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25 Live

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Album Review

Creatively, Aswad has had its ups and downs over the years. Some of Aswad's recordings have been suburban, and some have been pedestrian. But the British group certainly deserves credit for longevity; formed in the mid-'70s, Aswad was still keeping busy when the 21st century arrived. Aswad celebrated its 25th anniversary with 25 Live, which focuses on an August 22, 2000, show at Subterania in England. The lineup includes only one original member — Angus "Drummie" Zeb — and he is joined by Tony "Gad" Robinson (who joined in 1977) as well as guitarist Peter Lee, drummer Perry Melius, dancehall/dubwise toaster Solomon, and two keyboardists (Greg Assing and the late Victor Cross). This seven-man lineup emphasizes material from the '80s and '90s, and some of Aswad's longtime fans may be disappointed to learn that the outfit's earliest songs are not a high priority. But all things considered, 25 Live paints an attractive, if imperfect, picture of Aswad on stage. Many of the songs would not impress a reggae purist; pop/crossover considerations are quite prominent during this concert. There are some examples of hardcore roots Rasta reggae, including Bob Marley's "Thank You Lord" and the Black Uhuru-ish "Day By Day." But a commercial reggae-pop approach prevails on hits like Stephen Bishop's "On and On" and "Don't Turn Around," which becomes one big pop-fest. Over the foundation of "On and On," Aswad inserts bits and pieces of everything from Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway's "The Closer I Get to You" to the Temptations' "My Girl." Those wanting to hear British reggae that is consistently political and provocative should listen to Linton Kwesi Johnson, but those who like their reggae laced with a lot of pop and urban contemporary will find that 25 Live has more ups than downs.


Formed: 1975 in London, England

Genre: Reggae

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Aswad was arguably Britain's most successful reggae band, in terms of both popularity and longevity. Critical opinion on their body of work is often divided; some hail their early material as the greatest roots reggae Britain ever produced, while others find their later pop-crossover phase more distinctive and unique, even at the expense of authenticity. Regardless, Aswad's ability to adapt themselves to the changing times -- new musical trends, shifting personnel -- was ultimately the driving force...
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