Like so much of the On-U Sound catalog, the latest release from Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah's African Head Charge is a slab of sheer musical brilliance with origins shrouded in clouds of moderate-to-severe corporate chaos. Though it bears the copyright date 2005, it does not appear to have been commercially released until 2010, for example. And anyone familiar with the On-U stable of musicians will notice that the only thing making this an African Head Charge album rather than a Tackhead or Strange Parcels (or, for that matter, a Sugarhill Gang) album is the presence of Noah himself -- but then again, that presence is what makes all the difference. Unlike other deeply weird reggae bandleaders (like Lee "Scratch" Perry, for example), Noah seems both cheerfully good-hearted and sonically retiring; the focus of his compositions is rarely his own voice, but rather the field recordings of African and Asian singers that he gathers from heaven knows where. From these he gleans the sweetest and/or eeriest passages he can find and then constructs ground-shaking grooves around them with the help of studio hands Doug Wimbish, Skip McDonald, and Keith LeBlanc (among others); the resulting sound sculptures are whipped into a dubwise frenzy by label head and modern dubmaster Adrian Sherwood. Up until now, the most richly moving African Head Charge album was 1990's stunning Songs of Praise, but Vision of a Psychedelic Africa gives that one a run for its money: "The Big Country" opens the program with an exposition on the distilled essence of Noah's musical conception, with eerily beautiful field recordings, an elephantine reggae groove, and Sherwood's patented production craziness. "Surfari" features a slow rocker's beat under slightly goofy spaghetti western guitar; "Drumming Is a Language" consists of creepy monster sounds, funky guitar, and a cheerful disquisition on the art of drumming; "Mr. Whippy Does Djibouti" and the utterly gorgeous "Ready You Ready" are simply drop-dead beautiful, all of Noah's favorite musical and cultural elements coming together to create a completely unique and transcendently lovely sound. Start with Songs of Praise, then skip to this one, then start working your way back through the catalog to experience the complete wonder of Noah's unique musical worldview.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson