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Transglobal Underground

Transglobal Underground (sometimes written as Trans-Global Underground) is an English electro-world music group, specializing in a fusion of western, Asian and African music styles (sometimes labelled world fusion and ethno techno). Their first four albums featured Natacha Atlas as lead singer and their single "Temple Head" was used in a Coca-Cola advertising campaign for the 1996 Olympic Games. In 2008 they won the BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music after the release of their seventh official album, Moonshout. Their most recent release is 2020's 'Walls Have Ears' marking Atlas' return as a guest with the group. Their work has been described as "a collision of tradition and innovation."

Membership and pseudonyms

Although Transglobal Underground has always had a fluid line-up, the two core members of the group are Tim Whelan (keyboards, guitar, flute, melodica, programming, vocals) and Hamilton Lee (percussion, drums, keyboards, programming). Throughout the group's history, Whelan and Lee have deliberately clouded their identities via multiple pseudonyms and obscure credits - Whelan generally operating under the alias of "Alex Kasiek" and Lee under the alias of "Hamid Mantu" (also "Hamid Man Tu"). Whelan has also used his "Alex Kasiek" pseudonym outside TGU work (sometimes combining it with his real name, as he did for his guest appearance on the 2002 Project Dark album Gramophone De Luxe) and has sometimes implied that Kasiek is a separate person.

Other musicians who have been long-time TGU members or associates include:
  • Natacha Atlas (vocals)
  • Count Dubulah (real name Nick Page - bass, sampler)
  • Neil Sparkes (percussion)
  • Johnny Kalsi (dhol)
  • Coleridge (rapping)
  • G Sihra (dhol)
  • TUUP (an acronym for "The Unorthodox Unprecedented Preacher", real name Godfrey Duncan - vocals, percussion)
  • Sheema Mukherjee (sitar)
  • Larry Whelan (saxophone, clarinet, ney, shenai, string arrangements)

    Artists who have made guest appearances on TGU albums include:

  • Aki Nawaz (of Fun-Da-Mental)
  • Heitham Al-Sayed (of Senser)
  • British alternative jazz guitarist Billy Jenkins
  • Amanda de Grey (former Transmitters keyboard player)
  • Bulgarian harmony singing group Trio Bulgarka
  • Albanian brass band Fanfara Itana

    Transglobal Underground tracks have been remixed by Dreadzone, Lionrock and Youth and they in turn have remixed tracks for Warsaw Village Band, Banco de Gaia, Fun-Da-Mental, Grotus, Transjoik, Pop Will Eat Itself and Tragic Roundabout.

    Biography



    Foundation and initial lineup ("Temple Head", Dream of 100 Nations, International Times, Psychic Karaoke)



    Musical collaborators since their schooldays, Tim Whelan and Hamilton Lee were previously both founding members of British pop band Furniture and had played with the experimental psychedelic art-punk group The Transmitters. While with Furniture, both musicians had already demonstrated an interest in world music by bringing in more culturally-diverse instrumentation to what was originally a fairly conventional rock band line up (Lee had played tongue drums and other percussion in addition to his standard drumkit, while Whelan had supplemented his guitar playing with extensive use of the Chinese yangqin zither). Following the break-up of Furniture, Whelan and Lee worked together as part of the Flavel Bambi Septet (an Ealing-based world music band with a shifting lineup including other Transmitters members and future TGU member Natacha Atlas).

    Transglobal Underground was first formed when Whelan and Lee teamed up with a third musician, Nick Page. All three took on pseudonyms for the project, which they have determinedly maintained (albeit with variations) up until the present day. Whelan became "Alex Kasiek", Lee "Hamid Mantu" and Page "Count Dubulah". The first recording by the group was the single "Temple Head" which was shopped around various labels before eventually being released by Nation Records in 1991. Although not a major hit, it was named "Single of the Week" in Melody Maker a publication that frequently reviewed and promoted the group, and heavily featured at clubs such as Whirl-Y-Gig. The group was quickly signed to Deconstruction Records, for whom they recorded an album. The label, however, declined to release the album, which eventually saw the light of day on the Nation label in 1994 as Dream of 100 Nations. This album marked the group debut of Natacha Atlas, formerly best known for her work with Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart, with percussionist Neil Sparkes joining at around the same time.

    TGU developed a reputation for flamboyant live performances featuring dramatic costumes, belly dancing, endless percussion and members of the group disguised as Nepalese Temple guardians. The group released their second album International Times, later in 1994. This was followed in 1995 by the remix album Interplanetary Meltdown (with contributions from Dreadzone, Lionrock and Youth amongst others) aimed squarely at commercial club play. After a number of tours around Europe and 1997 (and the Psychic Karaoke album), Dubulah and Sparkes left to form Temple Of Sound.

    Second and third lineups (Rejoice Rejoice, Yes Boss Food Corner)

    A new TGU line-up emerged in 1998 with the album Rejoice Rejoice partly recorded in Hungary and featuring a number of Hungarian gypsy musicians, plus percussionist Johnny Kalsi from the Dhol Foundation. The group toured Europe supporting Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Atlas then left the group to concentrate on her burgeoning solo career, with which Kasiek and Mantu were already heavily involved as producers. Transglobal Underground subsequently also parted company with Nation Records (who released a compilation album, 1991-1998: Backpacking On The Graves Of Our Ancestors, in 1999).

    In 2001 Transglobal Underground released the album Yes Boss Food Corner on Mondo Rhythmica (part of the Ark 21 label), featuring Zulu vocalist Thobekile Doreen Webster (with whom, outside the band, Mantu and Kasiek would continue to work as producers until her death in 2010). The seven-piece line-up of this period (including British-born Asian musicians sitarist Sheema Mukherjee and percussionist Gurjit Sihra) played all over the world and toured the USA twice. After the demise of Ark21, Transglobal Underground spent some time working in Egypt, notably with Egyptian vocalist Hakim.

    Fourth lineup (Impossible Broadcasting, further work with Natacha Atlas, U.N.I.T.E)



    On their return from Egypt, Kasiek and Mantu set up their own Mule Satellite label for their 2005 album Impossible Broadcasting. For the next tour, the live band (now stripped down to a five-piece and with, once more, a more club-based line-up) started playing the UK regularly for the first time in more than six years, turning up regularly at festivals and venues throughout the country. A flurry of studio activity in 2007 resulted in a collaboration with Real World act The Imagined Village (which won a Radio 2 Folk Award), another remix album (Impossible Re-Broadcasts), the release of the seventh Transglobal Underground album (the Radio-3-award-winning Moonshout) and the soundtrack to the film Whatever Lola Wants. The latter two projects were collaborations with Natacha Atlas, who had returned to closer work with the core band. In 2009, Nascente Records released a double CD compilation of the group's entire history to date, under the title 'Run Devils and Demons.'

    Towards the end of 2009 Transglobal Underground took a break from their live schedule to work on a new project which was released in May 2010 as an album entitled 'A Gathering of Strangers' under the name U.N.I.T.E. (an acronym of Urban Native Integrated Traditions of Europe). Drawing traditional sources from all across Europe, the album contains performances by artists from the UK, Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Hungary, France and Denmark. Amongst the featured vocalists are Yanka Rupkina, Stuart A Staples of Tindersticks, Jim Moray, and Martin Furey of the High Kings.

    More recent work (2012-present)

    Transglobal Underground's next major project was with the River of Music festival in London, for which they put together a group consisting of artists from all the Arabic Persian Gulf nations. Entitled 'In Transit' this project still continues in London, although, as often with Transglobal Underground, under a number of aliases.

    In 2012 Transglobal Underground released their first record for a label other than Mule Satellite since 2005, a collaboration with Albanian brass band Fanfara Tirana. The album, entitled 'Kabatronics' was put out on the World Village label, a subsidiary of Harmonia Mundi. The tour acts toured extensively for two years.

    In 2017 Natacha Atlas, although still primarily a solo artist returned to performing regularly with the group. This led to other earlier members rejoining for a tour of France, notably Page and original tabla player Inder Goldfinger. A compilation of Transglobal Underground's best known work with Atlas was released under the name 'Destination Overground' and a further single 'The Colours Started to Sing Again' followed in 2019.

    Discography

    Albums

    Bold numbers indicate peak positions on the UK Albums Chart
  • Dream of 100 Nations, 1993, No. 45
  • International Times, 1994, No. 40
  • Psychic Karaoke, 1996, No. 62
  • Rejoice Rejoice, 1998
  • Yes Boss Food Corner, 2001
  • Impossible Broadcasting, 2004
  • Moonshout, 2007
  • A Gathering of Strangers , 2010
  • The Stone Turntable, 2011
  • '' Kabatronics 2013
  • Walls Have Ears 2020

    Compilation and remix albums

  • Interplanetary Meltdown, 1995 (remix album)
  • Backpacking On The Graves Of Our Ancestors, 1999 (greatest hits album with some new tracks and mixes)
  • Impossible Re-Broadcasting, 2007 (remix album)
  • Run Devils and Demons, 2009 (2 CD compilation of TGU's career)
  • Digging the Underground Volume 1: The Nation Years, 2016 (collection of unreleased tracks)
  • Destination Overground, 2017 (compilation of TGU with Natacha Atlas and 3 new tracks)''

    DVD

  • Trans-Global Underground: A film by Guillaume Dero 2008 ''(documentary and live recording)

    Singles