Mad Professor issued the first of his Dub Me Crazy series in 1982; by 1993, he was up to Chapter 12 and quickly followed such releases with the Black Liberation Dub series and further dub excursions with Scientist, Mafia & Fluxy and Sly & Robbie. He also strengthened ties with Lee Perry, cutting a series of albums with Scratch at the mic and Prof behind the mixing console; their bond was so strong that they have toured the world together for the better part of fifteen years, evidencing the longest musical partnership Perry has fostered during his entire career.
Other great Ariwa records surfaced with U Roy, Horace Andy, Yabby You, Michael Prophet and Earl 16, while Prof continued his habit of nurturing new talent through works with rising hopefuls such as Chukki Star, Starkey Banton, Queen Omega and steel-pan player Pan Africanist, better known Patrick Augustus, author of the popular Babyfather.
In 1996, Prof opened the now dormant Are We Mad studio around the corner from Ariwa; the smaller facility was kitted out with 1970s equipment, giving it a different sound, so Prof made specific use of it on particular projects for a number of years before ultimately shutting it down. Meanwhile, his mixing skills grew ever higher in demand. Ever since the days of his collaboration with Ruts DC, Professor has always been willing to lend a dubwise hand to a multitude of international musicians; he mixed material for The Beastie Boys in the 1980s, which sadly has not yet surfaced, before altering the manic creations of radical duo KLF and spaced-out ambient house pioneers, The Orb.
Definite high points in the 1990s came with an exceptionally sensual dub mix of Sade’s ‘Love Is Stronger Than Pride’ and a dubwise deconstruction of Massive Attack’s Protection; further collaboration was achieved with bull-horned pop-star Jamiroquai, edgy Swiss techno-rockers The Young Gods and Boston neo-ska group Bim Skala Bim, while in the new millennium Prof has used his dub skills on material by former Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell, New Zealand’s Salmonella Dub and experimental duo Jack Adaptor, as well as myriad others in Japan, Brazil, Argentina and other territories on five continents.
In the new millennium, Mad Professor continued the aural onslaught with all manner of enthralling Ariwa discs. Max Romeo’s Pocomania Songs showed the reggae bard on top form, his politically-relevant and spiritually-minded lyrics riding tough Ariwa rhythms built with drum-and-bass heroes Sly and Robbie, saxophonist Dean Fraser and percussionist Sky Juice, alongside Ariwa stalwarts like Black Steel, with Leroy Mafia on keyboards; U Roy’s Old School, New Rules revisited some old hits and had plenty of new material. Trinidad’s Queen Omega Servant Of Jah Army brought a different take to the Rastafari perspective, while Joe Ariwa went head-to-head with Jah Shaka’s son, Young Warrior, revived jungle with General Levy and went the dubstep way with brother Karmelody in their Tricksters side project. Then, in the ‘teen’ years of the new millennium, Prof cut dub showcase LPs with Cedric Myton of the Congos and Luciano, before versatile veteran Nadine Sutherland shook things up with the deep roots blast of ‘In A Me Blood,’ while Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry revisited some greats of the past on Black Ark Classic Songs. More recently, lover’s rock queen Carroll Thompson tackled the epidemic of knife crime blighting Britain’s black communities on the 12-inch ‘S.O.S. (Save Our Sons),’ a dynamic slice of exceptional roots reggae, while Horace Andy lamented the difficulties of ‘Life In The Ghetto’; U Roy’s Talking Roots was the best album from the pioneering toaster for ages, while Prof continued his excursions into unknown dub territory on releases such as Electro Dubclubbing!!
Meanwhile, reconnecting with the African motherland was a very significant part of Ariwa’s direction. Neil and his family had been spending increasing time in The Gambia and decided to stage a festival there in 2011, titled ‘Back To Africa’; several other editions have since followed, allowing Ariwa fans to experience music in a very unique setting, while stimulating the local music scene in the process. As Neil explains, ‘Being a natural pan-Africanist, going to Africa was always on the cards, hence the Back To Africa festival, held in Batukunku, The Gambia, which is Ariwa’s home in Africa. So Ariwa is now a truly international music company, with various projects in Africa, Central and South America, and parts of Europe.’
Over forty years ago, Ariwa started out as a family affair and it certainly remains one today: Neil’s wife Holly has been involved in the administration right from the beginning and sons Joe and Karmelody are increasingly part of the picture, the younger generation helping to move things perpetually forward. In fact, it’s all part of the gradual evolution at Ariwa, which has taken British reggae towards all kinds of areas it might otherwise have never ventured into.
So what’s next for the Mad Professor and the Ariwa posse? Having just completed a string of productive new sessions with known and unknown talent alike, the future still looks bright for the Mad Professor; watch this space because whatever emanates from his creative mind is bound to be nutritious to the ears.
Check out an interview with Mad Professor on AnalogueFoundation.com by Hélène Peruzzaro.