Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Few bands were as exciting, but as irritating, for world music purists as London's Transglobal Underground, who emerged at the start of the Nineties with clubland hit Templehead.
A meltdown of big-beat dancefloor, Indian instruments and rock guitars, funky bass and the voice of Egyptian singer Natacha Atlas, TGU had their roots in the tiny basement room of Nation Records in central London, but have a global reach.
Within two years they were fixtures on the dance and festival circuit with their bubbling, no-frontiers approach to music. According to guitarist and founder member Count Dubulah (rhymes with Dracula), they were slated by world music purists who thought music from other cultures shouldn't be polluted by Western commercial influences.
"It was a kind of inverted snobbery," he says. "India has huge sales of pop singles on a scale we can't even think about. Let alone China, where your average rock star can do 20 million albums."
Dubulah and TGU's vocalist and percussionist quit the band in 1996 to form the equally genre-breaking Temple of Sound but says TGU left a mark. "Our legacy is when you hear Missy Elliott with Get Ur Freak On and it's got sitar beats on it.
“You hear some progressive drum'n' bass and there is a lot of TGU influence."
TOS's album First Edition has a multinational rollcall which includes Cuban violinist Omar Puente, Massive Attack's bassist Winston Blissett, bassist Jah Wobble, reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, Senegalese singer Dou Dou N'Diaye Rose, and ney (Egyptian flute) player Kudsi Erguner.
Between TOS projects Dubulah and poet Neil Sparkes do remixes and production work. Dubulah appears on Jah Wobble's remix of New Zealand-born, former Neighbours star Holly Valance's teen-pop Kiss Kiss single (playing Egyptian lute, the oud) which went to the top of the British charts.
"So I've got my name on a No 1 single even though it's a Wobble remix. But you wouldn't associate Count Dubulah with Holly Valance," he laughs.
"If we had enough money we'd do only Temple of Sound and the odd production. It's partly through necessity we work with other people, but also partly choice because it keeps you fresh."
Dubulah describes their working method in bringing disparate artists together as akin to alchemy. And going through their contact books.
For example, the track Dub Colossus - which features Sparkes' friend from the poetry world LKJ, former Steel Pulse singer Mykael Riley and Blissett - began with a bassline Dubulah wrote, and originally had a four-minute rap over it by Deedar Zaman. Sparkes added his vocals to the slower section, old friend Riley was called in for backing vocals. "Then Deedar decided he didn't want to be on the track, so his parts came off and were replaced with a Tibetan trumpet - just because you can."
The track, as with many off the album, has appeared on numerous compilations, a result of the album loping from Latin dancehall to conga-line pop and clubland big-beat.
"The record company in France decided to put us on a series of compilations which would let people discover us backwards as it were, and it works. It's a diverse album, the next will be a lot more focused. We've written most of it already, so we know."
The cheery Dubulah plugs an album they did with Jah Wobble, mentions they recorded with the Rizwan Muazzam Qawwali Group who also appear at Womad and with whom three of the six-piece TOS will play a set, then bemoans the lack of cultural life in London today.
"There's no alternative culture or squats for people to live in, no way people can sign-on and learn their craft. It's all gone. It's 'Find £250 for your bedsit, boy', which is why the artistic community in London is leaving.
"You've got a lot of people coming from the rest of the world looking for the great art scene and creating it out of desperation, because the Londoners are leaving. It's sad for me to say this, but I'm a Londoner and want to leave. Wobble's gone to Stockpool and I'd like to get out within two years.
"Soon London will become a parody of itself, inhabited by people who have no interest in it and make nothing of it.
"You need a mix of population in wages and cultures, disparity and difference, the spark that causes things to happen. London is not that place anymore, it's all gone to Spain or Scandinavia, it's probably in Australia and New Zealand.
"I'm a stranger in my own hometown surrounded by people obsessed with the next mobile phone and whether they can text photos in colour.
"But what else to do? Get a job? Although I defy anyone to do the hours I do. But if you love it, you do it. But we love it all - and when we come to your Womad we'll definitely make people jump and down. That's what we're good at."