New Dub City
November 18, 2013
Melbourne dub-rap-reggae collective New Dub City have just released their politically punchy and sonically spotless second album, Tap Tap. Frontman, producer and author Ali MC spoke to Green Left Weekly's Mat Ward.
You chose the figure 20/80 rather than 99/1 to illustrate inequality in your skipping, light-footed ragga chant "20/80". Please talk about that.
I found the "we are the 99 per cent" slogan – for that’s what it is, a slogan, not reality - to be an insult to the truly impoverished people of the world. To group myself in the same financial category as someone living in a mud hut in the backblocks of Tigray struggling to scratch out a bleak existence from the sun-baked earth is ridiculous. Compared with them, I’m a fucking billionaire. I am the 1 per cent. The pint of Coopers I’m about to drink is worth more than what they earn in a month. Poverty and inequality is always relative to the person/ community/ country with which you compare it, and 20/80 seemed to me to be a bit more real. And as the song says, "they got a gun, and we got it coming", so the so-called "developed" world better watch its back.
20% of the world's population's got 80% of the wealth
80% of the world's population's got nothing but bad food and bad health
80% of the world's population's got 20% of nothing
80% of the world's population's got a gun - and you got coming
On your new song "Kou Kou" you talk about being from a line of pacifists, since your dad refused to fight in Vietnam. You also say you grew up in Australia and Aotearoa. Tell us a bit about your parents and your childhood.
Both my Dad and Grandfather are pretty interesting characters. Both are pakeha (non-Indigenous) from New Zealand, with ancestry in Scotland. My grandfather lived in Australia's Western Desert in the 1950s as a missionary with Aboriginal people. He ended up rejecting Christianity and experiencing Indigenous Law, and became an extremely wise elder. My Dad, however, kept the "faith" and it informed his belief that war is essentially state-sanctioned murder. When he was conscripted to fight in Vietnam, he refused to go and fought the gubbahs in court, eventually receiving a "dishonourable discharge" from the Australian Army. That he was up for two years' imprisonment if he lost his court case is testament to the strength of his beliefs. I like to think I got a bit of knowledge from both of those guys.
Tell us about the differences you've observed between Australia and Aotearoa, particularly regarding Indigenous people.
Aotearoa, while no means perfect, has definitely incorporated Maori language and culture into mainstream "New Zealand" identity far more than Australia has its Indigenous peoples. Even in the mid-18th century, Maori were granted four seats in Parliament, and one of the reasons why New Zealand as a colony did not federate with Australia in 1901 was Australia’s mistreatment of Aboriginal peoples. In fact, Australia’s constitution for most of the 20th century stated that all non-white people were not allowed to vote in Federal elections apart from Maori – that was an effort to win over New Zealand into the Federation. That we are only now talking about recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution speaks for itself with regard to Australia’s treatment of its First Peoples.
You're worldly and very well-travelled and that's reflected in your globe-trotting music. Tell us about your forthcoming travel book, The Eyeball End.
I’m hoping to release The Eyeball End mid-2014. It basically tells of me travelling around for the first decade of the 21st century to parts of the so-called Third World (including the Kimberley of Australia). It tells the stories of people I met, plus my own story growing older (and hopefully wiser!) while trekking through places such as Rwanda, Lebanon, Haiti and Burma. Along the way there’s enough drugs, sex and violence to entertain the masses while hopefully drawing out some questions and conclusions about the world around us. It’s taken around five years to slowly put together and I’m really pleased with it, and looking forward to people reading it!
Photo: Francesco Vicenzi
Haiti crops up a lot on the album. What's your first-hand experience of Haiti?
Haiti… that was an intense 10 days. A beautiful country full of beautiful people who got fucked over historically and have been paying for it ever since. A proud country – the first "black republic" in history – featuring the first slave revolt against the colonial masters in 1791. It sadly plummeted into a lot of violence since. However, Jacmel – where I was staying, by the beach on the south coast – has an amazing artist community - you can read more at www.jakmelekspresyon.wordpress.com. I’ve got some other stories concerning soccer match shoot-outs and voodoo ceremonies but y’all gonna have to wait till my book, The Eyeball End comes out for those!
The title of the album, Tap Tap is another Haitian reference, right?
A Tap Tap is a local Haitian bus – noisy, brightly coloured and full of interesting people with a lot to say – hopefully much like our album!
You travelled through Syria in 2006. What have been your thoughts while watching events unfold there over the past year?
It’s an absolute tragedy and yet another conflict where innocent people have been caught up in the struggle for power by an elite few, where the only winners are the arms traders - the five biggest arms exporting nations being the US, UK, France, Russia, and China, who also comprise the United Nations’ permanent "Security" Council. A coincidence? I think not. When I was hanging out with students in Syria, there was already a lot of discontent with Assad’s "government" and sadly most of those students I now assume to be dead. Syria is also one of the friendliest countries I’ve ever travelled to - on occasion a bit too friendly, as you will read on my blog at www.alimc.com.au!
Tell us about album artwork, Notes to Basquiat (The Coming of the Light) by Gordon Bennett.
Wow, what can I say? Gordon Bennett is one of the most innovative – and probably underrated – modern artists Australia has produced. He has an amazing personal story and his artwork reflects the complexities of Australia’s black/white relationships in a way few have managed to capture. I’ve been a fan of his work for years, and this particular piece suited the album perfectly – combining themes of colonialism and Aboriginality in a style that shouts out to graphic artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose father was Haitian. The design also captures elements of the Twin Towers and the atmosfear that followed in the decade after, during which many of these songs were written. That Gordon allowed us to use the work for free is also testament to his character and commitment to hip-hop, social change and the arts, and we are truly appreciative of his generosity.
You did a two-week tour of remote Aboriginal communities in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands of the Western Desert, right?
I had already been working in the Ngaanyatjara Lands doing music development and really wanted the other guys in New Dub City to experience the beautiful communities out there. It really is another world and one that more Australians should experience and appreciate. We did some DJ workshops and some gigs around Warakurna, Irrunytju, Jameson and Wanarn and in reality, learned far more than we could ever teach. I loved living in the desert and managed to travel to some very interesting and remote areas, meet some great people and hear/record some fantastic local music.
Tap Tap engineer Lotek has the midas touch when it comes to clean, dynamic, bassy production. Tell us about how you hooked up with him.
We got Lotek involved to help us with the final mixes and fatten up the overall sound of the album, and also to fix up a lot of my dodgy production. It also helped to have someone outside of the music to give us some pointers and provide a fresh perspective. That he’s worked with the likes of Roots Manuva and Speech Debelle demonstrates his ability, and he’s all round a pretty entertaining fella to be in the studio with.
You make a point of mastering your recordings to 2-inch tape - can you tell us why you do that?
Mainly just for sound quality. There’s something warm and heavy about using old 1970s compressors and tape to record to, a throw back to the old reggae and dub sound.
Tell us about your friendship with Butchulla-Scottish rapper Birdz and his crew.
Birdz is a dope MC who speaks truth and is prepared to wear his heart in his lyrics, and tell his story. His new EP is fantastic and we have performed a couple of gigs with him, most notably a refugee fundraiser at Bar 303 in Northcote. He also performs with Culture Connect, whose other members guest on Tap Tap – Mr Monk drops some rhymes on a track called Dred City (Haiti Hop), which was produced by another of their crew, Voodoo Dred. Haitian-born Voodoo Dred also spits a verse on the track Two Saints, a song about his home country, which combines English, French and Creole lyrics.
You work researching and documenting Indigenous history. What kind of problems, if any, does that work throw up?
Getting mainstream society to listen and understand is a massive problem! And arguing with government about why they should fund this type of work is always tough. Given our education system, there is just not a great deal of basic understanding about Indigenous history and issues in this country on any level - and it’s reflected in the overall ignorance of Australia as a nation. However, I believe that is slowly changing over time, but the sad fact remains that most Australians don’t know the true history of slavery, genocide, theft and murder that the so-called "lucky country" was founded upon, nor fully appreciates the diversity, creativity and depth of character to be found in the various countries that inhabit our island continent.
Tell us about your film clip and song "Welcome to Melbourne", which speaks of racism within Australia and condemns police brutality towards Australia’s Aboriginal people.
The song "Welcome to Melbourne" is our own version of the massively popular Damien Marley song "Welcome to Jamrock", in which he speaks about the streets of Kingston. We wanted to do our own version and make it about Melbourne/Australia, so we talk about police brutality against Aboriginal people as well as against Sudanese and other African cultures in West Footscray. It’s a sad fact that Aboriginal deaths in custody and overall incarceration are higher in some states and territories today than when the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody came out in 1991 – the report that was supposed to alleviate these types of statistics – it is my belief that it has been the role of the police to suppress and control Aboriginal peoples’ since the days of the frontiers, and this continues today.
Listen to and download New Dub City's new album Tap Tap here (name your price).