In a world of music so devoid of overt activism that Marilyn Manson sometimes seems like a true revolutionary, Asian Dub Foundation is very nearly political just by its existence. Five North London youths, descended from parents and grandparents from the Asian subcontinent, joined together for the sole purpose of making music that’s both aggressive and aggressively thought-provoking. However, rather than relying on ancestry and geography to make a “very important point,” the group provokes action by its sound (a
rough-and-tumble combination of experimental electronics, bass-heavy thump and hardcore attitude) and incendiary lyrics.
The members of ADF – bassist Aniruddha Das (a.k.a. Dr. Das), guitarist Steven Chandra Savales (Chandrasonic), MC Deeder Zaman (Master D) and DJs John Pandit (Pandit G) and Sanjay Tailor (Sun-J) – have a precise ideology: grassroots anti-fascism that rocks. This ideology so permeates what the
group does that, rather than compromise its beliefs in order to get its music released in England, ADF’s second album, RAFI (an acronym for “Real Areas For Investigation”), was released only in France. And this was afterADF found critical success at home with its first LP, Facts And Fictions.
“There was a lot of difficulty getting that record into shops and, after that deal, we didn’t have a deal in England,” says Das. “But the (Virgin) people, who had distributed the first record in France, wanted to do something that would just come out in France. That record was RAFI. We were signed up by London Records last year, and we thought initially that we were just going to remix RAFI, but we wound up re-recording most of it. And that’s what became Rafi’s Revenge.”
Out in England for the better part of 1998, Rafi’s Revenge has finally found American release through London/Polygram. And though some of the song titles may look the same, the sound and tone of the album are markedly different from RAFI.
“The music really develops when we play live, and we really wanted the album to be up to date,” says Das. “Some of the tracks are the same in name only, because the arrangements have changed so drastically over the years.”
Does the new title speak of a sort of vindication for ADF?
“Well, kind of, yeah,” says Das. “But it could have equally been called Son Of Rafi. Most of the subject matter primarily relates to our experiences in Britain, and it’s ironic that outside of Britain – especially in France – that we initially gained some kind of acceptance and some kind of audience on a national level. In Britain, we really had to operate on more of a grassroots, self-financed sort of level.”
These experiences, in case there’s any confusion, deal mainly with the overt racism inflicted on Asians and Africans in England: substandard education, ghettoized housing, arbitrary judicial decisions and a massive problem with cheap, highly addictive drugs. Sound familiar? It should. And if it does, you probably can understand why ADF is so motivated.
“We started in a community music situation,” says Das, “where myself and Chandra were tutors. And we’ve recently established our own project, ADF Education, with the help of some arts funding. We’ve started one workshop with young people in North London, and hopefully down the line that ..develop into a half dozen or more.
“People sometimes use the cliched phrase of ‘giving back to the comnunity,’ but we cannot ‘give back’ to the community because we never left lie community. We’re always there. Everything that we talk about lyrically cames out of our conversations about our daily concerns with things that biIppen to us and things that relate to our parents’ experience. And that’s IIhI!re it comes from, rather than us saying, ‘Let’s write about something political.’ It’s at the very core of our thinking.”
First appeared in Magnet magazine, January 1999.