The other night I was listening to a number of old dub reggae albums, when I came across the album I’m going to write about today. Sometimes I don’t get much chance to listen to albums that I bought years ago, because I’m constantly listening to new stuff. Each week, I buy numerous albums, and sometimes, by the time I’ve listened to them, and written this blog, there isn’t much time for listening to other music. However, a couple of nights ago, I managed to make some time to listen to older stuff, and one of the albums I listened to was Joe Gibbs and The Professionals 1984 album African Dub 5. For many a year, I’ve been a huge fan of Joe Gibbs’ music, and previously, I’ve written an article on his album Majestic Dub, another of his great albums. However, the sound on this album is slightly different. It sees Joe Gibbs embrace the then, new technology available. This has the effect of changing the sound somewhat, giving it a different sound to previous albums. Now, I’ll tell you just why African Dub 5 is such a great album, and how the new technology used changed his sound.

African Dub 5 was released five years after the fourth volume in the series. It had been a hugely popular and influential series of albums. So, in 1984, Joe Gibbs decided to revisit this series. He picked eight great tracks for the album, the first of which is The Day After. It’s a squelchy sounding synth that opens the track. It sounds like something that belongs on an acid house track, that’s produced by a Roland synth. A brass section play, and drums and bass combine. Delay is used slightly, as the track meanders slowly along. Each of the instruments combining melodically. The brass section especially, playing slowly and beautifully. Drums are spacious, the bass plods along. Occasionally, the synth cascades, slightly at odds with the dub sound. By now, effects are used subtly, delay and echo giving the track a spacey sound. Later, the synth is let loose, creating various strange, otherworldly sounds, with the help of Joe Gibbs’ effects. Overall, the addition of the synth gives dub another dimension, although too much use of the synth could start to grate or become tedious.

After what was a new twist on dub, by adding the synth, we’re back to a more traditional sound with Long Distance Affair. Here Joe lets loose with effects. Straight away, the track bursts into life, drums and bass combining. The track chugs along, then a heavy bass line is played and the brass section join the frae. In the distance, a vocal can just be heard. This track is a much more traditional dub track than the previous track. After a couple of minutes the effects start to make their presence felt, brilliantly distorting the sound, echo especially. During the track, it’s just drums, bass and brass section that play. However, with the addition of effects, and clever production, they produce a brilliant slice of old school dub reggae.

It’s an atmospheric near howling sound, that opens Full Moon In the Sky. Thereafter,  the brass section take the lead, accompanied by the rhythm section. Straight away, effects are unleashed, and the sound is drenched in echo. This makes the sound reverberate beautifully. It seems gradually, on each track, Joe’s using the effects much more. Like the previous track, the bass is heavy, spacious and plodding. Likewise, the drums are slow and spacious, plenty space being left between each beat. For the first time on the album, a keyboard plays. It tinkles melodically, in contrast to the sharpness of the brass section. On this track, the tempo is much slower, the track meandering along slowly. The rhythm section drive the track along, with other sounds emitted courtesy of the brass section, keyboards and synth which is used more sparingly here. Towards the end, effects are really unleashed, transforming the sound totally. At one point I winced at the result, so powerful it was. Full Moon In the Sky like the previous track, is much more what a dub track should sound like, and here, it’s the rhythm section and Joe Gibbs who are responsible for producing a powerful, laid back and melodic slice of dub reggae.

When Ladies Night Out begins, drums laden with echo reverberate. They’re joined by keyboards guitar and bass. Sound effects interject repeatedly, the bass is way down in the mix throbbing, plodding away. Then, the brass section enter, delay transforms their sound too. This is a much slower track, one with a lovely spacey feel and sound. There’s no rush here, the pace is sedentary, really laid back. Vocals emerge, joining the mix, making a fleeting appearance. A synth enters, sweeping in momentarily. Percussion cracks like a pistol. Much is going on, but much of it is subjected to delay and echo, transforming and improving the sound because of Joe’s subtle use of the effects. 

Slow echoey drums, the brass section, bass and keyboards combine masterfully at the start of Chapter 5, which is the slowest track on the album. To describe this track as meandering, would be an exaggeration, it isn’t even that quick. Laid back in the extreme is more like it, and that’s part of its charm. For four minutes it just plods along without a care in the world. The rhythm section set the tempo, and occasionally, the brass section and keyboards play, with a synth augmenting the sound. Joe meanwhile, is sparing in his use of effects, making sure not to distort what is a great sounding, summery and joyous track. 

Bad Verdict opens with a bright modern sound. Chiming guitars, a drum roll and handclaps After that, a throbbing bass slow spacey drums and swooping synth combine. There is a real moderne sound produced by the synth. It creates a multitude of sounds, some of which sound otherworldly, others bleep and squelch bringing to mind acid house and the second summer of love. Unlike many dub tracks, this has a much brighter sound. This is thanks to guitar, synth and even the drums. By contrast, the bass and percussion provides a much darker sound. Effects are used sparingly, except towards the end, when Joe almost over does it, causing me to wince again. At the end of the track, I’ve wallowed contentedly in a track that sounds like a dub track thats been influenced by Chicago house. Obviously in 1984, Chicago house was still in its infancy, but this is what the two combined would sound like. 

Where Bad Verdict left off, Military Intervention takes over. Here we see another track where Joe Gibbs decides to unleash a synth on a dub track. Again, a drum rolls opens the track. Thereafter it’s a melodic sounding track with a bass, synth, drums and keyboard combining. Here the synth squelches throughout the track, as the keyboard melodically plays, drums snap and crack and the bass booms deep in the mix. Mostly, effects aren’t unleashed, and I’d love to hear plenty delay, echo and reverb used to transform the sound. Especially to see what it would do to the synth sound. Occasionally, some delay is added, but is used sparingly. At the start of the track the synth sounds at odds with the rest of the arrangement, but after a while this sound grows on you. Although Military Intervention may be very different to most dub tracks, but I really like the sound. Joe Gibbs’ use of new technology available in 1984 allowed him to be innovative, and move dub in a new direction.

African Dub 5 closes with Campus Flash Back. It’s a much more traditional sound that opens the track, guitar, flute, drums and a loud throbbing bass. Then, everything changes, when a keyboard plays. That traditional sound is gone, as the keyboard has an electronic sound, that’s slightly tinny sounding. This is further highlighted when an organ plays, its sound totally different, much better. This however, doesn’t spoil the track, as by now, a great sounding arrangement has emerged. The rhythm section drive the track along, the bass especially, playing a huge part. Accompanying them are an organ, flute, percussion and yes that keyboard. Each drop in and out of the track, rhythms and melodies aplenty. At the end of this hugely melodic track, so impressed was I by it, that I was even willing to forgive the use of that keyboard. 

One of the reasons I chose to write about African Dub 5 was because of the use of synths and new technology on it. By 1984, synths were much more common in music. Used properly, they could sound great, used badly, well it becomes a car crash of a sound. The only problem with many of the albums made at this time, is that some of them sound really dated. They haven’t stood the test of time well, and when you hear them, you can instantly date them. However, African Dub 5 has stood the test of time reasonably well. Thankfully, the synths weren’t overused, and on many tracks, the traditional dub reggae sound shines through. On a couple of tracks, including Bad Verdict, some of the sounds made by the synth are similar to those used in early Chicago house tracks. Overall though, Joe Gibbs has produced a really good album, that sees him use the then new technology to add a new twist to the dub reggae sound. This he’s done really well. Much of that is down to his use of some hugely talented musicians, and the assistance of Errol Thompson in arranging and producing the album. 

If you wish to buy the album, it can be bought individually, or as part of a recently released four disc box set entitled Evolution of Dub Volume 4 Natural Selection. It features three Joe Gibbs and The Professional albums and one by Sly and Robbie. Standout Tracks: Long Distance Affair, Full Moon In the Sky, Chapter 5 and Bad Verdict.



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