Monday, January 30, 2017

Amazulu + Jerry Dammers? Check Out Moonlight Romance From 1984!

Amazulu were a guilty pleasure of mine. Arriving on the UK music scene in the early 80's just as 2-Tone had run its course, this 6 piece multi-racial band of mostly self-taught musicians initially launched themselves as a serious reggae and ska band and helped fill the void for fans like me who were just catching up to all the post 2-Tone music being released . In fact, the original version of the band drew attention with their political tinged songs, capturing the attention of noted music Svengali Falcon Stuart (who discovered X-Ray Spex and took Adam Ant mainstream) as well as BBC radio DJ John Peel who was an early fan and recorded two radio sessions with the band.

The band's first single was the political tinged 'Cairo' backed by 'Greenham Time' which was an ode to the women protesting the placement of U.S. Cruise missiles at Greenham Common military base in the early 80's. Despite their relative lack of musical experience, 'Cairo' is a catchy if serviceable slice of early 80's era reggae and the edgy video was miles from the the lush pop videos the band would later produce. The B-side 'Greenham Time' is the more interesting of the two tracks. Its a chant down Babylon/feminist reggae rocker that would have sounded right at home on The Slits first few albums.

What I never knew until recently was that Amazulu's reggae growing bona fides brought them to the attention of Jerry Dammers and Dick Cuthell (taking a much deserved break from recording The Special AKA 'In The Studio' LP) who took the band under their wing and produced the sunny 2-Tone sounding ska of 'Moonlight Romance' and directed the corresponding video. Dammers and Cuthell also mixed a dub version of the track -- which I have to confess I like more than the original! It has great little flourishes of African hi-life guitar sounding like a distant cousin to other Dammers compositions like "Winds Of Change,"  "Jungle Music," and "Free Nelson Mandela."

Though the single failed to chart, the band and 'Midnight Romance' were prominently featured performing a more ska sounding version of the song in an episode of the 'Young One's' which guaranteed them national exposure and set them up for the pop success they would have with later material like 'Excitable', 'Don't You Just Know It' and 'Montego Bay.'

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