The rest of the family are somewhat ambivalent towards this, but at least there's no outright hostility this time. Occasionally the kids might pick-up on a tune, though usually for entirely the wrong reasons. The Congos' "La La Bam-Bam" proved popular for a while, but only because they thought the words were "what a yellow bum bum" resulting in much sniggering whenever dad was caught singing along to it whilst cooking the dinner.

Pretty much anything that went through the mixing desk at King Tubby's, Channel One or The Black Ark is fine with me, although I've been finding great comfort in music created closer to home, notably the work of UK-based dub meastro Dennis 'Blackbeard' Bovell, who some might be familiar with for his production work with post-punkers The Pop Group and The Slits, or his musical arrangements for Lynton Kwesi Johnson's dub poetry albums, or his pioneering development of the Lovers Rock style. But he was a master of the dub mix too, and occasionally got the opportunity to make a whole album to himself, such as "Strictly Dub Wize" (1978) and "I Wah Dub" (1980), featuring the kind of warm, fluid fluctuations of equalisation, reverb and echo that we take for granted from a Tubby's mix, yet offering a slightly gentler and more musically varied set of ideas, possibly owing to the fact that most of the riddim tracks were derived from the soulful, melodious arrangements associated with his Lovers Rock output.

One of Bovell's most successful productions was Janet Kaye's "Silly Games" (a UK #2 hit in the summer of '79), which I'm sure many people of a certain age will have fond memories of, particularly for those dangerously high notes Janet hits near the end of the song. Many years later I was surprised to discover an album called "Dub Dem Silly", which is basically Janet Kaye 'in dub'. It's a beautiful record, full of Bovell's rich dubwise invention, yet hearing "Silly Games" stripped down into "Silly Dub" with Kaye's vocals fractured and scattered across that disrupted riddimscape for the first time was a strangely moving experience. The spaces opened out by the dub mix seemed to mirror some inner feelings of loss. Nostalgic familiarity glimpsed through the shattered lens of uncertainty.

Dub can mess with the mind (even without herbal assistance).

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