Title
Artist
Label
Format
Date

Music in The Air : Anthology
Matumbi
Trojan Records
2CD
September 21, 2005

Track list
Disc One

  1. Call In Al Capone
  2. Chatty Chatty
  3. Dear John
  4. Everybody Out Except Julie
  5. Gloria
  6. I Will Never Let You Down
  7. Man In Me
  8. Man In Me Version (aka Man Sized Rocker)
  9. My God Is Real
  10. Tell Me Again
  11. Ten Green Bottles
  12. Time For More Loving
  13. Raindrops Falling
  14. Wishing And Star
  15. You Turn My On
  16. After Tonight
  17. Can't Satisfy
  18. Law Of The Land
Disc Two

  1. Wipe Them Out
  2. Brother Louie
  3. Running In And Out Of Life
  4. Go Back Home
  5. Come Back Sunshine
  6. Take It From Me
  7. Can't Get Enough
  8. Seeing Is Believing
  9. Highway
  10. Black Civilization
  11. Bluebeat And Ska
  12. Come With Me
  13. Guide Us Jah
  14. Hook Deh
  15. Living In A Dream
  16. Music In The Air
  17. Point Of View
Rating : from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)
Vocals : 3 Backing : 3 Production : 3 Sound quality : 3 Sleeve : 3
On listening to this retrospective compilation which covers the period from 1970 to 1979 a number of differing and clashing impressions hit home:

Firstly, it is clear Matumbi would have benefited from a more definite sense of musical direction. That is by no means a criticism of the band themselves -- all fine songwriters and musicians -- but one can't help feeling they could have had better management/record company guidance. This is something the band acknowledge themselves -- the sleeve notes reproduce an interview from the late 70's punk magazine "Zigzag" in which the band complain vociferously about being mismanaged and pushed in the wrong musical direction by producers and record company execs, who should have known better.

"(record company bosses in UK) wanted us to do cover versions, you know, nice soul songs that were doing well in the charts. Impossible! We wrote our own songs and wanted to produce our own selves to let people hear what we could do instead of what other people could do. (Matumbi, Trojan sleeve notes, 2005, c/f Zigzag fanzine, circa 1977 )"

Then there are the labels they were signed to -- Safari (a 3rd rate new wave label) and Harvest (a 2nd rate progressive rock label). No wonder Matumbi found the going tough!

Above all this -- the impression the listener gets -- is how damn good Matumbi were when they were expressing themselves to the maximum, and not doing light weight Hot Chocolate and Kool and The Gang cover versions with weak string sections.

Matumbi do two styles particularly well -- firstly, they have a style reminiscent of Sonia Pottinger's High Note label sound from the mid 70's, a revive sound with edges of churchical, doo wop and even country vocal influences -- which penetrate to the heart of the listener. "Can't Satisfy" is a beautiful composition -- ostensibly it's a love song -- but the heart of the composition points to something far deeper, about the frustration, loneliness and harshness of life. "Take It From Me" too, is excellent in that High Note/Sonia Pottinger productions style with its lyrics about the cold indifference of life and the brutality of competition amongst men. If you love The Chantells and The Ethiopians narratives, then these tunes will appeal.

Another side is revealed -- and that is how innovative and strange Matumbi could sound-- that is exemplified by their eerie cut to Augustus Pablo's /Paul Blackman's "Earth Wind and Fire" Rocker's discomix, here retitled "Raindrops", in which the taut snares and thundering roto toms recreate the cold and lonely sounds of winter rain showers, with chilly vocal echoes shimmering through the mix. This is the kind of inspired strangeness which later gave birth to the best of ONU sound inspiration. And let it not be forgotten that Dennis Bovell engineered all the best early ONU Sound and Hitrun albums, from Creation Rebel, to Bim Sherman to Singers and Players, a fact which is barely registered these days.

Some of this collection is bland and directionless -- but equally so, some of it shows just how great Matumbi and Bovell really could be at their heights, with their beautiful layered country tinged vocals and Eric Fish Clarke/Eskimo Fox style Rockers drum patterns.

This band should not be overlooked and some of the songs here are a fine testament to their rightful place in UK reggae history and evolution -- Clearly, at their most inspired, a talented and innovative group who contributed a lot to the UK scene -- perhaps most notably in Bovell's (largely unsung but undeniably outstanding) engineering duties for ONU and Hitrun labels.