Queen of the punky reggae party scene, the outernational superstar known as Ari-Up is an extraordinary and provocative artist. Her commanding stage presence and agile steppers dance moves are as unique as her distinctive crown of tumbling dreadlocks and the sexy, flamboyant fashions she designs and rocks on and off stage. Memorable and original, Ari's sound is as fresh and futuristic as her style.
"My music is extreme stuff," clarifies Ari. "It's the offspring of reggae, which was rebellious outlaw music, mixed up together with dub, dancehall, drum'n'bass and hip-hop and . . .the attitude of the Slits." - London's pioneering wild girl punk band that she fronted in the 1970s at the age of fourteen.
The concept of Ari's delicate pan-urban brew evolved between Jamaica and the extremes of New York's progressive music spectrum, in dives on the Lower East Side, Brooklyn and Williamsburg. After much experimentation with different artists and producers, Ari put together her own band, the True Warriors, in 2003. In the rootsy but funky sound of musicians Jayson “Agent Jay” Nugent (guitar), Ira Heaps (bass), and Mike “Mikey General” Severino (drums) veterans of top New York dancehall bands Crazy Baldhead and the Jammyland All-stars, she found the accomplices who could help manifest the sound she'd been seeking. Together they have managed to put together an act that plays Slits' material like it was 1977 all over again and carries the sound onward and upward in Ari's new tunes.
All the remarkable life experience and idiosyncratic phases of Ari's colorful existence are captured in her forceful solo material, like the sharply autobiographical tunes Baby Father and True Warrior, the anthemic Kill Them With Love and the eternal innocence of The World Of Grown-Ups. Each song has the colorful clarity and catchiness of a nursery rhyme or folk song, embedded in a truly contemporary fusion of dub steppers and the rhythms of today's global urbanism.
Ari has earned the authenticity to manufacture and own such an eclectic, edgy sound. Her remarkable life is an unpredictable saga that flows from the basement punk clubs of London, to the bashment dancehall sound system sessions of downtown Kingston, where she's a regular on local TV shows, known as Madusa, the sinuous deejay-dancer with the legendary Stone Love sound.
This extrovert performer has rootsy showbiz in her blood. Her grandmother was a gypsy dancer in Germany, whose marriage to a wealthy German publisher cut across class and cultural lines. Ari's mother, the striking Nora, promoted Jimi Hendrix shows in Germany in the 1960s, and Ari was raised on the road in a milieu of raffish haute bohemia. In her early teens, her eternally hip mother's London apartment became a salon for the rising stars of mid- 1970s punk, like the Clash and the Sex Pistols, whose lead singer, John Lydon, went on to marry Nora several years later.
Ari has always been an original since she helped kick-start the Slits. "Punk was like rock, with that guitar, and we didn't fit into it. Even our early punk stuff was very tribal sounding," she recalls. "It had the bass and drum thing strong in there. We were many decades ahead of our time, and we had an influence; we put heavy bass and drums and the dub vibe into the so-called white world." The Slits' flavorful, sardonic, brutally real songs like Typical Girls and Shoplifting, still stand as classics of their era. Ari's distinctive, urgent vocals were also a feature of producer Adrian Sherwood's experimental reggae project, New Age Steppers.
Pure artistic impulse and individuality have always guided Ari's choices. "In the 1980s yuppie years, I went retiring, living naked in real heavy jungle in Belize," Ari recalls. "There wasn't any money to spend in the jungle." The excitement of Jamaica's dancehall scene drew Ari back to her old Kingston haunts in the early 1990s, where she started developing the music that has now found fruition with the True Warriors.
Truly a rebel soul, Ari is always in the forefront of global sound system creativity, melding the sounds of today's different cities into her own wicked riddims. "Dancehall is really a continuation of punk without them knowing it," she observes of the scenes that have shaped her and that she helped shape. "They both go crazy with clothes and hairstyles and that same attitude: we don't give a damn, leave us alone, we do what the hell we wanna do. We run our own world."
-- Vivien Goldman LES, NYC 2003