and Bushmeat: British Artrock, the African Perspective
By Dave Maass with
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.
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
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
"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."
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
I gotta go see Olivier, now. I’m taking RN-B with me.
Dave: "perfect-in-the-moment," "crappy and infectious,"
Johnny: "very lovely."
1. I did not, in the end, buy Olivier
Asselin a beer.