Album Archaeologists: DZATA- UNDERGROUND (1984)

In the 21st century a click of a mouse opens up a world of obscure music, but some albums fly under the radar; forever lost in time on the musty shelves of second-hand record stores. We are the Album Archaeologists and for $5 or less we aim to dig up the albums you won’t find on Spotify.

To be completely absent from the internet is a considerable achievement. Even a quick Google search of my name (a daily ritual) regurgitates blush-inducing YouTube videos I made when I was too young to know better, remaining forever etched on the world wide slate due to my temporal misplacement of the passwords. Dzata (pronounced duh-sha-da) don’t exist beyond a Tumblr post featuring an image of their only evidential album, Underground, so it was with giddy anticipation that I approached this LP wondering what on earth lay between those grooves.

I was immediately attracted to the record; perched at the forefront of the World Music section with its jungle snaking out of the nondescript London tube station like a screenshot from a British reboot of Jumanji feat. chilled out parrot and perplexed Simba. Produced by Nick Robbins who has a résumé as diverse as engineering work on The Pogues’ Waiting for Herb and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Dzata (translated as lion or strength) clearly endeavour to bring colourful afrobeats from the African plains to the grey streets of Brixton.

The sun-soaked ‘Summertime’ doesn’t just break the ice, it melts it, with its marriage of synths, saxophone, bass, guitars and dense percussion paving the way for other buoyant afrobeat numbers such as ‘It’s My Life’ and the instrumental ‘Peter Pete.’ The latter is a particular highlight with its mid-track drum break and tenor and alto saxes working in tandem, although I couldn’t help but feel how it wouldn’t sound out of place as a 1980s sitcom theme tune complete with character freeze frames and garish title card.

It’s testament to the band’s instrumental flourishes that vocals come across as superfluous with weak choruses and uninspired lyrics in abundance. Meteorological based ditty ‘West Wind’ is reminiscent of Boney M minus the disco, with jazz vocalist Laka Daisical explaining how the flow of gases ‘blow, blow, blow’ leading me to want to sing how the track ‘bore, bore, bores.’ Elsewhere ‘Have You Heard the News’ follows in the tradition of insipid choruses with repetition of call and response lines ‘have you heard the news? No, no, we don’t know’ leading you to wish someone would just tell them the fucking news.

Although a lot of fun Underground isn’t a record I would recommend seeking out; feeling very much of its time and lacking any kind of cultural significance to justify its existence outside of an eighties bubble. Missing the musical experimentation of other afrobeat artists such as genre pioneer Fela Kuti or the psychedelic drenched musings of William Onyeabor, Underground steers dangerously close to muzak territory and wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nandos playlist. That said this implies the album’s bad, it isn’t, the instrumentation is of a high calibre and the musicians sound like they are having a great time and really that’s all that matters. A bit more digging could uncover exactly who Dzata are but for now they remain a mystery. There are far worse records I would erase from the digital world.

 

Written by: Matthew Barnard

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