Agit-Pop Jungle Boogie

Oct 28, 1998 at 12:00 am

You don't have to understand the history of Asian politics here to know something big's going on in Rafi's Revenge. Like an east Asian, junglefied Rage Against the Machine, Asian Dub Foundation takes a hard sound and uses it as a soapbox for even harder themes, all of which, while detailed in the liner notes, are immediately evident in the 180 BPM breakbeats, double-time chatting and thick, quivering bass.

Unlike, say, Fun Da Mental, a spectacularly mediocre London hip-hop group from a few years back that called itself "the Asian Public Enemy," ADF doesn't need to bask in any reflective glory to shine here. Indeed, Rafi's Revenge is so strong precisely because ADF takes its jungle beats as a jumping-off point -- literally -- and not as ends in themselves. ADF's Chandrasonic and Dr. Das' vocals and, respectively, live guitar and bass don't try to ape synth sounds, but instead lend melodic dignity and musical strength to the proceedings. On "Buzzin'," things break down for the kind of anthem-worthy melody you'd expect to hear in a Cure song. The irony here is -- unlike Cornershop, which throws a yahoo with a sitar on stage but still plays bad two-chord Lou Reed rock -- ADF doesn't seem to be making a claim to any Asian musical heritage, only a political one. To be sure, it's a strong one, as songs like "Free Saptal Ram" -- with its post-punk guitar, barrage of samples and turntable scratches -- is a firestorm of conscience-addling awareness(es).

There are the occasional exotic sounds: the flute samples at the end of "Buzzin'," the almost Midnight Oil-ish harp-intro-and-singing melody of the raga-rap "Assassin." But once things kick in on the latter track, it's apparent Chandrasonic and crew borrow their riff more from Killing Joke's "Requiem" than from Grooverider. By capturing jungle's manic energy, dub's expansiveness and post-punk's artful melodies, Asian Dub Foundation reminds us that the passion is as important as the purpose on Rafi's Revenge, and that the music is as important as the message. Strong stuff.