x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Arrested Development and Ska-kings The Beat to play in Dubai

Coming to Dubai's Chi Lounge this Thursday: the double headlining performances of the American hip-hop group Arrested Development and UK Ska-kings The Beat.

Members of the band Arrested Development, who play in Dubai on Thursday along with The Beat.
Members of the band Arrested Development, who play in Dubai on Thursday along with The Beat.

A music-lover living in UAE these days could be excused for feeling as though the concert offerings were in a time warp.

These include performances by artists from the 1980s and 1990s - Duran Duran, Culture Club and Sade - as well as fun yet tacky live shows by the likes of Yanni and Salt-N-Pepa.

Thursday night is no exception, with the double headlining performances of the American hip-hop group Arrested Development and the UK Ska-kings The Beat.

Both previously toured Dubai separately, but putting them together on one bill could make for a joyful exploration of recent musical history by two sets of underrated artists.

For Atlanta's Arrested Development, their short-lived commercial peak is an example of hip-hop's rapid growth from independent roots to the mainstream.

Formed in 1988, the group confounded expectation by their mere formation - viewing themselves more as a commune rather than a hip-hop crew. While musical compatriots relied on a DJ for musical direction, Arrested Development had an elderly spiritual leader, Baba Oje, dispensing spiritual advice as well as performing a few nifty Tai Chi-esque dance moves on stage.

The group's MC, Speech, admitted their image was a tough sell even in a late 1980s hip-hop scene where diversity was the norm; through record-label marketing and public curiosity the group were labelled as hip-hop's first hippie group to gather appeal.

Speech says he is slightly uncomfortable with the tag.

"We weren't really hippies," he says. "We were activists and we were about the Earth and things your average urban hip-hop were not talking about. When you get into the mainstream stratosphere, especially when you are bringing something unique and fresh, off-course labels are always thrown on non-mainstream concepts to make it more easy to swallow."

It was the eclectic songwriting of their 1992 debut effort 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... (named after the period it took the group to get signed by a label) that the masses devoured.

With socially conscious lyricism and styles blending hip-hop, Afro Beat and pop, the album went on to sell more than three million copies and nab two Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Rap Group.

While Speech modestly labels the success as "luck", the good fortune seemingly turned on its head when they released the follow-up Zingalamaduni two years later.

The album is another solid progression, incorporating more jazzy elements, but by then it fell on mostly deaf ears. Gangster rap had become the dominant flavour and songs about social empowerment were pushed aside by radios and television for bouncy tales of gun play.

Speech admits the disappointing reception to Zingalamaduni caused the group to split in 1996 before reforming in 2000.

While the reformation continues to be met enthusiastically with tours including Australia, Europe and the Middle East, the group returned to the headlines in 2003 by suing the television company Fox Network for infringement over the name of one of the biggest cult comedies Arrested Development, a name Speech claims the group trademarked in 1992.

Describing the show as "kind of all right", Speech was adamant the group would have used all means to cancel the series, which, because of fan demand, is reportedly due to become a feature film, if the matter wasn't settled out of court.

"We had to," he says. "We had other examples of the past, where shows with the same [name] pretty much took the band and killed it."

For The Beat's frontman Ranking Roger, the group's reformation since 2005 has led to a comfortable existence.

Presently unsigned, their DIY approach has resulted in a new creative spell of songwriting. He proudly declares the new material, to be released in the near future, resembles the group's vintage sound, where reggae and punk are blended with ska beats.

Roger explains the group's mix-and-match approach is a product of their environment.

"England has always been a great melting pot," he says.

"By mixing reggae and punk we helped make punk become more accessible in a new reggae style. We sing about world situations. It is good awareness music."

Rogers says 2012 is destined to become a big year for The Beat, with the band's back catalogue set for re-release.

While proud of the group's three albums, Rogers says it is at celebratory live shows that one can best appreciate their eclectic songwriting approach.

"We want people to join in and basically be part of the band," he says. "I would say 98 per cent of people would leave the place feeling like they had a bit of a workout."

sasaeed@thenational.ae

  • Arrested Development and The Beat will play on Thursday at Dubai's Chi Garden, beside Al Nasr Leisure Land at Oud Metha. Tickets start at Dh150 from www.timeouttickets.com

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