Rasheed Ali (and his 1968 “band” – more of that later) is a New York based musician who, over the last few years, has issued a provocative and challenging trilogy of long players – all carrying powerful messages in the music. First we had ‘1968 Soul Power’ – an exploration of issues that affected Afro-Americans in the late 60s/early 70s; then there was ‘1968: Black Power’ on which the themes were more personal – roots, heritage and expanding your visions. The third instalment was ‘1968: Love Power’. Here the messages were even more personal with many of the songs highlighting the role of the women in Rasheed’s life – especially his mother. The three albums were delivered with the style and sounds of late 60 soul – think James Brown, Norman Whitfield, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone et al.
Now the whole “concept” is back with ‘The Other Side Of Town’ – a 15 tracker that you’d think makes the “trilogy” a “quartet”. Not so! Rasheed tells us that ‘The Other Side Of Town’ is the first episode in a new trilogy which he calls his “LSD” trilogy – “Love. soul and devotion” and sonically it’s a little different to the three ground breakers. Rasheed’s musical time machine still takes us back to the late 60s but the overall music template is looser, more percussive (lashings of Afrobeat) and even more funky. For instance try the rhythmic ‘I’m Not Your Whipping Boy’ – hints of War’s ‘Low Rider’; or the equally percussive ‘I’m Comin’ (interesting use of marimbas?) with late career Marvin Gaye style layered harmonies and “distant” Norman Whitfield horns.
The messages in all this music, though, are just as potent and challenging. Take for instance, ‘A Badge And A Gun’. This sombre cut (previously available as a single) is Rasheed’s response to the violence against Afro–Americans citizens by trigger-happy US police. The jazzy ‘Stop The World’ looks at the Earth from space and asks what have we created. Other cuts proffer subtle digs at Donald Trump but Mr A is clear that the man with the comb over isn’t the only problem. Maybe we’re all part of it. The downbeat ‘Be A Man’ asks us all to stand up and take a stand echoing Martin Luther King Junior’s famous , “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends“. Dip in anywhere, though, and be challenged and maybe disturbed too.
1968 feat Rasheed Ali will be back soon with volume 2 of this new trilogy – a love album, we’re told. And as for the band “1968 feat Rasheed Ali”, well Rasheed plays all the instruments himself – the only “extra” is his nephew Emile Martinez on trumpet. He is, however, keen on the “band” concept… complicated, yes and every bit as complex and intriguing as his music.