Mixing Reggae and Darwin.Why Not?

The Birmingham Post (England), February 9, 2005 | Go to article overview

Mixing Reggae and Darwin.Why Not?


Byline: Adam Aspinall

When it comes to unlikely combinations, more than a few spring to mind.

Tony Blair and George Bush, fish batter and Mars bars, Jerry Springer and Opera.

Or how about Shrewsbury's favourite son, Charles Darwin, and reggae?

Step forward the Genomic Dub Collective, an unlikely dancehall outfit from Birmingham University who have set The Origin of the Species to bass and drum in a unique musical homage to the father of evolution.

The duo of Professor Mark Pallen, a bacteriologist who creates music on his laptop, and Dom White, a Jamaicanborn geneticist who provides vocals, have fused the style of music made internationally famous by Marley with the work of Darwin as a tribute to the scientist's influence on the world.

Prof Pallen first found reggae more than 20 years ago when he was a student at Cambridge, but admits he is no musician and understands people may find it difficult to get their heads around the idea of 'a musical celebration of Darwin's masterpiece realised through the medium of reggae music'.

'I'm not at all musical. It's like that TV programme Faking It, the challenge was can someone with no knowledge or ability create music worth listening to in a couple of months?

'The thing that opened the door for us is a computer programme which allows you to mix your own music. It sounds very professional and you can also take music from outside the programme as we have done.

'It's very intuitive so I got the hang of it very quickly and the stuff sounds incredible, but we are not professional, we are amateurs just out for a bit of fun.'

Although Prof Pallen was keen to stress the fun involved in producing the work, it also contains a serious message about the way we think about race and science in general.

The duo's self-styled new musical genre will make its debut this Friday as the climax to Darwin Day 2005 at the University of Birmingham.

The event is a day-long symposium of lectures and seminars held to celebrate the work and influence of the Shrewsbury-born scientist who created the theory of natural selection to explain the way in which lifeforms evolve.

Prof Pallen said: 'When I was thinking about this year's celebrations, I was very keen not to just play to the creationist versus evolutionist thing.

'I wanted to make it very broad.'

He added: 'Both Charles Darwin and his grandfather Erasmus were profoundly affected by the slavery they witnessed in places like Brazil and wrote poetry speaking out against it. I invited the poet Benjamin Zephaniah to read the poems last year and that gave me the idea to do something different.'

Dom White, Genomic Dub's Jamaican vocalist, is a firstyear Phd student in genetics studying rare disorders. As a white Jamaican, he often encounters surprise at his accent, but finds such reactions easy to cope with compared to transforming Darwin's academic prose into rhyme.

He said: 'People speak in dialects in Jamaica but obviously I don't think in that way for my scholastic work, so to try and read something out loud in a dialect which was written in the quite heavy English Darwin used wasn't easy. …

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