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Postmodern Village
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Brit-Beat and Bushmeat: British Artrock, the African Perspective
By Dave Maass with Johnny Aryee

I am listening to Robin Nature-Bold and Band(ism), contemplating the girth of a Ghanaian spliff, sinking into a small mattress in the shack where Johnny's busty cousin sleeps; pages torn from old Dish TV Listings for wallpaper, with Bill Clinton's face gazing down from a Newsweek sheet pasted to a roof beam. The only think I can think to write in the little blue Rhino composition pad I bought back in Manchester is that I am so fortunate to have snagged his demo on the eve of my departure, that it is so perfect in this moment, right now, here.

The demo takes my mind off the meeting I have on Tuesday with a Paramount Chief to avoid a trokosi slave crisis I might have started, the overdue research proposal I've barely begun, the Oregonian girl that got away, the Liberian elections, the upcoming trip to one of the alleged lost African tribes of Israel… so on, so forth, so what? I’ve got RN-B.

There were 200 albums on my laptop's hard-drive, but one day I woke up and it wouldn't boot. RN-B is one of five CDs I brought along for emergencies, and now, it and an mp3 compilation of the Best of Wu-Tang, Ol' Dirty Bastard through U-god, are the only discs left unwarped by the tropical weather.

I'm curious to know what Johnny, the toothless neighborhood warrior, thinks of the willful sloppiness of Robin Nature-Bold. At the same time, I'm hesitant to relinquish the headphones, and with them, this perfect moment. But I’ve got to leave soon, anyway, to meet the French-Canadian photographer who just returned from Burkina Faso. I have to be at Epo’s Spot, our local, to buy him a bubra of Star lager.[1]

Should I leave Johnny the CD and player? Or should I be selfish, take it home with me let RN-B lull all a white man’s developing world worries, ease the stress of aid work, so I can ride the riffs into well-overdue sleep?

Stoned but only a bit paranoid, now I'm thinking about founding an NGO: Pirating for Human Rights. Maybe I'll rip the CD, burn it over and over and slip it to the street hawkers to sell.

NechaBo, NechaBo, I give you good price.

They only play 4 songs here, all crappy but infectious: a) the one with the chipmunky “I’m so lonely, I got nobody …” sample, b) the one that repeats “Fly away. Jumma-jum-jum-jum,” c) the one that sounds like he’s singing about marmosets wandering up and down staircases and d) Celine Dion.

The next four crappy but infectious hits, if there's any justice in the world, will belong to RN-B's demo.

Take five. Johnny's brought me a 500ml sachet of ice-cold, purified water. Johnny knows when I'm really fucking thirsty before I do.

I pass the CD-player to Johnny to free my hands. I rip the sachet’s corner off with one of my canines while he puts the headphones on and hits play.

"It's instrumental?" he asks as Band(ism) slaps the initial snare and bass of "Peacock," the first track.

"No. There's singing," I explain, forgetting to avoid contractions. "It'll start in a moment."

"Like reggae?"

I want to exploit the wordplay and tell him it’s R 'n' B. Instead, I shake my head.

Robin Nature-Bold’s doubled stereophonic vocals kick in, and his unashamedly British intonation only adds to the alien appeal of Western art-rock; Johnny’s captivated. Whether Johnny knows what RN-B means by “a stick-on moustache and a case of botox” and how they relate, metaphorically, to a “peacock,” or whether Johnny even knows what proper peacocks are, I don’t know.

As I wait, his puppy plays just outside. The nurse at the pre-departure travel clinic warned it was dangerous to touch dogs that haven't been vaccinated, especially if I was too poor to get my rabies shot. I have to satisfy myself with smoking the joint while watching the puppy grow up through a door ajar.

Then Johnny abruptly changes tracks and then again. I can’t blame him for skipping "Margate," the second track, an end-of-summer song ill-suited for a Droogish costume band (all suits and masks) best seen in the seasonless humidity of a dingy basement venue. Sun? No. Smoke woven spotlight? Yes.

Johnny lingers on track three, "Donkey," a din of off minor-key falsetto and hoo-ha chants layered over slow rockabillica that reminds me of an edgier version of Spoon’s most recent hit, "Camera." Then Johnny clicks again, cutting it short, to the final track, "Oxymoron," a powerful anthem of anger and self-isolation. It’s easily my favourite track, but I’ll concede it would be so much more fluid if RN-B nixed the disjointed, premature bridge – “ObviouslyImanup-set mo-ron” – played after the first chorus.

Johnny doesn’t even get that far before tapping the player off and yanking out the earpieces. He stands. I can't always read the expression on his face when there are shadows in the room, and certainly not when he's backlit by a bare light bulb.

"You know I love it. It is very lovely," he says and stomps out. The door springs squawk behind him and Johnny starts a loud conversation with one of the five or so girls living with him.

Obviously, RN-B wasn't as perfect-in-the-moment for Johnny as it was for me.

I gotta go see Olivier, now. I’m taking RN-B with me.

Score
Dave: "perfect-in-the-moment," "crappy and infectious,"
Johnny: "very lovely."

Footnote

1. I did not, in the end, buy Olivier Asselin a beer.