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London's Red Earth Collective and the associated band, Soothsayers, have much in common with New York's Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble. Both aggregations mix Afrobeat, dub and jazz to create a modern urban style. Both have included veteran Jamaican musicians on their albumsRed Earth / Soothsayers featured singers Johnny Clarke and Linval Thompson on its previous disc, One More Reason (Red Earth, 2009), and Akoya featured the great tenor saxophonist Cedric Im Brooks on its most recent set, P.D.P. President Dey Pass (Afrobomb Music, 2008). Both are composed of multi-ethnic musicians with broad age differences. Both have sizeable followings in the communities in which they are basedthe Londoners in Brixton, the New Yorkers in Brooklyn.
There are differences of emphasis between the groups. Akoya plays Afrobeat with reggae flurries and extended passages of jazz-based soloing; Red Earth / Soothsayers favors dub and "conscious" reggae with Afrobeat flurries and shorter tracks with necessarily briefer solo passages. When the Londoners do focus on Afrobeat, as on the YouTube clip of "Blinded Souls" below, they're magnificent.
Red Earth Dub, being mainly instrumental, is something of a return to Soothsayers' Tangled Roots (Red Earth, 2006) by way of One More Reason. "Bad Boys Dub," "Can't Live Without It (Music)," "Dubirie" and "River Effra Dub" are versions of tracks from the second album, mixed by London dub producer Manasseh. There's also a Manasseh dub of "Never Give Up" from Tangled Roots. Afrobeat gets less of a look-in, but the closing "Dub Africa" is an outstanding reading of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's "Africa," with contributions from the charismatic Afrobeat singer and percussionist Adeose Wallace and with the Soothsayers Horns in fighting Afrika 70 form. "Benin City Dub" also has an explicitly West African flavor, through its rhythms and its use of bata drums.
Red Earth Dub is an inventive and uplifting album, but the feeling lingers that Red Earth / Soothsayers discs would be even stronger if they contained more, and longer, passages of improvisation. In trumpeter Robin Hopcraft, saxophonist Idris Rahman and keyboards player Zoe Rahman (Idris' sister) the band includes three A-Grade jazz instrumentalists. They shine in their short solo breaks and it would be good to hear each of them stretch out more. The inclusion of violinist Samy Bishai on "Hard Times Dub," an imaginative embrace of Gypsy-like soloing and a lush (overdubbed) string section, is an example of what is, perhaps, the magic ingredient missing elsewhere.
But that is to cavil. The world needs more Red Earth / Soothsayers discs and the likelihood is that the band will in due course come up with the landmark album that is stirring inside it.
Track Listing: Intro; Bad Boys Dub (Manasseh Remix); Can't Live Without It (Music); Hard Times Dub; Benin City Dub; Heavymore; We Better Dub; The Brixton Pound; Dubirie; Melodical Medicine (Interlude); Never Give Up (Manasseh Dub Remix); River Effra Dub; Can't Slow Down (Interlude); Dub Africa.