3 Feb 2023

London, England

The real Mighty Aswad...

'One of my favorite reggae albums of all time. One of those records that linger long in your memory. It should be better known.' -Rebecca_Carlson

'They are Britain’s most successful reggae band, in terms of both popularity and longevity. Aswad’s ability to adapt themselves to the changing times was ultimately the driving force behind their decades-long career.

Ever wondered where the band’s name came from? It’s Arabic for black and the band formed in London’s Ladbroke Grove in 1975 and signed to Island Records a year later. Reggae legend Burning Spear used Aswad as his backing band on his first British tour which gives you an idea of their talent.'

''Aswad is the British band that captured the authentic Jamaican roots reggae sound.
Steel Pulse is fantastic, but they innovated very far into rock and various fusions and lost the simplicity of roots, at times.'' -thenowchurch

'Britain's answer to Bob Marley & The Wailers? Not quite, but still, this British Roots Reggae is fairly strong, and in a year that spawned essential Reggae classics such as King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, Blackman Heart, Man In The Hills, Trenchtown Mix Up & Right Time, this album doesn't sound out of place.' -Hendrix Lockhart

'Aswad's debut on Mango is still one of the band's strongest efforts. Nicely displaying the group's jazz-tinged, roots reggae sound, Aswad features such vocal highlights as "Can't Stand the Pressure" and "Concrete Slaveship," as well as the fine instrumental "Red Up." And while not as successful as their British peers Steel Pulse, Aswad still qualifies as one of the best roots outfits to emerge outside of Jamaica. A fitting start to the band's long and impressive run.' -Stephen Cook

Review Summary: UK Reggae legends put out their first effort, probably one of their best!

'When Reggae went international in the 1980s a few band bands in the UK emerged and remained icons of the genre until today. To name a few : Steel Pulse, UB40 and of course Aswad. The latter was recognized in the 1980s with their album A New Chapter (1981) although their most interesting work is for me their first album Self Titled (1976). Coming from London, the band was formed of descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean. Their work was distinctively different from Jamaican acts especially since they talked about issues that UK youth would run into.

The album starts off on a powerful Reggae jam of electric guitar solos backed by a perfectly executed drum line and later by an intense off-beat rhythm guitar. The lyrics on this song are those of a rebel hence the name of the song "I A Rebel Soul", which is also the highlight of this LP. The rest of the album would never reach that level of implication from the band but will still be an outstanding record of reggae jams. Apart from "Ethiopian Rhapsody" and "Red Up", the rest of the album is a collection of fined played reggae with awesome solos for lead guitars and harmonica. It is very clear that the band has a huge Dub influence (as most of Reggae acts does) and this is shown in songs like "Ethiopian Rhapsody" which is a Dub song filled with Harmonica and Acoustic Guitar solos. "Red Up" on the other hand is a straight up Reggae instrumental that contains some very interesting riffs.

The Band released a total of twenty-one albums, the latest one being City Lock - Bubblin in 2009. This a must hear for any Reggae fans out there as it is one of the best UK Reggae record released. In fact this band has some very interesting LPs, one would be the next record Hulet which is filled with experimentation of Jazz-Reggae and Soul-Reggae.' -Rastapunk

John Peel Wiki

'Aswad are a long-lasting British reggae group, noted for adding strong R&B and soul influences to the reggae sound. They have been performing since the mid-1970s, having released a total of 21 albums. "Aswad" means "black" in Arabic. The members of Aswad are UK descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean. They attended John Kelly/Holland Park School. The original members of Aswad were guitarist/vocalist Brinsley "Chaka B" Forde, drummer/vocalist Angus "Drummie Zeb" Gaye, lead guitarist/vocalist Donald "Dee" Griffiths, bassist George "Ras" Oban, and keyboardist Courtney "Khaki" Hemmings. Aswad were the backing band of Burning Spear's 1977 Live album, recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London. Other contributors included Vin Gordon, and Karl Pitterson.

Peel first started playing Aswad in the mid-70's, whilst they were a roots reggae band. Through the 70's and 80's, he would often play tracks from the band. However, when the group achieved success in 1988, with a number 1 hit with 'Don't Turn Around', which was a reggae pop sound, vastly different from their roots reggae origins, he seemed to have lost interest in playing their new sounds.'

Angus “Drummie Zeb” Gaye, drummer, singer-songwriter and record producer, born 24 September 1959; died 2 September 2022

Angus ‘Drummie Zeb’ Gaye obituary

David Katz | Thu 8 Sep 2022

'Angus “Drummie Zeb” Gaye, who has died suddenly aged 62, was a founding member of Aswad, one of the most successful British reggae groups. Gaye’s propulsive drumming, which often incorporated intricate rolls peppered by striking rhythmic accents and sometimes uncommon time signatures, helped give Aswad a distinctive edge from their earliest beginnings in the mid-1970s. Gaye’s vocal skills and songwriting ability were also put to good use in the group, which he began fronting in the mid-90s.

However, even during the early phase in which the group strove to establish themselves in London’s burgeoning reggae scene, Gaye’s sporadic stints on lead vocals typically yielded exceptional results: the debut single, Back to Africa (1976), written by the keyboardist Courtney Hemmings, was sensitively delivered by Gaye at Hemmings’ request; It’s Not Our Wish (That We Should Fight) (1978), co-written with the bassist George Oban, and Judgement Day (1979), written by Gaye, gave voice to frustrations experienced by young black British people during a time of heightened racial tension, while venerating the Rastafari faith that gave solace to Gaye and his fellow band members.

Aswad, the name meaning black in Arabic, originally comprised the vocalist Brinsley Forde, Oban, Hemmings, the guitarist Donald Griffiths and the keyboardist Tony “Gad” Robinson, as well as the harmonica player Bunny McKenzie, though Robinson was absent when the group convinced Island Records’ Richard Williams to sign them for their self-titled debut in 1976, the band being too big to allow for two keyboardists. The following year, UK concert dates backing the Jamaican reggae band Burning Spear significantly raised the band’s profile, especially after the performance at the Rainbow theatre in London was released by Island as a live album.

Such live musical backing of top Jamaican acts – they also accompanied Dennis Brown – helped to legitimise British reggae in general, as well as the band. Island Records then sent Aswad to Jamaica, where Gaye played drums for the visionary producer Augustus Pablo and the bassist/producer Robbie Shakespeare as well as Burning Spear; he subsequently played drums on Bob Marley’s Punky Reggae Party, while the unusual drum pattern he devised for Janet Kay’s heartbroken Silly Games helped the song to reach No 2 on the UK pop charts in the summer of 1979.

After Aswad slimmed to a trio of Forde, Gaye and Robinson in the early 80s, and took a more commercial direction, Gaye’s sympathetic cover of Don’t Turn Around (a Tina Turner B-side that became a hit for Luther Ingram) topped the British pop charts in the spring of 1988, and a likable take of Stephen Bishop’s MOR ballad On and On reached the UK Top 25 in the summer of 1989. Once Forde opted to pursue a solo career in the mid-90s, the tall and charismatic Gaye naturally became Aswad’s frontman, his quietly expressive voice subsequently becoming the focus.

Born in London to immigrant parents from Grenada and Carriacou, Gaye was raised in Ladbroke Grove, west London, where he attended Holland Park school. He began drumming after a cousin with a drumkit became a lodger at the family home, and after mastering the instrument as a teenager, became the kit drummer in a local steel-pan band, the Metronomes. Shortly thereafter, in 1975, he joined Aswad.

Aswad’s second studio album, Hulet (1979), saw Hemmings replaced by Robinson, and the band members using appellations from the Twelve Tribes of Israel according to their Rastafari faith, with Gaye credited as “Drummie Zeb” (Zebulun). However the release failed to find its potential audience, prompting a shift to CBS that yielded the breakthrough LPs New Chapter (1981) and Not Satisfied (1982), by which time Oban had left, prompting Robinson to handle bass duties.

Following Forde’s lead role in the film Babylon (1981), whose soundtrack featured the rousing Aswad instrumental Warrior Charge, the group launched the Simba label, its inaugural issue being Johnny Osbourne’s hard-hitting 13 Dead (Nothing Said), which commented on the woeful state response to the New Cross fire in 1981, in which 13 young black people died at a birthday party in south-east London.

The following year, the dub album A New Chapter of Dub heralded their return to Island, and by the time the label issued the concert album Live and Direct!, recorded at the Notting Hill carnival in 1983, Gaye’s son Solomon was making sporadic live appearances with the group as a rapper.

Island would also handle the albums Distant Thunder (1988) and Too Wicked (1990), the group subsequently launching their own Bubblin’ label for self-produced work, achieving a Top 5 chart success in the summer of 1994 with the optimistic Shine, which celebrated black self-determination.

After Forde went solo, Gaye and Robinson kept Aswad active as a touring and recording unit, with releases significantly less frequent. Their final studio album was City Lock, released in 2009.

Gaye is survived by six children.

Angus "Drummie Zeb" Gaye

Drummie Zeb kept the beat for British reggae
Jamaica Observer

FIRST-GENERATION Britons of West Indian heritage, David Hinds and Angus "Drummie Zeb" Gaye had a lot in common. As young black men during the early 1970s they experienced rampant racism in the United Kingdom but also found solace in the rebel tones of reggae music.

Both became co-founders of influential bands Hinds with Steel Pulse and Drummie Zeb in Aswad. Hinds told the Jamaica Observer that the latter's death "is a sad loss to our reggae industry".

Drummer/lead vocalist for Aswad, Drummie Zeb died September 2 in London at age 62. Aswad and Steel Pulse are contemporaries, having formed in the mid-1970s when British reggae was taking shape.

"Aswad as a band was almost a mirror image to what we wanted to achieve, and that was to spread that unique style of British reggae across the globe. Drummie Zeb played an intricate part of that development. We recognised him not only as an innovative drummer, but also an aspiring vocalist and an excellent producer," said Hinds.

Drummie Zeb was born in London to Grenadian parents while Hinds' parents are Jamaicans from St Ann who settled in the Midlands borough of Handsworth. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Aswad and Steel Pulse helped fashion the British reggae sound with impressive albums like New Chapter, Live And Direct, Handsworth Revolution and True Democracy.

They both performed at Reggae Sunsplash in the early 1980s. At that time some saw them as rivals but Hinds said that was never the case.

"Our first encounter was when they performed at the Rainbow nightclub in Birmingham's city centre [1976]. They were short of amplifiers to perform that evening. We rushed back to our cellar/basement and offered what they needed," he recalled. "Our second encounter was when we saw them at Island Records during the playing of one of our demos to the label. Over the years our paths never crossed that often, apart from the odd show here and there in Europe or the Caribbean. But I do recall us being in Tahiti in the early 2000s. We had a chance to become more social, being as the concert that we both came to do got cancelled due to a monsoon that was coming our way."

Originally, Aswad released hard-hitting, horn-hooked, drum and bass songs like African Children and Oh Jah. Their sound evolved into pop singles like Don't Turn Around and Give A Little Love by the late 1980s, by which time Drummie Zeb was the official lead singer and became more involved in producing the band's material.

Hinds and Steel Pulse won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album with Babylon The Bandit in 1987, one year before Aswad hit global charts with Don't Turn Around. His respect grew for Drummie Zeb over the years.

"Unfortunately, I never had a chance to experience Drummie's production work in its fullest capacity but I do recall him coming to 'Brum' [Birmingham] to work with Pato Banton. I briefly sat in on one of these sessions. But, make no mistake, Drummie Zeb can be credited for taking the grooves of British reggae to another level. I remember there were times when Steel Pulse, just like we did with Bob Marley and The Wailers, was always anxious for another Aswad album to come out," said Hinds. "Although Drummie sang many hits with the band, Smokey Blues was my favourite. It was a blow to the industry when we learned of Aswad splitting-up. It may have been a case where as a unit the band had ran its course, thus each one's individual talent outgrew each other. Drummie Zeb, a child of the Rainbow, RIP."

Aswad – Aswad

Label: Mango – CCD9399
Format: CD, Album, Reissue
Country: US
Released: 1976 / ca. 1989
Genre: Reggae
Style: Roots Reggae

1. I A Rebel Soul 4:59
2. Can't Stand The Pressure 4:20
3. Ethiopian Rhapsody 3:29
4. Natural Progression 6:06
5. Back To Africa 5:33
6. Red Up 2:56
7. Ire Woman 3:04
8. Concrete Slaveship 8:29
John Peel Sessions
9. Pressure (Peel Session Date: 10/08/1976) 4:42
10. Ethiopian Rhapsody (Peel Session Date: 10/08/1976) 3:21
11. Back To Africa (Peel Session Date: 10/08/1976) 5:19
12. Natural Progression (Peel Session Date: 10/08/1976) 5:04
13. Behold (Peel Session 10/10/1978) 7:10
14. Love Has It's Ways (Peel Session 10/10/1978) 4:04
15. It's Not Our Wish (Peel Session 10/10/1978) 3:44
Bonus Track
16. Back To Africa (Remastered) 5:34

Acoustic Guitar – Adetokumba Illorin
Artwork By [Cover] – Ball 'n' Chain Associates
Backing Vocals – Candy McKenzie, Delroy Washington
Bass, Percussion, Other [Herb] – George Oban (Ras)
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Angus Gaye (Drummie)
Engineer [Assistant] – Dave Hutchins, Dave Jordan, Dick Cuthell, Kevin Dallimore
Executive-Producer – Richard Williams
Harmonica – Bunny McKenzie
Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals – Courtney Hemmings (Khaki)
Lead Guitar, Percussion, Vocals – Donald Griffiths (Dee)
Lead Vocals [Lead Voice] – Angus Gaye (Drummie) (tracks: 5, 7), Brinsley Forde (Chaka B) (tracks: 1, 2, 4, 8)
Percussion – Trevor Bow
Photography By – Dennis Morris
Piano – Angus Gaye (Drummie) (tracks: 7)
Producer – Aswad
Producer, Engineer – Tony Platt
Rhythm Guitar, Percussion, Vocals – Brinsley Forde (Chaka B)

"Love Has It's (sic) Way" was never recorded but this Peel session. Only ever released on the "BBC Sessions" album. -skabuoy