African Head Charge: Shrunken Head (2003)
With more than ten records over the last 23 years, African Head Charge has amassed an impressive (albeit sometimes uneven) discography. The group has undergone plenty of changes since its 1981 debut, but all seem guided by a common respect for twisting Jamaican and African tradition asunder. The influence of deviant dub producer Adrian Sherwood pervades the series, though it's hard to pin down his contributions precisely. (That's really the point of being a producer, if you ask me.) None of the previous African Head Charge records on On-U sound are still in print, which makes this two-decade compilation particularly meaningful.
The 17 tracks on Shrunken Head never over-extend their welcome, always a good thing in its world of ever-reverberant textures. "Dinosaur's Lament," from 1997's Environmental Studies, makes no apologies about a detour into pure dub. Rumbling basslines and ever-pulsing drums serve as the foundation for a seductively psychedelic meditation voiced through some sort of harmonized harp-like sound. "Dervish Chant" heads straight into the bazaar, invading minor territory with a cornucopia of overlapping percussion timbres, occasional rough voices chanting in and out. "Cattle Herders Chant" draws from West Africa, the richly interlocking patter of drums running alongside staccato guitar cycles. Organic chants and Afro-pop textures round out the jam. More of the same comes out later on "Stebeni's Theme."
Sometimes these pieces cross over the line into repetition. But the raw earthy energy and clever sophistication of the rest more than make up for these occasional shortcomings. "Pursuit," with its pygmy vocal samples, far-out Prince Far I vocals, Laswellian bass groove, and densely interlocking drums, is proof enough that African Head Charge has plugged directly into the source.
As Bonjo I puts it: "No place for bad vibes..." Indeed.
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Track Listing: 1. Pursuit; 2. You Learn; 3. Run Come See; 4. Heading to Glory; 5. No, Don't Follow Fashion; 6. Who Are You?; 7. Language and Mentality; 8. Far Away Chant; 9. Dinosaur's Lament; 10. Dervish Chant; 11. Throw It Away; 12. Cattle Herders Chant; 13. Belinda; 14. Stebeni's Theme; 15. Bazaar; 16. I Want Water; 17. Free Chant
Personnel: Perry Melius, Style Scott, Charley "Eskimo" Fox, Prisoner: drums; Bonjo I a Binghi Noah, Sunny Akpan, Andy Moses: percussion; Zap, Skip McDonald, Kishi Yamamoto, Dr. Pablo, David Harrow: keyboards; Wayne Numes, Crocodile, Junior Moses, Lizard: bass; Skip McDonald, Martin Fredrix, Remee: guitar; Bonjo I, King Cry Cry (8), Stebeni (14), Skip McDonald (backing vocals), Albert Einstein (7), the Miracle Voice Choir : vocals.
Record Label: ON-U Sound