Former Asian Dub Foundation frontman: From pop star, to activist and back again

February 13, 2012
Deeder Zaman.

Pride Of The Underdog
Deeder Zaman
Modulor, 2011

When Deeder Zaman was at the height of his fame as the vocalist for British dance rock group Asian Dub Foundation (ADF), he hung up his mike to become a full-time activist.

So why did he swap such a high-profile, influential position for low-profile work with the National Civil Rights Movement, the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, the Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation and the Children with Aids Charity?

“I think I was doing too much as a kid and had got to the end of what was happening with ADF,” he tells Green Left Weekly.

Zaman was only 14 when he joined the community music project that became ADF in 1993. He left seven years later, having been inspired by activist work while recording the ADF song “Free Satpal Ram” about a young man who was convicted for defending himself in a racist attack.

“I was still young wondering what to do next,” says Zaman. “I was involved with the Satpal Ram campaign and thought that I'd like to get more involved with that type of work.

“I did it because I had time on my hands and for doing things like that you need time.”

But Zaman kept composing while teaching music technology to kids with the Children with Aids Charity. Then in 2002, he formed Rebel Uprising with multi-instrumentalist Passion and bassist Dennis Rootical from Iration Steppas.

Six years later, Zaman’s debut solo album, Minority Large, switched his musical focus from Asia to Africa.

“I grew up to a lot of African sounds when I was a kid and have always loved predominantly black sounds,” he says. “Working closely with Passion and Dennis from Iration Steppas, whose background is also of that nature, the whole thing seemed to have shaped itself.”

Now, Zaman has just released his second solo album, Pride Of The Underdog, which shakes off his Asian foundations to leave a tower of dub.

Adrian Sherwood of On-U Sound System has produced the record, bathing it in warm, wide bass and shuffling sounds from speaker to speaker like shifting sands. Its reversed snares seem to slip through your cranium as they surreally slide from ear to ear.

“I've known Adrian since I was 14,” says Zaman. “He's been like a bigger brother to me over the years, through ADF days and so on. I have the upmost respect for him, he is actually one of my favourite producers too.”

Sherwood’s production melds well with the present-day, calmer Zaman, who has eased himself down into a sound that feels more mature than the fast-chat rattling jungle he brought to ADF.

“I grew up on reggae and hip hop music and got into jungle in my teens, so I think I've always had a mature sound backing my musical tastes,” he says. “But, yes, the music has matured since the days of ADF for sure. I don't know if that’s to do with me growing up!”

There is the odd flashback to frantic jungle beats though. The song “Jesus” sets the lyric “Jesus was a black man” to a chunky, cheeky quickstep that will have jungle fans drooling.

There’s also a bonus drum and bass remix on the CD that brings dhol drums back into the mix.

“I think jungle music musically sounds much better [than dubstep] because of the tempo and the heavy reggae influence,” Zaman says.

“I'm not a big dubstep fan, just as I wasn't a huge drum and bass fan. I like off-beats and live music, not really monotone electro.”

Zaman’s yearning for that human touch means he has also lost none of his passion for politics, as “Us and Us” attests.

The song tracks migration from the journey out of Africa to violent colonialism: “African to Asian/Asian to European/European to Inuit/Inuit to Indian/Nobody no trouble no one/European to America/Kill them own brother/American to Africa/Kill them own brother/European to Australia/Kill them own brother/German to Poland/Kill them own brother/Polish to Israel/Kill them own brother.”

Zaman explains: “'Us and Us' is about what's happening in the world when it comes to Israel and the West, about classic repression, cowardliness and most of all, the strain of the Palestinian community.

“The song focuses on hypocriticalness (of the sufferer) and of having ‘free-press’, after being brainwashed by local government.

“Israel is the undisputed violator of international law, the same law that captures and brings to justice the generals who are responsible for the Jewish Holocaust.

“We all really need to get with what’s going on in Palestine and realise that things really need to start moving on to the next step, so we can all get there.”

And Zaman is choosing to bring that message to the world through music again, rather than just activism.

“I’m looking forward to coming back to Australia this year and playing with Rebel Uprising,” he says.

[To win a CD copy of Pride of the Underdog, email your name and address to before the next issue of Green Left comes out on February 22. Winner picked at random.]

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