The UB40 interview: Band members open up about their new album, Indian music, and more

For years, international artistes have enjoyed a hardcore, nostalgia-driven following in India even when they are away from the global hits race. They have an everlasting charm that’s sometimes inexplicable. Birmingham’s reggae UB40 certainly falls into some of these categories. Whether it’s Red Red Wine or Kingston Town, songs by UB40 are still party staples, thanks to their instantly recognisable rhythms and melodies. 

The band was born in 1978 in the city of Birmingham, which was the epicentre of musical innovation led by its diversity. While over the years the city witnessed a host of music bands, UB40 took inspiration from those existing bands and featured diverse line-ups to date. Interestingly, not many would know that UB40 was a name of an unemployment form by the British government, “We had to submit to get the unemployment benefits from the government. We were all unemployed back then and we thought that’s a good name for our band,” reveals Jimmy Brown, the drummer of UB40. Since then, there has been no looking back.

Adding to the success, the band returns with its 20th album, Bigga Baggariddim, a unique collaborative project. Brown says the album is a fresh take on the 1986 album, Baggariddim, with collaborations from Jamaica and India, “and takes the spirit of inclusion and diversity”.

“We released an album way back in 1986 called Baggariddim. That was a collaboration with local DJs and rappers from our hometown of Birmingham performing on our backing tracks. This new record is a long-awaited follow-up to that, but this time, because we have travelled the world many times since and met new friends, we wanted to add international flavour to the concept,” begins Jimmy.

Talking about their collaboration with the Indian band, Raggae Rajahs, and their artiste General Zooz, Jimmy adds, “We met during our mini-tour to India a few years back. We loved their enthusiasm and could see they were great ambassadors for Reggae music in India. Working together seemed like a natural thing to do.”

Touted as one of the most commercially successful reggae bands of all time, the band had more than fifty singles in the UK chart and has sold over seventy million albums worldwide. Today, UB40 consists of Robin Campbell, Brian Travers, James Brown, Earl Falconer, Norman Hassan, Martin Meredith, Laurence Parry, and Tony Mullings. Lead singer of the band, Duncan Campbell, who worked on this album, announced his retirement due to ill health after the release.

Drawing influences from all over the globe, Bigga Baggariddim, according to the lead vocalist Robin Campbell, “is different from our previous work because of the versatile collaborations”.

Although UB40 has collaborated with an Indian band for the first time, Jimmy reveals, Indian music has been part of their journey for years. “Birmingham has a huge Indian community and we’ve grown up listening to Bollywood music. We have been quite familiar with the music since childhood because all you hear on the streets is bhangra and Bollywood songs,” shares the drummer, and bassist of the band Earl adds, “Indian music is brilliant. The music represents India’s culture beautifully and is hugely popular all over the world.”

Working in a team with all different minds, some creative differences are bound to happen, but not for UB40. Robin shares the secret ‘is making equal contributions’. “Nobody takes the lead because we work as a band. Everyone’s suggestions are heard and implemented if they are best for the project. The result that we’ve produced over the years is because of the contribution from every member of the band,” claims the vocalist.

Jimmy also shares the same thought, “We don’t have a band leader who stands in front and tells us what to do. We work together as a group.” And what’s the process of making music? “It’s quite simple. We just look at having fun and come up with an idea and build on it. Working on something from the scratch gives you a sense of satisfaction,” Earl clarifies.

While the album has already recorded high numbers online, the team shares, the process of making the songs was equally difficult owing to the pandemic. “It was time-consuming because we had to work everything out digitally. It was a tedious process. I missed recording in the studio,” shares Robin. In addition, the team also missed traveling the world over and sharing their music with fans. “We are looking forward to getting back on the road and starting touring. We can’t wait to play the tracks from the album in front of a live audience. Hopefully, things get better soon and we’ll be able to entertain our fans all over the world,” adds the singer, and bassist Earl agrees, “I can’t wait to be back. Interestingly, my last holiday was in Goa just before the pandemic hit us so I would love to come back as a professional musician,” the team shares in conclusion.

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