Wednesday, May 12, 2010

African Head Charge - Off The Beaten Track

One of the main acts of audio-shaman Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound collective, formed around African percussionist and vocalist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah. pioneering the use of dub tricknology into ethnic patterns and styles years before the shit was common, and while respecting and undiluting the mainline.

"In the intervening years between the 1986 release of “Off The Beaten Track” and its immediate predecessor 1983’s “Drastic Season”, African Head Charge had been moulded into a live blood-pumping band by its main man Bonjo lyabinghi Noah, who had truly come out of the shadows where percussion usually resides, fuelled by a righteous desire to occupy that front-of-stage position. Also during that time producer Adrian Sherwood had volunteered to be fed through the funk-mangle by Messrs.

(Skip) McDonald, (Doug) Wimbish and (Keith) Le Blanc, had come out the other end more disciplined and focused on what fresh sounds might be possibly created through the blatant use and abuse of state of the art technology, where he had previously generated samples as a “captured sound” by-product of the studio hardware or bled all over the old Studer decks as a result of a thousand razored edits. The result of this “great leap forward” was the fourth actual, but first “modern”, African Head Charge album – “Off The Beaten Track” – which sounded like nothing else around at the time, and whose combination of fat beats and ethnic chants was to provide the template, which many lesser lights were to attempt to emulate over the ensuing years.

Compared to previous efforts the "new" AHC rhythms were less abstract and more direct, with continuous and flowing percussion lines and more managed tempo shifts. The application of loops and samples of increased time duration made all the difference when combined with the more fluid and confident approach of the musicians involved in the build of the tracks. Sherwood shows up once more under his by now redundant guise as "The Prisoner". Skip McDonald makes an early non-funk entry and the reappearance of Jah Wobble makes clear his creative commitment to his old friends at On-U. But most remarkably, and making his debut as a recording artist, is the twentieth centuries most radical scientist - the super-cool Albert Einstein, laying down a sweet rap with the most conscious of lyrics in "Language And Mentality". Of course, Albert was in the studio in spirit only and the exercise, to my knowledge, has never been repeated.

The title “Off The Beaten Track” was not just an example of a great piece of wordplay, but also incredibly apt as the music was not only a departure for On-U Sound, but also a landmark album for what was to become the whole new ethno-beat strand within the commercial category of what we now know as “World Music”. – Steve Barker


PD: Also, re-upped this.


  1. I played this to death when it came out all those years ago, the great Steve Barker review was absolutely spot on when he commented it sounded quite like nothing else in 1986 (and that included the On-U-Sound material which in itself sound like nothing else being made at the time!)....a testament to the unique and radical sonic structures AHC were laying down is the fact that 24 years later, it still sounds as fresh as the day it was born....listening to it now, 'Language & Mentality' is still my favourite track, Albert's voice still sounds so soothing!

    Thanks for upping this, I cannot even remember what happened to my copy!

  2. Steve's the shit ain't he? I deeply respect his writing. This one and "My Life..." are my AHC faves, I'm also very partial to "In Pursuit of Shashamane Land", being the first thing I ever listened to from them. Indeed, Sherwood's On-U Sound, from tackhead to the Maffia to Bim Sherman, was ten steps ahead, and still is. Praise be.

  3. One of their best...and that's saying something.

  4. Language and Mentality isn't Einstein, it's Ludwig Wittgenstein.

    It was funnier than crap to "sing" along with this while dancing, and watch people's reactions...

    Great album...