Review: Youth Stand Up! – Various Artists
Live Aid this is not. Initially conceived in collaboration, between JD Twitch’s Autonomous Africa project and Glasgow’s Green Door Studio, ‘Youth Stand Up!’ is a truly engaged cultural exchange between a crop of seven young Ghanaian musicians, five young Belizean musicians and members of Golden Teacher, Whilst, Psychic Soviets and Froth – a wave of young, effervescent acts who’ve cut their teeth at Green Door, a DIY, not-for-profit space which has been hailed as a new breeding ground for the Glaswegian underground. In Golden Teacher’s case the opportunity to develop and record material at the space has resulted in accomplished, stylistically prismatic, club-ready material somewhere between synth-punk, leftfield disco, hard-edged acid, and uproarious dancehall. Recognised in the form of releases on Twitch’s Optimo Music as well as a recent support slot for ESG, this work has often been rapturously translated by the band in the live setting, as anyone who has attended a Golden Teacher gig will attest.
It seems fitting then that the African and Caribbean influences frequently displayed by Golden Teacher both on record and in performance – often manifested in manic, minimally-dressed polyrhythms and Cassie Oji’s rallying patois – is something more directly explored on this ‘international album project’, an idea thought up by Green Door’s own Emily MacLaren and contributed to by an overwhelming assortment of musicians, all combined in different permutations across the course of the LP to great effect. It’s tempting then to focus on Golden Teacher on account of their exciting ascent, and although their stamp is all over this record – Laurie Pitt, Oliver Pitt and Oji of Golden Teacher all undertook mentorship duties during the project – it’s an identifiable presence which is by no means dominant.
On the first title track for instance it’s the Segundo Drum (a low pitched, heavy basis) and Gankogui Bell (a high pitched counterpoint of Ghanaian origin) playing of Naheem Castillo which drives the track, it’s labyrinthine, organic insistency drawing interesting contrasts with a drum machine wielded by the Belizean Tuteme band, the first of many instances where inherited traditions clash richly with synthetic means. ‘Ava Wo Nane’ cements that parallel ever further, backing the vocals of Regina Egbeako with brawny, monotone club-bass and a brass-based procession similar in feel to the opening. Again it’s the prudent studio-based treatments lying underneath the pitch-perfect vocal lead of Egbeako which make for a uniquely contemporary rendering of African music, yet vitally their inclusion doesn’t strip it of essence. ‘Come With Me’ departs from the taste of the intro, in that it resembles a more potent indication of Golden Teacher and Whilst’s influence, as metronomic and pulsating as it is, like Arthur Russell doing some novel hybrid of kraut-disco-highlife. But it’s the vocals provided by eleven year old Leandra Romes from Belize which lift unremittingly infectious drum traffic into a sweet, exultant piece of outernational post-disco.
As well as the dance-based aspect of these tracks, with influences ranging from the familiar genre-spliced underpinnings of Glasgow’s current vanguard to the less familiar flavours of Ghanaian Hiplife (a compound of highlife and hip hop), Borborbor, and Belizean Garifuna music – both of which centre on almost hyper-rhythmic feats of drum playing – the record also reaches simmering dub-lag (‘Crawling By Me’) and another standout moment from Leandra Romes who this time sings in her own language on the organ-led dolour of ‘Lagueda’. With this display of another, deeper mode, going beyond dancefloor concerns, it shows that the worlds of Glasgow, Ghana and Belize aren’t so much colliding as fusing comprehensively, after collapsing into each other and finding vibrant harmony out of abundancy.
‘Beat The Drum’ and ‘Set Upon The River’ are probably the standouts from the Ghanaian contingent, with the former’s halting drums (courtesy of Michael Dzandu) sprinkled by glockenspiel, and accompanied by Paulina Ganyo’s focal chorus, whilst the latter is closely situated to a sparse style of dancehall, if edified by the reductionist principles of UK bass. ‘Tsorna’ and ‘Tuteme Vs. Tafi Atome At The Green Door’ on the other hand seem less governed by one particular party. The city/country migration tale of Mococo Daday on ‘Tsorna’ is twisted into all manners of paranormal abnormality – with voices stretched to wraithlike groans – and overlaid with a bourgeoning energy like some uncanny form of house music; Mr Fingers possessed by unearthly toasters. Whereas the more direct fire of ‘Tuteme Vs Tafi Atome At The Green Door’ allows the combined voices of Belize and Ghana to take centre stage, culminating in a strangely rousing nursery rhyme in the closing moments. Although it’s clear where all of the contributing parties originate from, here the results don’t follow the script in any way, instead unravelling in a drum trance and a constantly shifting scramble of voices. As with anything there are highlights like this one, but this is all unbeatable material once pored over, the sum of developed and undernourished abilities, modern and traditional methods, organic and synthetic instruments, European, Caribbean and African origins. Wildly diverse but unusually unified.
The broader implications of the project also raise interesting questions about our current approach to underdeveloped nations. With David Cameron recently announcing a £25 million pound prison for Jamaica instead of more beneficial and ethically sound reparations – essentially a self-serving effort to enforce deportation orders on Jamaican nationals – there’s a much needed aura of positivity, inclusivity and empowerment about ‘Youth Stand Up!’ which we can all get behind. It helps that the music is such an exuberant product of a decent intent to foster cross-continent relations and create utterly modern, multicultural music.