Songlines, June 09
‘A world in their ears’
Having inspired so many pretenders, it’s sometimes easy to forget how prolific and seminal an influence Transglobal Underground were. The London collective garnered a cult following among the
clubbers and crusties of the capital’s underbelly, expanding the boundaries of world music by whisking it out of the hands of purists and dropping it – complete with whistles, electronic bleeps and acid house smiley faces – onto dance floors. No wonder, really: founding members Tim Whelan and Hamilton Lee (to give them their real names) had cut their teeth in the punk scene; by applying the same DIY aesthetic to dance music they sparked an ethno techno craze.
That they happened to be aficionados of everything from dub, dancehall and rap to African, Arabic, Indian and Latin music and had a kohl-eyed, bellydancing, multilingual lead vocalist named Natacha
Atlas was simply sensational. Their first single ‘Templehead’, which kicks off this 26-track two CD set, was championed by Melody Maker and put on high rotation at clubs including the late, lamented
Whirl-y-gig. And while full-blown success has always eluded them (they’ve always been proudly unclassifiable), TGU have maintained a steady following through changes in both line-up and zeitgeist. Their seven albums – including 2007’s BBC Radio 3 Award-winning Moonshout – are cherrypicked
here. There’s a specially remixed ‘Shimmer’, remixes by such redoubtable outfits as Thievery Corporation and Dreadzone, and tracks featuring the likes of dhol drummer Johnny Kalsi, Zulu vocalist Doreen Thobekeli and sitarist Sheema Mukherjee. Today, though the piercings are
rustier and the dreadlocks crustier, TGU roll invigoratingly on.