Interest in Chinese music reached a high during last year’s Beijing Olympics, for which we should partly thank Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. If you want something that offers an earthy and perhaps less commercial alternative, mind, Jah Wobble is your man.
Chinese Dub is something of a family affair, including as it does Mrs Wobble – aka Zi Lan Liao – on guzheng and yanqin. In the modest booklet notes Wobble describes his considerable debt to her, while distancing himself from any idea that this represents traditional Chinese music. It’s more his own take on it, having married in to the culture, travelled round the region and found singers and instrumentalists who share his approach.
Tibetan and Mongolian vocals and instruments are included, along with Wobble’s familiar loping beats and fulsome bass, reassuringly booming through the speakers. Yet somehow he manages to blend the two incredibly smoothly, without crowding the sonic palette.
Rather than approach this as an album it’s best to think of it as a one act opera. The ‘overture’ comes in like a breath of wind, moving through the first four tracks and setting out the scene in a completely unhurried way. The titles speak for themselves – Space, Silence and ultimately Solitude – and when the Mongolian vocals of Gu Yinji arrive, they make the fullest possible impact.
The same happens with the rhythms, held back for a good five minutes before adding their steadily throbbing pulse to the music. The opposite happens at the end, with Yellow Mountain slowly offering a gorgeous panpipe melody over the familiar laid back beat.
Throughout Chinese Dub there remains a balance of intensity and relaxation, so that when you emerge the other side the experience is akin to an aural massage. Opportunities for grooving can be found throughout, and are superbly addressed by L1 Dub. This is vintage Jah Wobble, viewing, as he says, “Chinese music through a dub prism”.
The vocals are enchanting, too, whether in Tibetan or Mongolian, and add to the instruments chosen – Horse head fiddle, Jew’s Harp and the Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra, present on the last two tracks.
The whole record is an eye-opening experience, the culmination of a project that Jah Wobble appears to have been thinking about for some time. It’s brilliantly and colourfully realised, and only heightens the desire to hear more music from the region – which is surely what he had in mind when he wrote it.