With London flanked with snow, and a steady stream of Spiky Dread orders which need posting, I keep thinking of John Akomfrah’s film The Nine Muses on the long trudge to the post office.
Akomfrah’s tribute to an almost extinct generation of immigrants was, without doubt, my favourite film of last year but it’s his debut Handsworth Songs from 1987 which tenuously leads us to today’s track of choice.
It had been a few years since I’d seen Handsworth Songs when I went to an Akomfrah talk at the ICA where he screened a riot-flanked clip from HS, briefly discussing his choice of music, namely Jerusalem by Mark Stewart + The Maffia.
Stewart of course had his feet firmly planted in the dubbier reaches of post-punk. The Pop Group had stirred up an uncompromising brew of mutating funk rhythms and free-form ranting, dissected by dub don Dennis Bovell at the boards. Coupled with a tribe-like association with The Slits, on paper The Pop Group sound like spiky dread poster boys, yet surprisingly there’s barely a skank in their output.
The demise of The Pop Group in 1981 led to Stewart teaming up with Adrian Sherwood, releasing his dislocated dub version of Willam Blake’s Jerusalem a year later via On-U Sound. Originally intended as a “rally cry for all the different ages and groups” at a CND rally in Trafalgar Square, the Maffia version of Jerusalem applied Blake’s visionary socialist anthem to a dissonant reggae rumble, splicing in arrhythmic tape-loops whilst Stewart cried and wailed his way through each verse.
And as his screams echo into the ether, it’s this strange and wonderful beast of a track which led a white boy from Bristol to soundtrack a poignant moment in Akomfra’s study of the black-British diaspora, a moment you can now check out in context here, or simply listen to the full track below.
The trailer for John Akomfra’s chilly but beautiful The Nine Muses…
And on the subject of Handsworth songs, how about a bit of Handsworth’s own revolutionaries Steel Pulse, performing their Rock Against Racism theme at Montreux Jazz Festival back in ’79 (RIP Claude Nobs).