We might not all be able to know the way to get on that righteous path but there are signals that could help us get there. These are ones found merely by observing that walk to it, in others. Adrian Sherwood’s experimental reggae and dub label On-U Sound wouldn’t have been what it came to be if he hadn’t felt divine inspiration from other sources. “Songs of Praise”, released a decade after the label’s creation, was the culmination of Adrian putting faith in an idea of a “psychedelic Africa”, one inspired by the visionary Fourth World music of “My Life in the Bush” by Brian Eno and David Byrne. That only gets you halfway. The true work and effort that allowed On-U Sound to reach that peak was derived from the hard toil of percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah who set a goal: create a new kind of experimental African music that could come from “a hole in the ground”, within the most humble places.
“Songs Of Praise” is that masterwork, from this label, because it takes everything which they honed and re-honed through a decade of practice, either themselves, or with other label mates, and presents it in its peak, glorious form. Combining a multitude of field recordings and samples – devotional hymns from Africa, Arabic prayers, spoken word from Asian, unplaceable noise from lord knows where else, to name a precious few – with Nyabinghi chants, sublime echo effects, and real-deal, live reggae riddim sections that landed with precious, heavy density, the music of “Songs of Praise” still sounds and feels like nothing else. Bonjo and Adrian (plus a great cast of side characters) predict modern-age electronic African music by ignoring all the trappings of colonial music, treating their sound sources with respect and pressing forward (in music and vision) all that powerful inspiration inherit already within. The album is truly a beautiful thing to experience.
Still beyond it’s time, not easily slidable under any genre flag, dub properly speaks of its technique, but a work so abstract like this needs to be properly appreciated from afar. You look at the brushstrokes and you’re bound to get lost in the process. Here the beauty is far from the frame, faithfully proportioned, never forgotten by anyone who affords it a glance. You can always go back – and you will come back – to make sense of all the special little things that you missed the first time around. That’s when it’s truly special.
Personally, I think it’s all there: “orderliness, Godliness, discipline, and dignity”…