Jah Wobble

Japanese Dub

New Internationalist – 1st August 2010

Odds at the bookies over it happening but the night AFTER PiL play in Glasgow, Lydon’s old sparring partner Jah Wobble was in the city for a gig of his own, with able backing from the exoticallynamed Nippon Dub Ensemble. But whereas his former bandmates opted for a greatest hits set, the bassist decided that, rather than rely on past glories, he’d opt for the route of innovating and educating. Drawing together musicians —
and influences — from across the globe, Wobble’s latest obsession is an experiment in East/West fusion, blending his trademark thunderous dub
basslines with traditional Japanese music. It’s a perfect match, with the ten-piece band creating an astonishing new take on an ancient sound. Shinto Dub uses the powerful taiko drums to great effect, while, amazingly,Keiko Kitamura’s soto playing has an authentic hip hop flavour to it. The second half of the set sees this accomplished outfit cover vintage reggae numbers such as Uptown Top Ranking and I’m Still In Love,
alongside his own classic, the hypnotic Visions Of You. They encore with a percussive take on an Augustus Pablo track, ending what was an incredible performance from start to finish.

Jude Deane

The Guardian – May 2010

Once upon a time, a man called John Wardle, an East Ender with a reputation for boozing and brawling, fell in with London’s early punk scene, got a new name, discovered dub music, became, with John Lydon, a member of Public Image Limited, and – this didn’t happen overnight ¨C found redemption in the music and philosophies of the Far East. Japanese Dub, the latest album from Wobble and a companion piece to 2008’s incredible Chinese Dub, shows just how serious his intentions are.

As Wobble writes in his illuminating notes to Japanese Dub, the ‘overriding aesthetic’ to it ‘is that of ma, or what we might call sensory space in the West’. For Wobble, ma is not space alone ¨C the gaps between the reverberating low timbres, but an emptiness that he locates, via a vertiginous, erudite treatise, in religious ritual, Japanese court music, Mishima, and even Copolla’s Apocalypse Now.

Japanese Dub is a thoughtful exercise to reach to the heart of a musical structure. Dub, with all its architectural properties, is Wobble’s modus operandi. ‘Cherry Blossom of My Youth’ is where the low, vibrating bass lines kick in, but unlike traditional reggae, they don’t drive the track. They are anchors that hold so much else ¨C kotos (13-string zithers), Japanese drums, shakuhachi flutes and scratchy vocals from Joji Hiroti. Like ‘Koririko'(hear this on the New Internationalist website) and other folk songs scattered here, the song is indicative of a conversation that Wobble wants to set up, one that explores commonalities and celebrates divergences.


News Of The World

It starts with high, yelping vocals, a slow, solid beat from the barrel-like taiko drum, and the wail of the hichiriki flute used in Shinto religious ceremonies. Then comes the distinctive rumbling bass that is the trademark of one of Britain’s maverick veterans. Jah Wobble is off on his musical adventures once again. He may have started out as the backbone of the early Public Image Ltd, but he has gone on to fuse dub with jazz-rock, English folk and (most recently) far eastern themes, with his bravely original Chinese Dub. Now he has moved on to reinterpret Japanese styles, using very much the same technique, matching traditional acoustic instruments against his bass, beats keyboards and programming, and doing so with remarkable delicacy. Best of all is his treatment of traditional pieces such as Kokiriko, in which the sturdy vocals from drummer Joji Hirota are matched against the zither-like koto or banjo-like shamisen, with Wobble’s bass holding the music together.


According to Jah Wobble, Japanese music is “a million zillion miles away” from the Cantonese tunes that featured on his acclaimed Chinese Dub album. Some listeners may consider adding extra zeros to that distance. From the first rack, “Shinto Dub”, which begins with the percussionist Joji Hirota’s martial yelps and ends with a disorientating metallic drone, this is a deliberately unsettling experience. Yet it is based upon twon Japanese concepts that feature frequently in non-Japanese arts: Ma (The space between the notes) and Jo-ha-kyu (a slow, fast sudden stop). Inspired by the writer Yukio Mishima, the film-maker Akira Kurosawa and the final act of Apocalypse Now, Wobble has sculped a dynamic tale that develops and increases intensity over 11 songs before tipping the listener into silence at its climax. Where Chinese Dub used florid melodies, its sequel rationalises and reduces, a Japanese cultural habit that bears comparison with Jamaican dub (particularly on ‘K Dub 10’, where echo bleeds into the spaces).

There is much more than unadorned bass-playing, however. ‘Kokiriko’ is a melody that you might find in Irish music; ‘Cherry Blossom of my Youth’ and ‘Hokkai Bon Uta’ are classical melodies; while an evocative shakuhachi floats like blue smoke on ‘Ma’. On ‘Taiko Dub’, Hirota (best known for his work with Real World alumni Trisan) takes centre stage. Since Chinese Dub, Wobble has been on a roll (with an autobiography, a World Cup song, and a movie under his belt). Where Next?

David Hutcheon

Dyverse music – 22nd April 2010

After Chinese Dub by Jah Wobble and the Chinese Dub Orchestra, the intrepid sonic explorer’s trip further east and sideways makes perfect sense.  In a steadily shrinking world, one has to look to increasingly far-flung places to emulate the shock that, say, King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown had in the mid-seventies (K Dub 10 here has a family resemblance).  The howl of a Kabuki actor (which opens Shinto Dub) is always going to be impenetrably exotic to western ears.  And then there’s the wide-open spaces that Japanese folk and dub reggae have in common.  Wobble’s heavy, heavy bass rings like a bell in an empty sky: an ominous thunder besides the lightness of the shakuhachi flute and plucked koto.  The meaning of the sung pieces remains elusive too, but it’s fair to say that regret at the fall of a cherry blossom (Silence) is subsequently overtaken by apocalyptic dread (Mishima/Kurosawa).  The profound depth of Buddhist gloom is another eye-opener.

Mike Butler

Blues & Soul – 22nd April 2010

Following the overwhelming success of his 2008 release, Chinese Dub, Jah Wobble – creatively adventurous music-maker and master of the cross-cultural collaboration – turns his attention to Japan… Releasing a ten track album featuring himself alongside Joji Hirota (vocals, taiko drums), Keiko Kitamura (vocals, shamisen, koto), Clive Bell (shakahatchi) and Robin Thompson (hikaritchi, sho, shamisen).  If you are expecting transcendental zen like harmony you’ll have to wait a bit as the opener Shinto Dub will wake you out of your slumber with war cry like Taiko drums and haunting Hichiricki and Sho wind instruments which have a real cleansing effect.  Your ears will prick up to this evocative pairing, Wobble’s bass does like it’s master wobble and it tries lay out the path to the ‘Way Of The Gods’, no easy task!  Track 2, the wistful Cherry Blossom Of My Youth sees JW mixing in some heavy hip hop drums and the bass playing the lead line as well, this works remarkably well and the heavy processed bass really kicks ass!  JW leaves gaps for the sweet koto melody reflecting the bitter sweet sentiment of the tune.  Wobble has been nothing but thorough in his quest to fuse traditional Japanese music to his way of thinking – Kokiriko, reputedly the oldest known tune in Japan, eats into your brain and the beats swing sympathetically to this evergreen! Check out the dub versions too of this song no 5 really shows off Wobble’s exquisite bass he some how mixes the melody line with a bass line thrown in simultaneously, you can actually feel the striving diligence of the man.  Top stuff!  It takes a bit of getting use to to the western ear but it’s worth persevering.  This album with it’s simplicity and preciseness echoes admirably the complicated aesthetic that much of Japanese art is based on and like shinto itself Wobble has established a connection between the here and now and Japan’s ancient past.

Emrys Baird

The Times

The second in a triptych of playful interpretations of Far Eastern folk music (China Dub was released two years ago, Korea Dub is due in 2011) finds the bass player and friends immersed in Kurosawa, kabuki and the samurai code. With Wobble prowling the bottom end, the album’s stars are the singing percussionist Joji Hirota and Keiko Kitamura on shamisen (a banjo in other hands) yet their leader suggests the key thing here is the space between the notes. Very Zen and dub.

David Hutcheon

World Music Central – 22nd April 2010

The great British world beat and global electronica innovator Jah Wobble has focused his attention on the music of east Asia. His previous 2008 recording, Chinese Dub, explored the music of China. His 2010 release, Japanese Dub, delves into the rhythms and airs of Japan. Japanese Dub includes many of the fascinating elements that makes Jah Wobble one of the essential musicians in the world music scene. Jah Wobble’s ingredients include Japanese traditional songs, kabuki theater and the venerable taiko drumming tradition combined with dub techniques and ambient electronica.

Japanese Dub is a fascinating electro-acoustic adventure, exposing the ancient sounds of Japan reinvigorated with cutting edge electronica.

Angel Romero

The Independent

He did a rather good Chinese Dub album a couple of years ago, so why not collect the set? How does it sound? How do you think it sounds?

It sounds like Japanese music given the Wobblesome dub treatment: spacious, slow, percussive, twangy, solemn, modal, Japanese: more melodic than you might expect, less alien than you might think. Wood and gut sounds ride the bass swell and cherry blossom breaks out all over. Plus flutes. Not a cut-and-paste job but real English and Japanese musicians getting it on.

Nick Coleman

Financial Times

A couple of years ago, the veteran punk bassist Jah Wobble produced the wonderful Chinese Dub. This new CD, mining nearby East Asian territory, feels superficially similar. But as Wobble notes, Chinese music is maximalist where Japanese is minimalist to the extent of already being its own dub version.

The best bits are the most particularly Japanese, from thunderous Taiko drumming to delicate chamber music. The old tune “Kokiriko” appears five times, first sung straight, and then as increasingly ghostly mutated dubs.

David Honigmann


Wobble’s latest collision of Oriental and Occident marries his low-end bass throb to Joji Hirato’s taiko drums, Keiko Kitamura’s vocals and the shakuhachi flute of Clive Bell. The collision is not always zen-like, but when it gels, as on the sinuous Kokiriko, it’s convicningly exotic.

David Sheppard

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