On April 15, 2001, the Mad Professor brought his Ariwa Sound System artists to captivate San Francisco dub fans at the Elbo Room’s Dub Mission. The house was packed and the line snaked out the door as people struggled to gain entrance to see the master of the mixing board in such an intimate setting.
The Mad Professor (a.k.a. Neil Armstrong) was born in Guyana, South America, and is based in London, England. Beginning with his first living room-based, four-track studio in 1980, the Mad Professor has grown a recording empire using the cutting-edge electronic technology to suit his brilliant engineering and unique style of mixing. His early 80s work with Lee “Scratch” Perry and his dub experiments with the legendary “Dub Me Crazy” releases set the standard for this emerging genre. He then went on to create reggae-dub recordings and remixes with Pato Banton, Yabby You, Twinkle Brothers, J.C. Lodge, U Roy, Jah Shaka, Macka B and others. Mad Professor’s more recent fan base come to his sound via his remixes of the groups Massive Attack, The Beastie Boys, The Orb, Sade, Depeche Mode, Jamiroquai, Rancid, and other popular artists. Ariwa has released more than 200 titles, and Melody Maker refers to Ariwa as “the biggest black-owned studio complex in Britain.”
Technology Meets Roots Reggae
In prior Bay Area appearances, the Mad Professor performed solo on his DAT mixing board, or as a house engineer (at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival). At Dub Mission he brought his latest Ariwa Sound System artists to showcase their talents in front of his sound wizardry.
At the Dub Mission performance, the crowd was treated to a high-tech, roots-based reggae mix. The audience raptly swayed to the beats as the Mad Professor spun the web of his soundscape by nimbly twisting dials on his soundboard and switching DATs between songs. Dressed in a blue tropical-print shirt and hat, his eyes obscured by sunglasses, a relaxed Mad Professor chatted with artists onstage and casually created “on-the-fly” dubs with sounds captured and played back during the show.
The sound complemented the talents of the Ariwa (the Yoruba word for communication) artists: the lovely singer Sushi, the charming dub-poet, Jayzik, and Jamaica’s Pan Africanist, who displayed his talents on both the steel pan and the mic. The show unfolded as a relaxed, organic presentation that alternated the talents of the artists.
Jayzik-the UK’s leading female dub poet-took center stage to weave her poetry in time with the bass-heavy sound mix. The dreadlocked gypsy danced as she chanted her poetry, captivating the audience with her politically charged, witty lyrics. Calling herself “The Simple Poet,” she performed numbers from her soon-to-be-released “Question Time” CD.
Dressed in a form-fitting black sheath dress, the elegant singer Sushi presented more straightforward R&B-style songs, singing in a smooth, sensual style reminiscent of Sade (a Mad Professor-produced remix of “Stronger than Pride” was a featured track of the evening.)
The Pan Africanist played the double role of MC and pan player. His pan solos, mixed into a shimmering wave of sound, drew some of the loudest response from ever-appreciative audience. The Mad Professor has used pan playing on a number of his records-the pan’s percussive melody is a wonderful launching point for his aural experiments-and to witness a live version was a special treat.
Other tunes were creations of the Mad Professor and his DAT bag of tricks-layering the rootsy rhythms and using tracks from his more than 20 years of recordings-with the Yabby You tracks and Chukki Star standing out as highlights. While some audience members complained that the sound wasn’t loud enough, the digital quality of the mix was pure and clear. The weakest moment of the evening was an unnecessary and embarrassing audience-participation “dance contest,” with contestants vying to win a CD.
At nearly 2 a.m., the band performed its encore-a call and response “I love ganja, free marijuana” chant-then the show was over. But the relaxed musicians stayed onstage to sell and sign their books and CDs, mingling with the audience, as the rest of the crowd drifted off into the night.
Bay Area dub fans will have another chance to see the Mad Professor at this year’s Sierra Nevada World Music Festival (June 22 to 24, 2001), where he’ll showcase his talents as the House Engineer. He will appear onstage with the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry, performing a live dub session on Friday the 22nd, then will front his Ariwa Sound System during a Sunday performance.