Saturday, March 7, 2009

Global funk connections: Fun-da-mental

Fusing hip-hop grooves and politicized rapping with Indian film soundtracks and various forms of African and Middle-Eastern instrumentation, Fun-da-mental styled themselves as a multi-ethnic British version of Public Enemy. Their early recordings were strongly influenced by the environment of rising racial tension in the early 1990s, as blacks and South Asians were subjected to attacks by white nationalists.

Their debut single “Countryman” (below), like much of their stuff, doesn’t really work purely as rap music – the delivery too earnest, lacking the flow and panache to mix it with the best of US (or UK) hip-hop. Yet it is the stunning background music which stands out, all swirling Bollywood strings, percussion and dubby bass. It is a landmark moment for the sound of the British Asian Underground.

But after this impressive statement of intent, just before their first album was set to drop, the group split. Vocalist Lallaman (a Hindu) and percussionist Goldfinger (a Sikh) left and formed the outfit Detrimental. Remaining were the chief sound architects, Aki Nawaz and Dave Watts, who brought in replacement rappers Hot Dog and MC Mushtaq. Thus there was a shift in the group’s outlook and religiosity. Nawaz and Mushtaq were both Muslim of Pakistani heritage, and Watts and Hot Dog both black Muslims. When the debut "Sieze the Time" dropped, the extraordinary soundscapes were still there, but complemented by samples of Malcolm X and lyrics that were all about militant Nation of Islam philosophy.

The second single, “Dog Tribe”, describes a kind of ethnic vigilante squad rising up to fight the skinheads. It still kicks some sonic ass, but you can see the worrying direction the group was heading.

Following that album, Fun-da-mental becaming increasingly abrasive, both musically and politically. I find their followup, "Erotic Terrorism", to be mostly unlistenable. More recently, Nawaz has been advocating increasingly disturbing jihadist politics through the group’s music. Their 2006 album “All Is War (Benefits of G-Had)” has a song describing an Islamist takeover of the USA, and another comparing Osama Bin Laden to Che Guevara.

From a group with multi-racial and multi-faith roots, it’s a shame how it all turned out, really.

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