Various ‘A Ruff Guide to Ariwa Sounds’ (Ariwa) 3/5

A showcase of what the London-based Ariwa label are capable of, this handy sampler is an extension of the Mad Professor’s (aka Neil Fraser) Croydon living room to create his own label devoted to a subtle and personalised update on the classic roots idiom, with plenty of dub-soaked rhythms to accompany. Founded in 1979, Ariwa has gained a reputation for quality productions and has attracted some of Jamaica’s best, as well as championing the very best in black British talent. Mad Professor himself has been a major influence on musicians outside the realms of reggae in the more left-field arena of dance music and these include Gotan Project and Massive Attack, to name but two. A wonderful collaboration between U-Roy and Yabby You is a highlight with ‘I’m A Rastaman’, combining the righteous harmonies of the Yabby You production stable and the smoothest of DJ deliveries from Daddy U-Roy. The Congos lead singer, Cedric Congo, offers up an engaging roots number in, ‘Lightning And Thunder’, and elsewhere Big Youth, Luciano and Max Romeo prove that neo-roots music is still very much alive. Mad Professor’s own interest in black diasporan culture is illustrated on the instrumental, ‘Kunte Kinte’, with plenty of percussion, while his reaching out to other cultural music traditions and creating new and exciting fusions is evident on ‘Bengali Skank’. Women artists are invariably neglected in the world of reggae, but not on Ariwa where a rootsy ‘Works To Do’, by Queen Omega and Aish’s ‘Creator’, not forgetting Redhead, are fine examples of a distinctive female interpretation.

Ideally, one would have liked a 2-CD sampler to better reflect the whole gamut of artists that have recorded on the label and there are some significant names missing here from Jah Shaka (deserving of his own 2-CD anthology) through to the Twinkle Brothers and not forgetting Johnny Clarke. Otherwise, a useful introduction to the label.

Tim Stenhouse