There’s always been a slight mystique around Transglobal Underground, and they’ve always determinedly followed their own path. With some made up names and a squad of collaborators than have revolved and evolved over time, they’ve been fusing together elements of Western, African and Asian music since they burst onto the scene in 1991 with Temple Head, which appeared on Native Records and gained single of the week in Melody Maker.
Since then there have been ten albums on various labels, including Some on their own Mule Satellite Recordings imprint. They refuse to be defined and they similarly refuse to let conventions of music definite them, saying they have ‘slowed down Hip-Hop and sped up Dub’ traversing boundaries of genre, language and continents in making their music. They have always been more than that though, and at a time where Dance acts were seemingly limited to a couple of DJs and a singer, their live shows included costume, belly dancing and Nepalese Temple Guardians.
And so 2020 sees the band having released their eleventh album ‘Walls Have Ears’. It’s a record that shows the band continuing to grow and develop, welcoming back Natacha Atlas back into the studio with them but continue in to move forward. It’s an album that at one minute washes over you, and the next grabs your attention. Like a lot of their music though, Walls Have Ears is a record of the world, and in these times of solitude and conflict and isolationism, it’s a very welcome one.
The band have given us an insight into the album and each of its component parts one by one. So pull your headphones on, grab a drink of your choice, and pour yourself into the record (link at the bottom) while reading the stories behind it.
We’ll leave you in the hands of the band from hereon in.
When you’ve been going as long as we have, if you’re going to make an album at all, you’ve do it firstly to challenge yourself, to see if you’re still all there. ‘Walls Have Ears’ is a kind of gathering of the Transglobal Underground clans, members old, new and even newer coming together physically or recording in various parts of the Greater London and Greater Paris regions. It’s been a process of opening new doors finding a few new possibilities and breaking down some walls.
CITY IN PERIL
The city could be London, could be Paris, could be Dubai, could be anywhere right now.
The big growing bass comes, via Ma from Dubulah, original TGU member now best known for his work with Dub Colossus. The enchanted trumpet comes from Yazz Ahmed, a major figure in the UK jazz scene who we first worked with on a pan-Persian Gulf project in Dubai. The rest, like much of the album, recorded at Hamid’s Ladbroke Grove HQ and at RamJaccs HMVS studio in Belsize Park.
This came from a studio session bringing Natacha Atlas back into the studio with us. Sheema Mukherjee has been in studios with Cornershop, Paul Weller, the Imagined Village, but despite them being good friends and despite them having been onstage together with TGU many times, they’d never actually worked together in the studio before.
We were throwing various backing tracks at them to see what would happen; at one point Sheema started singing an old Hindi melody and Natacha joined in in Arabic. The whole thing flowed utterly naturally and it was only afterwards, after the track had been mixed, that we all realised that what they’d been singing in two different languages was in fact the same thing…
THE PEOPLE CARRIER
A West London thing; if you drive along the Westway you see the growth of a new city on an inhuman scale being built on the skeleton of the old one; the red warning lights blinking everywhere, the new gleaming towers no one can afford to live in and, in the middle of it all, the green heart of the ghost of Grenfell.
The song came from the title. Hamid Mantu had already named the track; Tuup enjoys writing words from a jump off point. The context of the song is the political and social condition of the world and British politics at the time, decisions decisions decisions!
MIND THE GAP
For those of you familiar with the London Underground and it’s various instructions, this was inspired by the story of the English actor who voiced the phrase ’Mind the Gap’ When he passed away, his wife would visit the station just so that she could hear his voice again.
Featuring Inder Goldfinger on the rap and Sheema Mukherjee telling people, quickly, quickly, let’s go to West Ruislip, along with some other Central Line stations.
Rav Neiyyer binds it all together on tabla and Dhol with all the kinetic energy of a tube train.
So what’s this ‘genre’ stuff about then? We’ve never had a genre. People like to tag us as world music these days and we don’t object but, back in the day when that term had a meaning, no one ever put Transglobal Underground in the World Music section. We used to bet on what category we’d been stuffed in when we went into record shops. Techno…rap…triphop…..acid jazz, whatever.
Here’s a bit of swinging London meeting Yéyé Paris, Bollywood style. Tag it where you want .Montmartre ba-ba-baas from Raphaëlle Von Glitz of Beach Bellydance Babylon. Ladbroke Grove ba-ba-baas from Loretta Heywood ex of Bomb the Bass.
STAND UP (NIFHAMOU)
After working for hours on the other two tracks on this album, Natacha was in the mood to keep going, said ‘Just hit me with whatever you’ve got’ so Tim hit her with the main groove of this track and she put this incredible vocal down in two takes.
Dubulah send in a whole bunch of disparate ideas over from Malaga, including a virtual oriental orchestra and some blues harp. Sofiane Saidi and Moncef Hakim of the French/Algerian rai futurist band Mazalda put in the finishing touches.
CHANT SANS ADRESSE
More of the London-Paris connection…during one of TGU’s regular breaks, Tim Whelan spent time touring with Franco-Tunisian vocalist Nawel Ben Kraiëm, playing, naturally enough, around France and Tunisia. Nawel visited London early last year, went to meet Hamid and, in about half an hour, they’d already had 2 songs half-finished. This drifting, homeless song is one of them.
RETURN OF THE GREEN SPIDER
In 2019 we released an EP titled ‘The Colours Started to Sing Again.’ The EP was made for ourselves as much as for anyone else, but we’re still very proud of it (Natacha reckons it to be one of her favourite things she’s ever done with us). The original ‘Green Spider’ was on that release. When we started playing it live, Sheema and Rav naturally added some new ideas. Tuup kept saying ‘I know there’s a story in there.’ One day he came up with the Anansie spider connection onstage, and recorded it a couple of days later. So this is a good example of a TGU track created by the live band as opposed to our other method of stitching things together over time and place.
Another track inspired by live performances. Sheema and Natacha regularly improvise a duet half way through TGU shows, and everyone else just sits and listens. This is the sort of loveliness that emerges, although next time anyone gets the chance to see us live with both of them, assume they’ll perform something totally different.
WAY DOWN THE RIVER (part one)
Started life as a fractured Afro-Beat groove with added ingredients…local Dj and Ladbroke Grove blues man, Alex Pink came into the studio with a few vocal ideas and other members of the TGU family built it up to an uplifting end to the album. As the title suggests, there really is a part two and maybe we’ll release that someday.
Grab the album On download, cd and glorious vinyl at the Transglobal Underground Bandcamp here
Listen to the album, here