Aswad reunites for Island's 50th anniversary

Published: Sunday | May 17, 2009


Davina Morris, Voice Writer

ARGUABLY one of the most prestigious record labels in the history of British music, Island Records has spawned countless artistes in its 50-year history.

Founded by Chris Blackwell, the label is probably best known for bringing Bob Marley and The Wailers to international prominence.

But Island is also responsible for propelling the careers of acts such as Burning Spear, Third World, Angelique Kidjo, Grace Jones and Black Uhuru - and more recently, British stars Amy Winehouse, VV Brown and Tinchy Stryder.

To mark the label's 50-year milestone, a week of concerts featuring Island artistes past and present will take place, starting May 26. Sly and Robbie, Grace Jones, The I-Threes and Steel Pulse are just a few of the acts on the bill for what promises to be a fantastic celebration of the legendary label.

In addition, the anniversary is being marked with the publication of the book, Keep On Running - The Story of Island Records. Edited by Chris Salewicz (author of the best-selling Joe Strummer biography, Redemption Song), Keep On Running details the rise of the label and is illustrated by rare images, including original artwork and photographs from the Island Records archives.

But back to next week's concerts, and another particularly notable act on the bill is British reggae group Aswad, best known for hits including Don't Turn Around and Give A Little Love. Their show will see former Aswad member Brinsley Forde reuniting with his band-mates Drummie Zeb and Tony Gad for their first performance in almost 10 years, following Forde's split from the band in the mid-90s. The much-loved singer says he's looking forward to joining forces with his former group members once again.

Reuniting with your former band-mates aftersuch a long time is quite a big deal, isn't it?

Yeah, people have mailed me to say how excited they are and that they'll be flying in from different places to come to the show! That really surprised me. But music is a powerful thing and that's what we're celebrating. We're celebrating what Chris achieved with Island Records. Sometimes when you're so close to something, you don't realise the enormity of what music does to people.

I trust you're excited about the show.

Oh yeah, I'm looking forward to it. I think it's gonna be good fun. I haven't played with the other members of Aswad for nearly 10 years now so I'm excited.

Why did you decide to leave the group?

My way of life is Rastafarian and I think the time just came for me to tread a different path. It was just one of those things.

Was it a bad break-up?

No. We were fortunate that we made a lot of decisions when times were good, so we didn't have the kind of break-up where we were all arguing or going through major problems. I signed over the rights [to the name Aswad] when I left, so it was all fine?

No regrets?

No, no regrets. The work we did together was positive and the legacy remains positive, so it's all good. And who knows what may happen in the future?

Could the reunion be permanent?

It's not something I see on the cards right now. But if it's meant to be, it will be. We don't have negative forces around us, so if that time comes, so be it. We all worked together on a Dennis Brown project some time ago - after we'd broken up - so there's no bad blood. For years, we spread the message of 'One love, one God, one aim, one destiny.' So if at this point in time we couldn't come together and work together, we'd have been lying about everything we sung about. Regardless of whether we're doing different things, we can still come together and be unified.

What do you think was the secret of Aswad's success in the late '80s and '90s?

Back then, a lot of British reggae music wasn't considered to be authentic. It was often seen as a lukewarm copy of what was coming out of Jamaica. But we didn't listen to Jamaican tracks and try to copy them. We told our own story so it was original. And we were really fortunate to see at least a couple of our tracks get elevated into the classics of Jamaica.

What are your memories of being signed to Island?

In the early '70s when we went to Island, they had no experience of having a reggae band that was based in England. So we had our ups and downs. It was a learning period for everyone involved, but I think Chris [Blackwell] had faith in us. He signed us personally. So I'm definitely excited to be a part of celebrating Island's legacy.

The Voice is a subsidiary of The Gleaner Company Limited and is Britain's leading Black newspaper.