Although very much a south-east London phenomenon, the story of Ariwa really begins several thousand miles further south west in Georgetown, Guyana, where Neil Fraser (Mad Professor) was born in 1955.
Prof was ridiculed when he first set up a studio in the front room of his south London home in the late 1970s, but plenty of hits soon followed thanks to his creative drive, perceptive production skills and technical expertise behind the mixing desk; in the best reggae tradition, Ariwa drew from diverse influences to create a unique sound, making use of unbridled artistic ambition to fill any gaps that may have appeared due to a lack of finance.
Mad Professor issued the first of his Dub Me Crazy series in 1982; by 1993, he was up to Chapter 12 and quickly followed such releases with the Black Liberation Dub series and further dub excursions with Scientist, Mafia & Fluxy and Sly & Robbie. He also strengthened ties with Lee Perry, cutting a series of albums with Scratch at the mic and Prof behind the mixing console; their bond was so strong that they have toured the world together for the better part of fifteen years, evidencing the longest musical partnership Perry has fostered during his entire career. Other great Ariwa records surfaced with U Roy, Horace Andy, Yabby You, Michael Prophet and Earl 16, while Prof continued his habit of nurturing new talent through works with rising hopefuls such as Chukki Star, Starkey Banton, Queen Omega and steel-pan player Pan Africanist, better known Patrick Augustus, author of the popular Babyfather. In 1996, Prof opened the now dormant Are We Mad studio around the corner from Ariwa; the smaller facility was kitted out with 1970s equipment, giving it a different sound, so Prof made specific use of it on particular projects for a number of years before ultimately shutting it down. Meanwhile, his mixing skills grew ever higher in demand. Ever since the days of his collaboration with Ruts DC, Professor has always been willing to lend a dubwise hand to a multitude of international musicians; he mixed material for the Beastie Boys in the 1980s, which sadly has not yet surfaced, before altering the manic creations of radical duo KLF and spaced-out ambient house pioneer, The Orb. Definite high points in the 1990s came with an exceptionally sensual dub mix of Sade’s ‘Love Is Stronger Than Pride’ and a dubwise deconstruction of Massive Attack’s Protection; further collaboration was achieved with bull-horned pop-star Jamiroquai, edgy Swiss techno-rockers The Young Gods and Boston neo-ska group Bim Skala Bim, while in the new millennium Prof has used his dub skills on material by former Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell, New Zealand’s Salmonella Dub and experimental duo Jack Adaptor, as well as myriad others in Japan, Brazil, Argentina…