African Head Charge – A Trip To Bolgatanga : Album Review

African Head Charge offer a quirky and quality product from Africa, Ghana to London and back again, with a side order of High Wycombe’s finest.

Release date: 7th July 2023

Label: On-U Sound

Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital

African Head Charge

Hmm, I wonder whether a relative novice to the discreet charms of Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah is quite the best person to review, this, his latest release as African Head Charge, after a 12 year fallow period, even if he is re-uniting into his spiritual home of Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound enterprise, about which I can broach no bad. Well, if the first track raised that fear, it then swiftly bedded as the rest unfolded.

So, I like my dub, but know little about Noah, a percussionist by instrument, a hand drummer to be more specific. At the helm of this revolving door collective, it has, at times, included such luminaries as Nick Plytas and Jah Wobble, as well as most of the On-U stable of regulars. Unsurprisingly, backing musicians here are mainly built up from the latter, with Skip McDonald (aka Little Axe), Ghetto Priest (Asian Dub Foundation) and Doug Wimbish (Living Colour) all to hand. So you can expect, and get, masterful musicianship, but, it being Sherwood’s show, the main instrument is the studio, with a broad battering ram of dubtronica percolating headily throughout. Indeed, and appropriately enough, the single other instrumentation that sticks out is the steady metronome of the hand drums, providing a hypnotic ballast to the bleep and booster FX elsewhere about.

That first track? Bad Attitude opens with the sweet sound of kologo, a West African lute, and the spoken intonation: “Yah, man, a bad attitude is like a flat tyre, you can’t go anywhere with it“, before some gruff and growly vocalising. Clearly the sentiment is unarguable, and, I imagine, one wouldn’t either argue with the singer, King Ayisoba, who hails from the same neck of the woods as Noah now makes his home, Ghana. An essentially tribal chant, it is a counter-intuitive opener, even if some delay and echo creep in, toward the end. Suitably swerved, Accra Electronica is just the sort of ‘psychedelic Africa’ that Brian Eno was seeking, as he inspired Sherwood and Noah to deliver said goods, all those years ago. Some almost township horns pair with an electro disco beat and clipped guitars, hand drum a bubbling constant. Clarinet breaks through the ranks over a quasi-reggae beat and it is entirely delicious, and entirely what these ears were expecting and hoping for. Push Me Pull You then begins with some jungle background, spooky drums and wailing flute, that clarinet again, and the hint of something wicked this way coming. Loping bass and upfades of clattering percussion make this prime dub central, burst of this and breaks of that clipping in, out and around. A sucker for this sort of thing, I am, um, sucked, as it goes nowhere, marvellously.

Crashing percussion, worthy of Massive Attack, introduces I Chant Too, a vocal howl over doomy synthetic swathes of atmosphere. Of course, it splits and splinters asunder, each adjunct getting a turn in the spotlight, the whole drawing you in, further and deeper, deeper and further. It all feels quite voodoo. Or should that be Vodun? Asalatua brings back some discernible vocal presence, building swiftly into a repetitive chant, the contrast provided by the chattering drums, anchored with a gradually emerging techno thump, squelches and squirls to sugar the pill. What is lost in melody is immaterial, just go with the flow. Passing Clouds now evokes the big band brass of a James Bond theme, if in a suitably battle ska-ed JA version. This is the sort of thing dub was made to do, and done it is, very well.

I’m A Winner could be Osibisa all over, if through a prism, and is a joyous percussion led chant, until, that is some vocal distortions and the repeated toast, of the song’s name, the odd auto-tune effect creeping in here and there. A single waiting to hit a parallel universe. The title track brings back the acoustic Ghanaian instrumentation, matched with some cocktail jazz keyboards. and some cheesy sax honking, the disparate parts forming a holy union. The hand drums and slinky suboceanic bass together hold the edges from fraying. When the horns all come in together, it is almost a religious experience. Never Regret A Day has more of the King’s unselfconscious/self-promoting style of vocal, and is slimmer fare than the surrounding material; dare I say a weak point, detracting slightly? Closer, Microdosing clearly gives away the game even before it unfolds, but actually delivers a sturdy mix of marimbas, drums and more drums, as a reggae rhythm slides into view, with extended organ chords and solitary chops of guitar. Revving into the second half with stuttering flourishes, the trip is delivering its, sorry, head charge, there being no other or better way of describing it, as it splutters to a flickering blind exit. I don’t do psychedelics but if I did, and all that.

Yeah, so quite something and quite a ride, which, apart fom gifting the need to follow up the back catalogue, offers a fine taster and a fine introduction to the eccentric melange of styles and influences. Polyrhythmic outernational sounds, they say. And they’re right.

Have a microdose of African Head Charge, with Microdosing:

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