Adrian Sherwood presents Dub No Frontiers

Various Artists

Released 22 July 2022

  1. Yehaiyahan - Love Hurts
  2. Likkle Mai - Haste Makes Waste
  3. Rita Morar - Meri Awaaz Suno (Hear My Voice)
  4. Temi Oyedele - I Dupe (Thanks Giving)
  5. Neyssatou – War
  6. Maria Wenda - Okama Werek Halok
  7. Kerieva – Chavale
  8. JaGodDa - Krysztalowy Aniol (Crystal Angel)
  9. Saba Tewelde - Semarulay Daqey
  10. Nadya Ostroff DR.NO - Little Cosmonaut

Various Artists

Liner notes

“Dub No Frontiers is inspired by and features women vocalists we knew from the UK or had met while travelling around the world,” says Adrian Sherwood, the On-U Sound producer and the brainchild behind the project. “Many of the singers said they felt the dub/reggae arena was a male preserve and a little intimidating even, so we decided to invite artists to write and perform a song of their choice, all with non-English lyrics on our rhythm tracks.”

There’s no arguing that the most famous names in reggae are those of men. Despite reggae’s reputation for calling out injustice and inequality in its rebel music, it is still very much dominated by male voices, male producers and male musicians.

And yet women have been key in shaping the music’s identity from its very inception. Back in the 40s the folklorist Louise Bennett-Coverley laid the groundwork, championing the island’s native patois in her poetry; in the 50s dancer Anita ‘Margarita’ Mahfood campaigned for the public acceptance of Rastafarians, then persecuted and seen as outcasts, utilising the Rastafarian drumming troupe Count Ossie and The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari at her recitals while Patricia Chin co-founded the legendary Randy’s Record Mart (she currently helms VP Records). In the 60s Millie Small introduced ska to an international audience with her hit My Boy Lollipop and Sonia Pottinger began her producing career bringing innovation from behind the desk. Then, of course, there are those great female voices from Phyllis Dillon to Lady Saw who have pushed the music forward from rocksteady to dancehall and beyond.

Album cover star Afeni Shakur Davis from the video for 'Hear My Voice' by Peter Harris & Llyr Williams.

Adrian Sherwood of course knows his musical herstory and has spent a lifetime working as an ally with female artists from the very beginnings of his On-U Sound label with the New Age Steppers, a supergroup he co-founded with the Slits singer Ari Up that also featured Neneh Cherry, Vivian Goldman and Vicki Aspinall in its line-up. He also released New York-no wave singer Judy Nylon’s sole album 1982’s Pal Judy, worked with Akabu, the all-female reggae band and premiered Shara Nelson of Massive Attack fame on his label issuing her 1983 debut single Aiming At Your Heart. He also put out Short And Sweet, the 1992 debut album from Annie Anxiety Bandez under the Little Annie moniker and aided his daughter Denise Sherwood’s auspicious first album 2020’s This Road on Evergreen Recordings.

For Sherwood and his On-U Sound collective there are no frontiers and yet when he started travelling around the world, he began hearing the same story repeated over and over from the female artists he came across, how they felt doors were closed to them because of their gender. The idea behind the Dub No Frontiers album then is to provide a platform for some of the great international female artists currently operating to unite and celebrate in dub.

The results are spectacular: the 10 tracks, produced by Sherwood with half co-produced with the late great Lincoln ‘Style’ Scott and arranged by Skip ‘Little Axe’ McDonald, ring out with a vibrancy, richness and energy. From Rita Morar’s Meri Awaaz Suno (Hear My Voice), a fragile, beautiful piece sung in Hindi over the Sacred Ground Rhythm and Tunisia’s Neyssatou’s potent take on Bob Marley’s War sung in Arabic to Kerieva’s hypnotic Chavale sung in Romani, this is all crucial stuff.

Still image from the video for 'Hear My Voice' by Peter Harris & Llyr Williams.

Kerieva McCormick, who is spearheading the project with Sherwood, has been a studio artist with On-U Sound for over a decade, worked with Asian Dub Foundation, and is a multi-instrumentalist, writer/arranger, and singer. Currently writing her third solo album, she can be heard on numerous On-U releases on violin, double bass, cello, harmonium and vocals, including Sherwood’s 2012 Survival And Resistance album (he calls her the “string wizard”). Very much the Renaissance woman, she is the artistic director and choreographer of KAM-RI Dance Theatre and is currently working on a touring show with Tessa Pollitt from The Slits about Ari-Up’s life. Being part of the project from its inception, she maintained the importance of Dub No Frontiers representing a female warrior stance within the genre.

“Female artists not only singing but writing in their indigenous languages is incredibly powerful” she says. “It’s rare that indigenous music is given a platform at all and Adrian has really opened up opportunities with this project.”

For Rita Morar, who was introduced to Adrian by Asian Dub Foundation’s John Pandit G, Dub No Frontiers felt like the perfect fit. “As an independent female artist I wanted to write something that conveyed both my vulnerability and my strength, how through our music we are uplifted and become empowered.”

Getting the project together has been lengthy – it’s been some 10 years in the making but the process itself was remarkably straightforward. “In this day and age it’s easier than ever to connect,” says Adrian. “You simply digitise a rhythm, send a file of it to Japan, China, Tunisia, Africa, the vocalist sings on it, sends it back, it’s brilliant. Technology means we can unify the world through music.”

As for those files, “like most people who love reggae, I am obsessed with versions, which are unique to JA music,” he says. “When you hear the rhythm it’s a work of art and you love to hear countless versions of the same rhythm. I started accumulating and versioning rhythms, some existing rhythms such as War and some new ones. At one time I even considered doing a whole album of versions of the War rhythm.”

The nucleus of the new ones originated from a session in London with such reggae luminaries as keyboardist Franklin ‘Bubblers’ Waugh, who played with Sly and Robbie; the late bassist George Oban and the aforesaid drummer Style Scott, together Sherwood’s trusty rhythm section, plus guitarist Vince Black and the Ital Horns.

“Then we broke the rhythms down and re-cut them,” he says. “We remade them, rebuilt them completely, then upgraded them, making them better and better and better each time and then we invited the singers to sing over them. The project kept evolving. It kept growing and has turned into something extraordinarily powerful.”

The first track completed for the project was Love Hurts by Yehaiyahan, which begins Dub No Frontiers. The Guizhou-born, Shanghai based producer vocalist and DJ also records as Chacha, Faded Ghost, and is one half of AM444. Adrian and Yehaiyahan’s paths first crossed when he saw her on the mic in Shanghai one night. Influenced by the Bristol scene, she sings in Mandarin Chinese on this future dub.

From Japan, Likkle Mai started out in 1994 as the lead singer in rocksteady group the Dreamlets then the following year helmed dub band Dry and Heavy before debuting as a soloist with 2006’s Roots Candy. She delivers the superb Haste Makes Waste here.

Temi Oyedele, meanwhile, is a singer, songwriter and guitarist from Lagos who collaborates with Afrologic and is also a member of DuduWorx. She previously worked with Sherwood on his and Tectonic head honcho Pinch’s first album Late Night Endless and sings in Yorubic.

Maria Wenda, the wife of Benny Wenda, the president in exile of West Papua, provides the protest dub Okama Werek Halok which highlights the struggle of her motherland. “Maria isn’t a professional singer,” says Adrian, “but it was important to document her and her husband and their country’s story.”

Sherwood was introduced to JaGodDa by Joint Venture Sound System. Both hail from Poland where there is a thriving reggae scene of which Krysztalowy Aniol (Crystal Angel) is emblematic while Saba Tewelde brings the sound of young Eritrea with the soulful Semarulay Daqey, a paean to her homeland. The album closer is the compelling Little Cosmonaut by Nadya Ostroff DR.NO. “We’ve known Nadya since her days playing guitar with The Slits,” Sherwood says. “She is of Russian descent and the song is about the first astronaut dog to be put into space.”

The album is wrapped in a striking front cover image of Afeni Shakur Davis painted by artist, musician and filmmaker Peter Harris. His bold portraits of trailblazing, transformative women dominate the album’s accompanying booklet forming a perfect visual foil to the music within.

Sherwood is proud of the work everyone has created here, and rightfully so. “It’s the right people working together at the right time with the right label. It might not be commercial but it is a beautiful thing. I know people are going to love it.” He also has plans to take the Dub No Frontiers album out on the road. “The vision from the beginning was to make it a live thing, to have this amazing line up backed by an all-female band. Imagine that.”

Indeed. For now though we can marvel at the concept in its album form. It really is a beautiful thing.

Still image from the video for 'Hear My Voice' by Peter Harris & Llyr Williams.

Credits

This album is dedicated to the memory of both Ariane ‘Ari Up’ Forster and Lincoln Valentine ‘Style’ Scott with whom the project started. ‘Dub No Frontiers’ is inspired by and features women vocalists we knew from the UK or had met while travelling around the world. Many of the singers said they felt the Dub/Reggae arena was a bit of a male preserve and a little intimidating even, so we decided to invite artistes to perform a song of their choice, all in non-English on our rhythm tracks. The idea was to then try and evolve DNF into a powerful live show and to tour with a core of vocalists, musicians and guests…

Produced by Adrian Sherwood
1,2,6,7,9 co-produced with The Great Lincoln ‘Style’ Scott
Recording and mix Engineers: Dave McEwen, Brendon ‘Octave’ Harding and Matt Smyth
Recorded at Various On-U Sound Studios, England, Garage in the Garden, The Care Home, On-U Sound Castle, Skip’s flat and Livingston Studios, Wood Green, London
1,2,6,7,9 originally cut at Channel One, Kingston, Jamaica
Vocals for tracks 1,2,3,4,6 and 8 recorded by the artists

An On-U Sound Labour of Love Production

Drums: ’Style’ Scott
Bass: George Oban / Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt / Hughie Izachaar
Rhythm Guitar: Vince Black / Bingy Bunny
Lead Guitar: Vince Black / Sowell
Piano: Franklin ‘Bubbles’ Waugh / Steely
Horns: The Ital Horns – Dave Fulwood on Trumpet / Richard Doswell on Saxophone / Chris Petter on Trombone
Arrangements: Skip ‘Little Axe’ McDonald

Further Listening

  • Never Trust A Hippy

    Adrian Sherwood

    Released 24 February 2003

    Never Trust A Hippy is Adrian Sherwood's eclectic, compelling, and lovingly crafted solo debut. "It's a logical marriage," Sherwood says. "I was thinking about myself in conjunction with the bulk of what Real World has done. It's my own version of a kind of world music-sci-fi-dub-dancehall record, made contemporary by using such great people as Sly and Robbie, Lenky, Jazzwad and Bubblers."
  • A Town Called Addis

    Dub Colossus

    Released 12 October 2008

    Dub Colossus collaborate with some of Ethiopia's finest performers. Utilising Azmari and traditional styles as well as the popular singing styles of the 60s and 70s the album seeks to combine the golden years of Ethiopique beats and Ethiojazz with the dub reggae styles of early 70s groups like the Abyssinians and the Mighty Diamonds.

Further reading

Adrian Sherwood presents Dub No Frontiers album & debuts ‘Meri Awaaz Suno (Hear My Voice)’ by Rita Morar

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