Dub Mentality

Jasmyn Singh takes a look at the inspiration for Asian Dub Foundation's political and musical style
By Jasmyn Singh

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Mainstream media has cast Asian Dub Foundation (ADF) as a lead player in the high profiled "Asian Underground" music scene, which supplied several of 1998's must-have discs (Talvin Singh's OK, the Untouchable Outcaste Beats compilation, Badmarsh & Shri's Dancing Drums). Founded and based in London UK, ADF are frustrated with their classification as an "Asian Underground" band. The term, first coined by the white British press, links ethnicity with a niche musical style. It suggests that "world music" is defined in a Western frame of reference. ADF's guitarist, Chandrasonic, prefers a classification less laden with ethnic overtones. "Our music is simply underground in terms of style, arrangement, and sound." 'Asian,' he says, is sometimes linked to misleading images. "We are not into new ageism and metaphysical realities. We detest the association of Indian musicians to greater spiritual enlightenment." The recent film Bombay Boys, asks why Indians have to be "shrinks to the world's lunatics." Sonic laughs in response to the quote and enthusiastically adds, "We can't tolerate the thinking that escapism leads to enlightenment." The five members of Asian Dub Foundation would rather demonstrate that individual growth emerges from committed involvement in one's community.

Neither their politics nor their sound has emerged from a mythical and unvisited territory. "I have never even been to India," says Sonic. Rather, their music is the soundtrack of urban London, a setting transformed over the past three decades by non-white immigration. The Dub vibe embraces reggae, ska, punk, jungle, ragas, ambient, classical Indian, and Bollywood film music. Explains Chandra, "our music reflects our history. We have lived in an environment rich with diverse sounds and vibes." ADF member Dr. Das for example, has studied classical Indian music and has been in all types of bands from Bhangra to experimental jazz. "People do not live in a vacuum, unaffected by their surroundings." Chandra continues, "The differences between our last and latest cuts, for example, have emerged from extensive touring."

Before ADF was founded, its members were involved in community music, experimental improvisation, and pursuing new technologies. Chandra recalls that his musical education commenced in his childhood while experimenting with tape recorders and reworking television show themes (particularly his favorite, Starsky and Hutch). Other ADF members, Pandit G and Master D, were also pioneering early in their lives. "Pandit G started the Transonic (sound system) while Master D was in the original sound system from which State of Bengal and Fundamental came from." ADF continues to experiment. During their most recent North American tour they utilized "classical Indian instruments" custom designed for them by Sony.

Are others so disconnected to their own experiences and those of others? We are commenting on issues that mainstream music largely ignores... perhaps if we added a ballad in there we would not be so easily tagged.

ADF uses dub to counter apathy and inspire action in regards to local and international struggle. "This is the content of people's everyday existences," urges Chandra. In response to being described as "ranters" and "overtly political," he poses the question, "Are others so disconnected to their own experiences and those of others? We are commenting on issues that mainstream music largely ignores... perhaps if we added a ballad in there we would not be so easily tagged." The Dub's vibe and lyrical content is marked by intense and invigorating energy drawn from their heightened consciousness of injustice, intolerance, and oppression. "R.A.F.I", in the title of their latest release, Rafi's Revenge, is an acronym for "Real Areas Foreign Investigation," a questionable policy implemented by France's Immigration Department. "I was a history teacher," laughs Chandrasonic. "I suppose our discs incorporate an element of revisiting history," as reflected on the Rati track Assassin. Assassin elaborates on the actions of anti-colonial assassin Udam Singh, a forgotten footnote in India's story of independence. The Dub operates as a collective brags Chandra, "We all share input and work by consensus." Collective, self-directed action is also what they promote and support in terms of community development and change. The Dub makes efforts to network with grassroots organizations wherever they perform and offer their shows as a forum for these groups to promote themselves and their work. Furthermore, a portion of ticket receipts is allocated to such groups. The members themselves are involved in a variety of strategic projects to address issues of inequity within their own industry. "Currently we are part of creating a program to increase access to technology for women in the scene... to increase the number of female producers and engineers."

Yet in regards to addressing specific issues pertaining to the South Asian community, Chandra hesitatingly remarks, "Just because we are South Asian does not mean we should be tackling specific cultural issues. We choose to discuss issues in a manner that is more universally applicable. Singling out specific communities, particularly minorities, can be counterproductive. It can unintentionally provide legitimacy to stereotypes used by the mainstream. For example, patriarchy is a problem in Indian households but it is also present throughout society. It is something that the community itself has to reflect on. We opt to address it through the lens of the wider societal context."

Asian Dub Foundation is currently recording a new album to be released in Fall 1999.

Selected Discography:

Facts and Fictions (Nation) 1995

Rafi's Revenge (London/Polygram) 1998

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Jasmyn Singh
Jasymn Singh is a writer that resides in Toronto and Vancouver.
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
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