Jah Wobble

Molam Dub

By Tony Hillier, Australia

In a career spanning more than two decades, Public Image Ltd bassman Jah Wobble has contrived to constantly surprise and delight his faithful followers. The cockney groovemeister, whose reggae inspired playing was an integral part of P.I.L’s sound, established his own niche within the burgeoning ‘world music’ studio and stage scene with unusual combinations of ethnic and Western music well before Peter Gabriel and other’s excursions into similar areas. Wobble’s various collaborations have resulted in some intriguing juxtapositions – configurations that have placed the talents of Arabic, African, Indian, Irish, Far Eastern and Central Asian singers and players alongside a classy coterie of American funksters, European rock musicians and cutting edge soundscapers.

On his latest outing wobble and his Invaders explore fresh territory, marrying their trademark reggae rhythm and deep dub grooves with the exotic sounds of Paris-based Laotian ensemble Molam Lao, who specialise in a particular form of southeast Asian toasting. While there’s no mistaking the vibrancy of the singers and players, the resulting amalgam is a shade cacophonous to the ear at first, with the wheezing sound of the Laotian bamboo mouth organ (the khene) sounding eerily like the Scottish bagpipes or a medieval chanter. Repeated listening, however, reveal a lucid and ultimately captivating pattern with Wobble’s diaphragmatic bass and dub effects weaving in and out of the repetitive. pentatonic chants of the Laotian troupe. It sounds incongruous but it’s not. Molam, the favoured music form in Laos (the landlocked country sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam), could easily be a distant cousin of rap music or even southeast Asia’s answer to reggae.

Rhythms Australia – September 2000

The latest effort from English bassist Jah Wobble & Invaders of the Heart Molam Dub 30Hz/ Didgeridoo/Hot sees the talented dub maestro in league with Paris-based Laotian ensemble Molam Lao. Having previously recorded cross-cultural collaborations with Egyptian, Irish, Algerian, Chinese and Indian musicians what’s intrinsically seductive about this latest musical expedition of Wobble is is the relative unavailability until now of well-recorded music from Laos.

Based mainly on simple four-chord progressions and centred on the traditional mouth organ called the khene, with nasal vocal accompaniment, Laotian music can sometimes sound remarkably like a Southeast Asian version of the Delta blues. The Molam Lao group acquits itself admirably here, its innate musicianship and amorous vocal improvisations mutating into a strange Oriental form of rap. With Wobble anchoring the mix with his trademark rumbling basslines and his Invaders adding drum loops, subtle (thank god) bagpipes, stereo goathorns and a fair amount of studios dub-trickery, it’s hard not to smile and be impressed by the results of this inventive experiment in sound.

Wobble sounds a long way away these days from his late 70s work with Johnny Rotten, Lydon’s Public Image Ltd., but while he may bounce from one global region to another with alarming regularity, his musical explorations almost always bear remarkable sonic fruit. Long live Mekong Dub!


Seth Jordan

Diaspora – September 2000 – Australia

Molam is the national music of Laos and north-eastern Thailand. One of its principal characteristics are the circular melodies which are traditionally played on the khene, a series of bamboo reed pipes which emit an eerie, highly distinctive multiharmonic sound which immediately betrays its geographic origins. There are quite a few stylistic variations depending on region, so you are likely to hear fusions with Latin rhythms or rock or the keening khene sound supplanted by electronic keyboards or accordion. Jah Wobble is a bass player and all-round musical explorer whose mission, it seems is to give a contemporary spin to roots music. So for Molam Dub he has chosen the aforementioned style viewed from a more traditional stance to build a sort of hoedown dub. The work features several Lao traditionalists residing in Europe who lend vocal expertise and khene while the Wobble crowd contribute bass, drums, dubby programming, guitar and instruments such as bagpipes, flute, Turkish sipsi or crumhorn. The record starts with a considerable traditional ambience with some quite striking rustic vocals from Thongphiane Bouphavanh who contributes some pungent phrasing and a real authentic feel. It is to Mr. Wobble’s credit that the modern effects are judiciously applied and insinuate themselves subtly as the series of pieces progresses so that you get the flavour of Molam without the musicians trying to turn the music into a soundtrack for the new age. The recording does in part eschew the barren pristineness which infects so many records that have pretensions to display exotica. The subcontinental beats that inform the first half are quite effective. However as the work progresses and the European half of this collaboration starts to take over there is a considerable felling of deja vu and a tendency towards inconsequential doodling, albeit fairly grainy sounding noodling, but even so there is a respect or an awareness of how all these 12 experiments should fit into an overall whole, even if there isn’t always the musical nouse to pull it off. Still, any faults aside this is a pretty brave record.

AmbiEntrance – 28th June 2000

It only takes a few moments upon entering the festive World Music sounds of Molam Dub to realize one is quite effortlessly grooving along, swept up in the pleasurably exotic flow of modern dub music and southeast Asian ethnic traditions.

When Jah Wobble and his Invaders of the Heart gather with practitioners of Molam, an ancient musical tradition of southern Laos, the results are vibrant and entrancing.

From the liner notes: “Molam is a love jousting, a stylised courtship ritual. Male and female singers improvise in poetic or bawdy style, competing in rhyme… Molam is still the country’s favorite entertainment, heard at farming ceremonies, family celebrations and raucous drinking parties. When you witness Lao singers trading amorous innuendo through microphones at a Vientiane party, it’s not hard to see Molam as a distant cousin of rap music.” (I’d say very distant cousins, to compare these colorful, communal vibes to a the often-cynical urbanized rap stereotype).

Sinuously entertwined tones of the khene (a Laos bamboo mouthorgan), chiming cymbals and layers of tongue-twistingly polysyllabic vocals open Lam Saravane, to be soon pumped up by Wobble’s warmly thrumming dub-style basslines. Drummier Lam Tang Way emphasizes the group dynamic as various vocalists sound off in lively accompaniment to Thongphiane Bouphavanh‘s lead. At half the length of its more-masculine predecessor, Lam Tang Way (Female Vocal) reprises the former with Amphayvahn Phongsavanh delivering solo voice over the same melody and rhythm.

Island dreams flourish with the dreamy body-swaying loops of Lam Bane Xoc, rich with a bass-heavy groove and acrobatic vocalizations in the native tongue of Laos. Drum ‘n’ bass stylings merge with the intricately trilled lyrics of Lam Siphandone, a slightly more down-tempo number which smolders with mystery. Instrumental jam session Saravane ups the energy levels with its spirited display of multi-cultural musicianship.

Lightly strummed kachapi guitar and Sengphet Souryavonxay‘s resonant sing-and-chant delivery are backed by pounding beats and driving bass in Lam Phouthay. Subtract a couple minutes and add a few traditional dub studio knockout techniques (and spliced-in bagpipes) and Lam Saravane Dub revisits the first track, (as the similarly stripped-down, echoed-up Lam Tang Way Dub does with the second).

The short track is Lam Long (1:47), where a decidedly Asian songstress quavers over dancing khene chords without added beats or effects. Jah Wobble and Chris Cookson trade guitar licks which spiral into a haze which picks up beats and tweedling ethnic reeds as the extended intro to Lam Phouthay Dance Mix. Bagpipes and brass swell into a glowing drone as Hill Music (10:21) rises to be joined by guitar, drum, bass and more in a spacious free-form semiambient/jazz ensemble, the only non-Lao-styled piece.

Perfect summer listening (in a definitely non-ambient mode, of course) Molam Dub is a beachful of fun (not to mention a culturally expanding experience). Jah Wobble has coaxed the best out of all involved, from his own Invaders as well as his new Laotian friends. A shining 9.0 for a breezy boundary-transcending get-together.

David J Opdyke

Mojo – June 2000

During his prolific career, Mr Wardle has rambled throughout time and space to satisfy his musical and spiritual questings. In search of the ultimate collaboration, he even titled an album Tak Me To God. Some of his previous cross-cultural experiements have seemed strained but here Jah has created something approaching a piece of heaven on earth. He couldn’t have done it, however, without the considerable assistance of Molam Lao: a Paris-based group of traditional musicians from the Asian country of Laos. Molam is a type of music based on earthy Laotian courtship rituals; it’s appropriate then that Wobble brings reggae, an idiom associated with ‘slack’ lyrics and toasting duels to this joyful lyrics and toasting duels to this joyful mix. On Saravane his big bass intermingles potently with the mellow sound of the khene (a bamboo mouth organ), and on the snaking, male and female versions of Lam Tan Way the insistently sensual, deep-dub groove helps make for a surprise sonic nirvana.

Joe Cushley

The Daily Telegraph – 20th May 2000

In Molam Dub the former PIL bass player has unearthed an extraordinary band of musicians from Laos, now resident in Paris. Considering the battering Laos has taken, particularly during the Vietnam war, it is wonderful to hear that the country’s main form of musical entertainment is a joyous call-and-response love jousting.

Men and women try to outdo each other in bawdy and poetic seduction rituals. Wobble’s bass weaves in and out of the repetitive chants, with dub studio techniques flying off in all directions.

Richard Wolfson

sonomu.net – 25th April 2000

When this year comes to a close, Molam Dub (30 Hertz Records) by Jah Wobble and The Invaders of the Heart will most likely have withstood whatever the competition can throw at it and be acclaimed the “World” music release of the year. Over the past decade, Wobble has carved himself his own little niche by displaying an enviable capacity for thinking up unusual combinations of “ethnic” and Western musics. Rising Above Bedlam (1991) effectively bumped the Anglo-American pop music paradigm healthily off kilter and subsequent recordings featuring the talents of Arabic, Indian, Far Eastern and Central Asian singers and players alongside American funksters and European rock musicians have achieved varying degrees of success. On his latest effort, he has gone into the studio with the Paris-based Laotian ensemble Molam Lao, a troupe specializing in a particular form of southeast Asian toasting on amorous themes. Wobble and his Invaders supply a reggae rhythm and deep dub spaciousness within which these remarkable and gleeful party vocals echo and careen, often to the accompaniment of a Laotian mouth organ called the khene, reminiscent of the melodica but with its own special, wheezing swing. The result is totally captivating. The singers are just bursting with both tender and ribald joy, often raising their voices in a collective shout as if they just can’t hold back how much fun they’re having. A lot of artists from outside the reggae sphere proper have been pushing the dub envelope in the past few years, but with Molam Dub Wobble has succeeded in ripping it wide open.

Stephen Fruitman

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