Aswad

 

Aswad, meaning black in Arabic is also the name of the UK's finest Reggae outfit. No strangers to national chart success they achieved their first number one in the British Charts with "Don't Turn Around" in March 1988. Their success was testimony to Aswad's enduring qualities: for the past decade they have been one of the world's finest reggae bands. Twenty years on Aswad have released some of the finest reggae material of our time and now come fresh for '97 with a brand new album, 'BIG UP', released this month on the Mesa label part of the Atlantic Record Group.


The band's formation in 1975 and their full emergence in 1976, when they were snapped up by Island Records, marked a significant point in Reggae history because they were the first UK band to be signed by a major company. Not only was Aswad's sound authentic and militant but positively original, unlike many of their Jamaican counterparts.
Aswad's first single was released in 1976. "Back To Africa", featuring a cool, rock-steady rhythm and crisp rim shots from Drummie, it was a soaring vocal cry for a return to their homeland. The dub side was a wicked bass and drum scorcher giving scope to those aching harmonies and. like the vocal mix, proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that good reggae could be made right here in Britain. The proof of their acceptance by reggae purists was when "Back To Africa" rocketed to Number One in the reggae charts. The band's debut album, simply entitled "Aswad" confirmed their remarkable talent and originality. From the lovers-rock inspired "Irie Woman" through to such beautiful dub passages as "Ethiopian Rhapsody" the music reflected the experience of British blacks. This was particularly evident on their second single, "Three Babylon", released in 1976. The song struck out against the continual harassment of young blacks by the police.


Aswad eventually broke away from Island to release "It's not Our Wish", "It's not our wish that we should fight but it's our wish that we should be free, equal rights stands for all, equal rights that's all we want". They got involved in 'Rock Against Racism', touring the West coast of Africa eventually going to Jamaica to work on new material.
1979 saw the release of their second album "Hulet", the last three years had seen a dramatic change in their music. their sound had matured and benefited form other musical influences, particularly jazz fusion's. After releasing several move respected singles the end of 1980 saw Aswad move to CBS Records with who they released two albums "New Chapter" and "Not Satisfied", together with a brilliant single called "Finger Style Gun". The dub of "New Chapter" appeared on the band's own Simba label via Island.


The CBS years, however, were not the greatest period in the band's history. The "Not Satisfied" album edged into the national charts but it was a time when the band was consolidating, rather than progressing. They quit the label at the end of 1982 and released the single "Roots Rockin", on Samba the following year before re-signing to Island.
Aswad's recognition as one of the worlds finest reggae bands came after the release of their first live album "Live & Direct", recorded at The Nottinghill Carnival in '83. The band soon began work on a new album "Rebel Souls", recorded in both Jamaica and London the first single released from the album "Chasing For The Breeze" gave the band it's first chart hit. The albums release came at the end of October 1984 coinciding with Aswad's most extensive tour of Britain ending at London's Dominion Theatre.
By '87 Aswad were Brinsley Forde, Tony Gad and Drummie Zeb they recorded a new album called 'Distant Thunder' and as a prelude to the album's release the "Don't Turn Around" single hit the shops in early February entering the British pop charts st No:1! the albums release followed this success by reaching number 10 in the album charts. The second single "Give A Little Love", made the top 30 followed by "Set Them Free" the song Aswad performed at the Nelson Mandela concert at Wembley Stadium.


Aswad's next single "On and On" entered the top twenty in July '89 after which the band flew to Jamaica to begin work on their new LP. Produced by Gusie Clark and mixed by Stephen Stanley and Drummie, the album saw a return to their harder reggae sound. Special guests include Jamaican reggae star Shabba Ranks and hot new percussionists Steely and Clevie.
In between studio work Aswad returned to Britain for Nelson Mandela Day in May, and were received by an almost ecstatic crowd, while the same atmosphere prevailed when they headlined the Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica a month later.

Discography


Name of Album Year of Release Label
Aswad 1976 Island
Hulet 1979 Grove Music
Showcase 1981 Island
New Chapter 1981 CBS
Not Satisfied 1982 CBS
New Chapter of Dub 1982 Island
Live and Direct 1983 Island
Rebel Souls 1984 Island
To the Top 1986 Simba
Distant Thunder 1988 Island
Renaissance - 20 Crucial Tracks 1988 Stylus
Too Wicked 1990 Island
Rise & Shine 1994 Mesa
Rise & Shine Again 1995 Mesa
DUB: The Next Frontier 1995 Mesa

 

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