The Throbbing Reggae World Of Aswad

British reggae group Aswad

The dynamic reggae group Aswad

Formed around 1974 in London, the group Aswad was one of many bands that emerged during the fertile period in British reggae music. Deriving its name from the Arabic word for “black,”the group initially performed with five members. In addition to mainstay Angus “Drummie Zeb”Gaye on drums and vocals, the band included George “Ras Levi” Oban, Courtney Hemmings, Donald “Benjamin” Griffiths, and Brinsley “Dan” Forde on lead vocals.

Forde was perhaps the best-known of the members at the time of the band’s formation. As a child actor, he had appeared in several British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) programs. Over the years, the group’s lineup would change several times. By the 1990’s, Aswad was a trio consisting of Gaye and Forde, joined by Tony Gad after 1980 on bass. In the late 1990’s, however, Forde also left the band, and Aswad carried on as a duo.

After 25 years and two dozen albums, Britain-based Aswad has become of one reggae’s institutions. Not only has the band outlasted almost every other band to emerge from the vibrant London reggae scene of the 1970’s, it has also survived numerous personnel changes over the years. The group even avoided the pitfalls of succumbing to its own success; after securing a number one single, Aswad continued to develop its style regardless of its presence on the charts.

Aswad band

Aswad has played all around the world including Belgium: Photo with Joel Savage

Known for its energetic live shows, the band has also sustained its popularity with an extensive tour schedule in Europe, Japan, and the Americas. For its longevity alone, Aswad ranks among the most notable reggae bands, as well as one of the most commercially successful.

Developed in Jamaica from the 1960’s onward, reggae mixed traditional Caribbean rhythms, a prominent bass line, and often socially profound lyrics with elements of American jazz and R&B. In Britain, where many of the island’s immigrants had settled after World War II, independent record companies brought the latest reggae releases to Jamaican expatriates.

By the mid 1960’s homegrown British reggae bands, such as the Cimarons, had sprung up among the immigrants and their children. Largely ignored by commercial radio and the major records labels, it was not until the mid 1970’s that reggae began to be heard on a significant scale outside of the Anglo-Jamaican community in Britain.

Aswad’s previous experimentation with jazz fusion, R&B, and various Jamaican styles had led some critics to question their commitment as bona-fide reggae artists. The band’s breakthrough success in 1988 seemed to confirm this skepticism. Taking a tune co-written by prolific American songwriter Diane Warren—best known at the time for penning hits by De-Barge, Laura Branigan, and Michael Bolton—Aswad’s version of “Don’t Turn Around” hit number one on the singles chart in Britain in early 1988.

The group followed the chart-topper with another hit co-authored by Warren, the top 20 single “Give a Little Love.” In similar fashion, Aswad’s 1988 album Distant Thunder hit the top ten on the album charts in Britain.

My experience with Aswad is shared in the book ‘The Passion Of Reggae And African Music.’:

The page of the group: