REVIEW | BABYLON THE SOUNDTRACK AT THE JAZZ CAFE JULY 2019

bslWhite Lady

Look at you all, good for noth­ing, noisy, stink­ing filth, lazy, you’re every­where, jungle bun­nies. This was a lovely area before you came here, lovely… f*ck off back to your own coun­try, jungle bun­nies

Beefy

This is my f*cking coun­try lady and it’s nev­er been f*cking lovely, it’s always been a tip for as long as I can remem­ber, so don’t f*cking tell me, right, ’cause I nev­er done it, it was­n’t me right…

So lies the sen­ti­ment of many kids born in the UK. Babylon dir­ec­ted by Franco Rosso in 1980 is required view­ing for any­one whose par­ents immig­rated into the UK. The above line is from a main char­ac­ter of the film, ‘Beefy’. The line has become more per­tin­ent in the face of Brexit and the rise of UKIP, has any­thing changed in the 39 years that have passed since the film’s release? The main ten­sion with­in Babylon is wheth­er these kids should stay put in Bri­tain, their home, or wheth­er they should renounce the west­ern world and its mater­i­al­ism “Babylon” and return to Africa. This is expressed in the film’s finale, the sound­clash between Beefy’s crew ‘Ital Lion’ Soundys­tem and Jah Shaka (Edward George 2019).

Banned in Amer­ica since release, for fears of inflam­ing racial ten­sions, Babylon has this year finally seen release in the United States. Tonight’s event at Camden’s Jazz Café is a per­form­ance of the film’s soundtrack fea­tur­ing the Dub Pion­eer, ‘Black­beard’ Den­nis Bovell and the act­or who played the main char­ac­ter ‘Blue’, Brins­ley Ford who is also the lead sing­er of Aswad. The only way this night could get any bet­ter would be for Jah Shaka to arrive and for there to be a sound­clash. One can dream.

A few months ago, Bovell released the Babylon instru­ment­al score via Band­camp in cel­eb­ra­tion of the films US release and it’s 39 year anniversary. Bovell is argu­ably the first artist to fuse Dub bass­lines with Punk Rock, Listen to Typ­ic­al Girls by The Slits for a great example of this.

I arrive and the DJ, Adam Prescott of Reg­gae Roast Sound­sys­tem is play­ing “Jah Black” by Bar­ring­ton Levy fol­lowed by “What a great day” by Lock­s­ley Castel, these are really heavy cuts and I am unashamedly IDing every track on Shazzam through­out his set. Ref­er­ences to return­ing to Africa and the concept of  “Babylon” pep­per all the songs and invokes the films name, espe­cially in Rank­ing Dread’s ‘Shut your mouth’. This adds a sense of rat­i­fic­a­tion to even­ing, cel­eb­rat­ing the greatest film on Brit­ish iden­tity ever made. Prescott adds a dub siren and effects to all the tracks, increas­ing their intens­ity and the place is get­ting fuller as we wel­come the sup­port act Kiko Bun to the stage. Prescott is his DJ and backed the set with music and effects. The standout tracks included the upbeat bass heavy “I don’t give a monkey’s”, “Oh Maisy” which was clas­sic reg­gae by num­bers which had the crowd singing along and “Shy man”. He also played a Shy FX pro­duced tune which is a sum­mer anthem.

I have nev­er seen the Jazz Café so full. In the crowd, an old man in a suit pulled out a Rasta­far­i­an flag and began wav­ing it, to which a hip­ster lament­ing the amount of “fake” people in the ven­ue lamen­ted “…He gets it!”. As Kiko Bun left to great applause, Bovell and Forde’s band took the stage, whilst Prescott remained play­ing some heav­ier cuts. The band were tun­ing up at this point which added to the depth of the music. A snatch of the Babylon Soundtrack played “Beefy’s Tune” and was a sign of what was to come.

The lack of screen sur­prises me, Babylon’s soundtrack and imagery are syn­onym­ous with each oth­er and it makes no sense to hear the tunes without see­ing ‘Blue’ walk­ing down the streets of run­ning away from under­cov­er police. Some icon­ic stills from the film would have been appre­ci­ated. The band star­ted play­ing and a dub siren sig­nalled the entrance of the main artists, Bowell and Forde. It was odd to see ‘Blue’ as an old man as Babylon forever immor­tal­ised him as the every­man of Second gen­er­a­tion Brit­ish immig­rant youth.

For a score and soundtrack that are 39 years old, the dub effects give the whole per­form­ance a sense of fresh­ness. Anoth­er act­or from the film, Vic­tor Evans who played ‘Lov­er’ appears he will be on MC duties for tonight and it’s a joy to hear ‘Lov­er’ and ‘Blue’ re-enact scenes from the film, they may look older but their voices have not changed.

The band is made up of a trom­bone play­er called Henry ‘But­tons’ Teny­ue who is a long term asso­ci­ate of Bovell’s and has played with Lin­ton Kwesi John­son, gui­tar­ist Stan­ley Andrews of Aswad and drum­mer , Perry ‘Lion’ Meli­us also of Aswad. Forde announced “Jazz Café we are going to smash it!” to rap­tur­ous applause. The band then went into their first song from the Babylon soundtrack “Chief Inspect­or”. This was fol­lowed by the song “Dub Mas­ter” which was writ­ten and per­formed by Den­nis Bovell in 1986. With the Babylon Score in the zeit­geist, I was expect­ing some elec­tron­ic wiz­ardry from Bovell the pro­du­cer, instead he is here tonight as a per­former.

There is a sense of fun here, Bovell and Forde are crack­ing jokes with the crowd and it seems a bit out of place giv­en the ser­i­ous­ness of the film, or am I treat­ing Babylon like too much of a sac­red cow? There is a lot of humour in the film that gets for­got­ten in its face of social com­ment­ary.

The next track “Liv­ing in Babylon” played, with Bovell offer­ing the first of many anec­dotes on Babylon through­out the even­ing. In 1980, a doc­tor told him that the reas­on Babylon wasn’t released in the US, its release would be the time the “Under­dog will stand!” .

A fam­ous scene in Babylon is the engage­ment scene where dur­ing the party, ‘Lover’s’ poten­tial fath­er in law announces the date of the wed­ding which ‘Lov­er’ knew noth­ing about to laughs from his mates. The next track was from this scene, titled “Run­ning away”, Bovell told us that this track was inspired by his idol Jimi Hendrix and based on the Hendrix song “Wait until tomor­row’.

There was then a recit­a­tion of a poem by Lin­ton Kwesi John­son, “Sonny’s Let­tah”, the audi­ence joined in the recit­a­tion know­ing every word. Bovell then asked if things have moved on since Babylon, there were some yesses but a resound­ing NO from the audi­ence. I agreed with their sen­ti­ment. Bovell con­tin­ued “Blue is a sus­pec­ted person…suspected of being a black man walk­ing down the street!” to rap­tur­ous applause from the audi­ence, before the band then played the song from when the police come to arrest Blue, a very icon­ic moment from the film.

There was a nice vibe in the audi­ence as the soul­fully melod­ic song from Babylon’s christen­ing scene played. “Fall Babylon” was played next, with Bovell reveal­ing that it was writ­ten straight after Babylon’s release as a sequel. Forde’s vocals were on point, again the crowd sang along it’s typ­ic­al refrain of fall Babylon and the dicho­tomy of ter­rible Babylon and heav­enly Africa played out.

The high point of the night and what drew the biggest crowd reac­tion came from the open­ing trom­bone notes of “Beefy’s tune”. Bovell had to stop the song and ask for a rewind!The spir­itu­al high point of the night came from the song “Holy Mount Zion”, it was a sombre affair with the crowd again singing along. Mount Zion stands in Rasta­far­i­an theo­logy as the coun­ter­point to Babylon, a heav­enly land. Rasta­far­i­ans incid­ent­ally class Israel as North Africa .

Forde’s vocals shone on the next track, “Just before the sol­diers came, I don’t even know my name.”, with Bovell ask­ing if the crowd remembered the days of slavery, this time it was a resound­ing yes. The even­ing took a mel­low turn and this was not the dub heavy pro­duc­tion set I was expect­ing. Bovell at this point kept men­tion­ing that they are run­ning out of time. I was grow­ing quite impa­tient, would they really end the night without play­ing “War­ri­or Charge”?, argu­ably the main song from Babylon.

The next song was announced like the set closer, an instru­ment­al song that Bovell men­tioned was writ­ten for the scene where ‘Blue’ goes uptown. This was a heavy dub track that had the crowd stomp­ing.

Bovell said he had many more tunes of play from Babylon and that we could be here for four hours before announ­cing the last song, “Power” which was ori­gin­ally recor­ded by I.Roy. the crowd danced and sang along as Bovell exclaimed “Babylon big all over the world now and all because we sup­por­ted it!”

Just when we thought the band were fin­ished, Forde unleashed the final song of the night, from one of Babylon’s most icon­ic scenes “War­ri­or Charge” by Aswad. The whole crowd went into a frenzy chant­ing along and dan­cing as in the film scene, the whole Ital Lion crew, man­ager and ‘Ron­nie’, their white friend vibing in their lockup to the War­ri­or Charge dub­plate they have just obtained. A whoosh of dub effect ended the set as the band left the stage and the lights came on.

 39 years since the release of Babylon and even though there has been pro­gress, things have recently rever­ted. Maybe its Hegel­i­an cycles. The UK is braced for its own Don­ald Trump clown as prime min­is­ter and will no doubt fol­low the US in its hyper cap­it­al­ism and increased racial con­flicts, but in the words of Horse­mouth from the 1978 film Rock­ers and as sampled in Splash’s 1995 Jungle track, will we “Wit­ness the day that Babylon shall fall!” ?

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
DJ ISURU

DJ ISURU

DJ Isuru is a music journ­al­ist and broad­caster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series fea­tur­ing the best in Asi­an Under­ground, the next party will be on the 31st of August at Pop­lar Uni­on.

About DJ ISURU

DJ ISURU
DJ Isuru is a music journalist and broadcaster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series featuring the best in Asian Underground, the next party will be on the 31st of August at Poplar Union.