Few people are awarded an MBE. Far fewer, once awarded the “honour”, refuse to accept it. However, John Pandit – aka Pandit G from Asian Dub Foundation – did precisely that last year after being acknowledged for “services to the music industry”.
With ADF back on the horizon with the release of their fourth album, Enemy Of The Enemy, musicOMH took the opportunity to discuss music and politics with the disestablishmentarian DJ. Given Asian Dub Foundation’s reputation as an ultra-earnest, politically charged band, it is somewhat disarming to hear just how affable Pandit G is.
Speaking on the day that the British National Party has won a council seat in Halifax, it quickly becomes apparent that he is as much music fan as campaigner. He first enthuses about having On-U Sound‘s Adrian Sherwood as executive producer of the new album:
“On-U Sound is something that we’re all big fans of. So Adrian was exactly the person we wanted. It was like having a hero produce your album… He made the whole recording process great fun.”
Adrian Sherwood is not the only famous person involved with Enemy Of The Enemy. Radiohead‘s Ed O’Brien adds some squalling guitars at pertinent points on the album, while 1000 Mirrors, a haunting trip-hop cut about domestic violence, has Sinead O’Connor on vocals. Regarding the latter collaboration, Pandit G is particularly effusive:
“If we want oil we should buy it. We shouldn’t steal it.” – Pandit G
“It was like a wish-list of who we wanted. Sinead was absolutely brilliant. You never know how these things are going to work but she had the emotional intensity we wanted for that track and she loved the lyrics. She just came down and did it and we were so surpised with the result – it’s brilliant!”
And he’s right. He’s also on the ball about more social and political issues, which inevitably crop up as topics of conversation when we move on to discussing the lyrical themes on the new album. As you would expect, for example, Pandit G is passionate and articulate about immigration and racism, the subjects of current single, Fortress Europe:
“The fear that the government and media are spreading – putting asylum-seekers in the same bracket as suspected terrorists – is outrageous. We’ve got to organise against it and do as much as we can to publicise against the racism that’s coming through because the only one who’ll win [otherwise] is the BNP. And the people who suffer from that are not just black people. Whole communities get devastated when fascists come in.”
Asian Dub Foundation’s breakthrough single in the UK was 1998’s Free Satpal Ram, a song about a Birmingham man who was given life imprisonment for stabbing a racist attacker who subsequently refused medical attention. After years of being refused parole, Satpal Ram was finally released last year, due in part to much lobbying by the likes of Asian Dub Foundation and Primal Scream. Although Pandit G acknowledges that this was a triumphant day, he explains that, since Satpal Ram has not had his conviction quashed, the struggle for justice goes on:
“The government…putting asylum-seekers in the same bracket as suspected terrorists is outrageous.” – Pandit G
“He [Satpal Ram] is still on licence. You see somebody like Paddy Hill [one of the Birmingham Six] and ten years later he hasn’t had full justice over the fact that he was wrongly convicted and served how many years in prison.”
So was it these sorts of factors that contributed to Pandit G declining the MBE?
“Certainly, certainly. The MBE is a legacy and symbol of the old British Empire. It’s undemocratic and I didn’t really want to have it. And now we’re coming into a time when they’re about to go into Iraq. This is a new British Empire.”
Ah, Iraq. I didn’t even have to bring it up. Pandit G is in full flow now and very clear on where he stands regarding an imminent war:
“If you repeat this kind of foreign policy you’re going to get the consequences.” – Pandit G
“Why spend 4.5 billion on something that could cause destabilisation of the whole Middle East when at the same time we’re not going to pay our fire-fighters a decent wage? Just because of oil. If we want oil we should buy it. We shouldn’t steal it.
They’re not going to bomb North Korea – they’ve got ’em [weapons of mass destruction]. They’re not going to bomb Pakistan… They’re not going to bomb India…”
But Saddam Hussein is not exactly a front-runner in the World’s Most Benevolent Leader competition, is he?
“No, so why did Donald Rumsfeld go to Iraq in 1983 and give Saddam Hussein chemical weapons, anthrax and other weapons of mass destruction and then, twenty years later, want to bomb him… Actually, want to bomb the Iraqi people.
That’s why we called the album Enemy Of The Enemy. Sometimes they’re friends. If you repeat this kind of foreign policy you’re going to get the consequences and that’s what’s called “blowback” [the title of another album track]… The politicians have got to break the circle. They can’t keep doing things like that.”
Having discussed with Pandit G issues like immigration, racism, foreign policy, war and even Brazilian prison conditions (the subject of album track, 19 Rebellions), in some depth, it occurs to me to ask him whether we will ever be seeing Asian Dub Foundation writing less serious songs, even a love song? He laughs, before responding in surprising fashion:
“They’re all love songs! They’re all about raising up people and our own faith in human nature. We’re not negative, we’re not nihilists. We’re optimists and we believe in human potential so you could say that they’re all love songs.”
He laughs again before signing off and leaving me with one of those can’t-quite-compute thoughts. Asian Dub Foundation: love-mongers? Remember folks, you heard it here first.