Album Review: Transglobal Underground – Digging the Underground, The Nation Years, Vol. 1 [Nation Records, 10th June 2016]

This is music of exceptional variety and coherence in its genre, where it’s possible to listen the most diverse instruments and voices mixed with electronic music. These pieces were born into a groove explosion in London, where mixing sounds of the city with house, hip-hop, dub, and influences from Africa, Asia, and Arab world gave us a ‘world fusion’ or ‘ethno-techno’ style. Transglobal Underground (TGU) combines dramatic costumes, belly dancing and endless percussion that have added value to its deep admiration and attractive attention in live performances. This strong affection for dance, avant-garde, Arabic, and world music, as well as certain tastes and cultural backgrounds, make TGU’s members eclectic dance pioneers.

All the pieces of the album were hidden for about two decades, mainly composed between 1991 and 1998. The name of the collection comes precisely from ‘digging’ into the nation years, into the past of the indie music. Having taken a look back into the euphoria of the 1990s with the collaboration between Nation Records and Transglobal Underground, these pieces represent a series of rare jewels that haven’t been released previously. The intensity of magic, exoticism, mystery, urbanity, spirituality, electronica, and tradition comes to life 20 years later through this production. These finely-polished pieces represent a breakthrough era in British music that was once kept as recorded music, with hundreds of versions of songs, unfinished remixes, experiments, jam sessions, DJ instrumentals, and sounds that never knew a name. Lots of hours in the underground chamber of another age of indie music characterised the spirit, creativity and triumph of independent labels. Therefore, it can be said, this isn’t a definitive collection, since there others could still come later.

At the time of recording and producing these music materials TGU’s core members were Natacha Atlas (lead vocals, singer, and prized with the BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music), Tim Whelan or ‘Alex Kasiek’ (keyboards, guitar, flute, melodica, programming, vocals) and Hamilton Lee or ‘Hamid Mantu’ (percussion, drums, keyboards, programming). Other musicians who have been long-time TGU members or associates include: Count Dubulah (real name Nick Page – bass, sampler and founder), Neil Sparkes (percussion), Johnny Kalsi (dhol), Coleridge (rapping), Gurjit Sihra (dhol), TUUP (an acronym for “The Unorthodox Unprecedented Preacher”, real name Godfrey Duncan – vocals, percussion), Sheema Mukherjee (sitar), and Larry Whelan (saxophone, clarinet, ney, shenai, string arrangements). The participation of all these musicians can be listened to through the different parts of the album.

The 12 pieces of the current collection were originally recorded for previous albums: Dream of 100 Nations (1993, Natacha Atlas’ debut), Rejoice, Rejoice (1998), International Times (1994), and Psychic Karaoke (1996). The ‘90s have gone, but the album remains energetic and innovative. These were ambitious pieces in that moment and experiments produced during the growth of digital technology. ‘Medicine Eagle’ features an exotic and nostalgic far-away Asian sound with a kind of relaxing character throughout. It was composed by Tuup and Bob of Loop Guru as they walked the Euston Road for half an hour. ‘Fei El Adala’ is a piece of an enchanted introduction that changes into a rhythmical character. It features two imaginary orchestras and a kitchen sink and is a collaboration between Natacha Atlas and the film composer David Arnold.

‘International Times’ is sung by the rapper Heitham Al Sayed of Senser. ‘El Haya Gamilla’ features Middle Eastern musical instruments for a fast dance. Giant Bullfrogs highlights a transcendental rap, with an industrial touch. Callisto includes the typical sound; Indian table mixed with disco music and flute solos. ‘Mistery’ features TUUP and Natacha and it is composed with a number of fragments and alternate mixes. ‘Ancestral Ghosts’ features the Romanian drawl of Zahrema and the American cry of Dale Joyner. ‘Serengeti’ is recited by Neil Sparkes with Natacha on vocals. Here, Larry Whelan creates a desert wind. ‘Armchair Cowboys Clash’ is an instrumental piece that refers to work in studio at 3 am, tearing the album and throwing devices everywhere. Phantasy Island takes the listener to the jungle through a dub groove style. The strong Hindu character of ‘Step Across the Edge’ is Natacha Atlas’ first vocal recording with TGU and Dale Joyner.