Ariwa 81 Sessions

Various Artists – ARIWA 81 Sessions (Ariwa CD)

This CD is the first in a series which acts as a counterpart to the recent Method to the Madness compilation put out by Trojan. Tracks from the vaults which have either been completely ignored for years, or have achieved classic status and now instigate serious competition on ebay.

Ariwa set up in 1979 on a shoestring budget with a 4 track tape deck and lot of ideas. Despite being told not to bother with music after his first record by the usual purist cynics, Mad Professor built himself a fanbase from the off. 1981 was the year that Ariwa used their meagre profits to install a 16 track machine in the front room of their HQ at 19 Bruce Road, SE 25.

Aquizim are best known for their take of the classic soundsystem dubplate tune Kunte Kinte, which is included here (in a different mix to the Trojan comp) along with three of their other tunes. “The System” is a propah sufferah’s lament – London style. It is also 600% better than every song recorded by Crass which featured the word “system” in the shouty lyrics (i.e. everything they did). On a less “conscious” level, their tribute to a girl named Deidre makes me wonder about womankind in 1981 if they were knocking back a bloke with a voice like that.

Yeah – Lovers! The seemingly unrevivable sister-subgenre to Roots. Collectors have entirely bypassed Lovers Rock in the “15 year rule” (the point at which reggae can be repackaged for hipsters – see all the early digi ragga compilations?). Although I guess Soul Jazz have done a Studio One Lovers set, so perhaps there’s a 30 year rule for this stuff instead?

Needless to say, this music already has an audience which is unbothered by what the taste-makers deem to be the next big thing (or indeed about matrix numbers!). I’m sure Ariwa was driven as much by business sense as by love, and I’d be amazed if Davina Stone’s “Lonely” didn’t shift serious units back in the day. Her voice is clear as a bell and the song is tip top stuff, perfectly complemented by the tuff deejay version by Ranking Ann which follows it.

“Me and You” is a mad name for a group… “who is that record by?” but they’re sound enough. In fact they are completely sincere in their suggestion that they’re not looking for a casual affair and the tune makes me feel like I’m in a warm bath – even when the snow is coming down on the bus stop on the way to work. This is no mean feat.

I’ve never heard of Errol Sly before. Sorry Errol, but Google has let me down as well. Respect for recording “Tumbledown”, though. Massive tune, which finds me singing “If you’re going to run run run… you’re going to tumble down” at the most inappropriate moments in the office. And respect once again to Mad Prof for including an awesome extended version on this one which slides into a gorgeous dub mix.

All this and some nice sleevenotes which give a bit of biographical information on the artists as well. The first chapter in what promises to be an essential history lesson of a much underexposed part of UK Reggae.

Available on Ariwa LP (with 10 tracks) and CD (17 tracks!) from all good reggae stockists…