At a festival of chilled vibes and unity, Poland’s leading homegrown reggae, ska and dub bands were jammin’ till the break of dawn through the last weekend of January. Held for the 18th consecutive year, the two-day Afryka Reggae Festival in Torn was organized this year to support Polish humanitarian action in Sudan.
The festival included performances from African Head Charge, Jafia Namuel, Joint Venture Sound System and Jah Division, to name but a few. Celebrated returning acts to the festival included Lion Vibration, the former Zgroza, with characteristic male and female vocals blasting infectious rhythms and rebellious lyrics.
The biggest star this year and maybe in the entire history of this festival was Yamaica-British based African Head Charge.
Arguably the most popular act to emerge from Adrian Sherwood’s highly respected On-U Sound Records, African Head Charge has created a series of critically acclaimed albums and is dedicated to further experiments in their patented style of psychedelic dub.
African Head Charge was founded in 1980 by percussionist Bonjo I (full name: Bonjo Iyanbinghi Noah), who surrounded himself with an ever-shifting cast of supporting characters (including colorfully named henchmen like Prisoner, Crocodile, Junior Moses and Sunny Akpan). Their debut album, “My Life in a Hole in the Ground,” received almost immediate international acclaim.
Three more albums – 1982’s “Environmental Studies,” ?83’s “Drastic Season, “and ?86’s “Off the Beaten Track” – followed and quickly built African Head Charge’s fan base, despite their staunch refusal to perform live throughout this time period. And it could be argued that the band’s intensely studio-created, hyper-mixed, and often abstract ?psychy dub’ compositions weren’t at all ideal for on-stage reproduction.
In any case, African Head Charge eventually did go out on tour, then enjoyed an extended break before reconvening to work on a 1991 comeback album entitled “Songs of Praise.” Since then, the group has continued to add to their rich legacy with new albums (“In Pursuit of Shashamane Land” arrived in ?93, “Akwaaba” two years later), remixed sets, singles, and compilations.
Not all of their recordings have been made available, or are at all easy to come by on vinyl or CD. 1986’s classic “Off the Beaten Track,” for one, has been long out of print, so it was up to Anthology Recordings to license and bring the much-loved tracks to the Web as digital downloads.
Now they are available, ready to rekindle memories of converts past, as well as introduce the unique dub creations of African Head Charge to a host of new fans.
The title “Off The Beaten Track” was not just an example of a great piece of wordplay, but also incredibly apt as the music was not only a departure for On-U Sound, but also a landmark album for what was to become the whole new ethno-beat strand within the commercial category of what we now know as “World Music.”
African Head Charge was not the only foreign star at the festival this year. Russia-based group Jah Division also attracted a big audience as did leading Polish groups of reggae stream like Jafia Namuel and Galago Band.
The organizers of the festival considered calling it off as part of the national mourning after the military plane crash in Miroslawiec that killed 20 people. However, because the event was for charity and not for profit, it was held as scheduled. The crash victims were memorialized with a minute of silence at the beginning of the concert.