An ethos for expression of the mind and an ode to experimentation is what makes African Head Charge stand-out to every other act in my collection. In Pursuit Of Shashamane Land stands as one of the pinnacles in their work. Even if this marvelous set is released in the middle of their recording career, it is perhaps one of the best entry points for first time listeners. African Head Charge is the brainchild of master percussionist Bonjo “Iyabinghi” Noah and producer Adrian Sherwood. Initially set out to capture the psychedelic sounds of ancestral Africa, influenced by Brain Eno’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, the project tapped into a rich well of inspiration. After the success of their debut album My Life In A Hole In The Ground, the project became more than just an one-time studio act gaining a very strong live reputation next to releasing multiple albums. With an ever shifting line-up, most of who revolved around Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound projects, they managed to carve out a niche to call their own and evolved with every sequential album release. The mood of In Pursuit Of Shashamane Land is hard to describe in just words. Labeling doesn’t do the music justice as it is purely at the mercy of the listeners interpretation. I guess you just have to trust my audiovisual perception on this one.
We start the journey with Heading To Glory, which gently welcomes you into the ethereal world of African Head Charge. This is especially true for first-time listeners, as it is not a sudden drop into the more experimental heavy tracks on the album. Rich with chants that float around on top of a steady rhythm and some subtle tape manipulation which echo trough the left and right channel.
Pursuit starts with a more ominous feeling while the percussion sets the song in motion before the drumkit and throbbing bass line join in. Distorted voices of a long lost tribe across the great plains of Africa come to mind and fly in and out of the mix at the right moment. Listen closely and you will hear Bonjo’s percussive skills giving the track a somewhat Indian vibe towards the end. One Destination brings back the peace after the storm of tape manipulation and sounds effects that went before it. The lush synth arrangement together with the soothing chant – one love, one heart, one destination – makes you feel instantly at home.
The follow-up progresses slowly with a somewhat industrial backdrop, tribal chants and hand drumming on the Djembe before No, Don’t Follow Fashion burst into a tribal dance craze. You won’t get closer to the fire than with this one, stamping your feet on the ground covered with ashes while faces of strangers dance around you like friendly shadows. Wait for that bassline to hit you. This is Acid-Tribal-House at its best. The synths balance everything out nicely guiding you through to the end without anyone getting burnt.
The jerking bassline on Animal Law pulsates to the deepest corners of the jungle ready to reclaim what’s theirs. The guitar lurks in the back of the mix as if stalking prey before suddenly striking alternating from left to right like a boomerang. The percussion arrangement mimicking the chirping sounds of jungle animals only add to the whole atmosphere. Learning is a masterclass in building suspense with the rhythm only taking root in certain parts of the track. Making clever use of echo and reverb make the music sound larger than life with fragments of a sacred tribal ritual taking place.
On Fever Pitch, the drumkit gets more room to breathe riding a thick bassline that stretches into the void left behind by the syncopated drum patterns. Securely grounded by the rhythm, it is the celestial choir and ghostly whistle that lure you in for an extraterrestrial encounter of the mind. Up next is Somebody Touch I, a slow and murky track with the Nyabinghi drums buried deep under a heavy layer of reverb and echo. In that same vein so does the chorus repeat itself over and over again, like a flat stone skimming the surface of a pond leaving behind slowly disintegrating waves of sound.
If you managed to secure the 1993 limited edition on vinyl, you received an extra 7inch with two bonus tracks. The first of which, Mama Shante Garden, is the most upbeat track on the album and also the most Caribbean flavored. A perfect example that a simplistic drum pattern and melody are enough to create something special when working with a creative force such as Bonjo and Adrian Sherwood. The other bonus track Run Come See Me signals a return to the more experimental side of African Head Charge for one last time. Once again they the crank up the amps this time with the electric guitar screeching from the menacing depths of the thundering bass drum, also known as the Baandu.
In Pursuit Of Shashamane Land might take a few spins to fully appreciate as it is a total different listening experience. The later reissues offer even more bonus tracks which to me dilute the overall feeling and don’t add enough value. Great for dedicated fans of Africa Head Charge but they overstay their welcome a bit. I recommend first time listeners to stay with the track list of the limited edition Vinyl release. To make things easier I selected just these tracks for you in the playlist below.
For their more experimental side I would definitely recommend listening to their first release My Life In A Hole In The Ground and for a more spiritual journey the dreamlike Songs Of Praise. If you are looking for more On-U Sound releases, see my previous articles Adrian Sherwood meets Harry Beckett or Spaced out Jazz on a foundation of Reggae.
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