Radics, together with bass player aLion (Alain Meloen, red.) you are the backbone of Asham Band. How and when did your passion for reggae music start?
Wim 'Radics' Verbruggen (drums): "When I was still in my early teens, I bought the Bob Marley & The Wailers 'Kaya' album as a present for my sister, but in the end I ended up playing it more times than she ever listened to it. I was a fan of independent radio and through listening to Radio Centraal - it might have been Professor Cat's now legendary show - I got my first taste of reggae. Apart from reggae, I was also drawn to African rhythms, especially the ones originating in the Congo; genres like rumba and soukous could drive me wild and as a musician I've always kept switching back and forth between the Congo and Jamaica. As a member of a youth organization I camped in the woods of Bel a few times, the original location of the Reggae Geel festival. My encounter with that world and the vibe I felt there has undoubtedly been one of the key moments in my life. I really wanted to feel the emotion of playing that music myself, so I had to go in search of some likeminded people. At first I joined the King Flashman Band, whom I played with for about five years, but it was only when I joined Calabash that things got really serious. I spent the next decade playing with that band and we had some great times - I still vividly remember the Belgian Showcase at the Reggae Geel festival (2003, red.) for example, where, in a session that lasted up to three hours, we got to back a host of Belgian artists - but eventually the moment came when I began to lose interest. After I quit Calabash, I abandoned reggae for a while and focused on Congolese music again. One day I bumped into Yosa Verheyen (these days Asham's sound engineer, red.) who at that time was the lead vocalist with Roots Train Rockers. He told me they were still looking for a drummer and only days after I had accepted the position I was already playing with them at the Sfinks festival (2007, red.). The reggae virus had taken hold of my body once again and the opportunity to be able to record with Rohan Lee that same year only intensified those feelings. It was also during those recording sessions that I worked with aLion for the first time. We already knew each other as he often attended Calabash concerts and I'd seen him play with Deep Kulcha. We had already talked about a possible collaboration, but somehow the right occasion never presented itself. Recording Rohan's album ('Crush That Rock', Majestic, 2012, red.) meant we had to work together for several days and there was an immediate chemistry. Building on that feeling we decided to gather some more likeminded musicians around us (Wim Appels, keyboard - Eddy Vanhie, guitar, Kris Van Hees, trumpet - Mathijs Duyck, saxophone - Jort Verdick, saxophone en Daan Morris, trombone, red.) and that's how Asham Band got started."
How did you end up behind the drums and which legendary drummers have inspired you over the years?
Wim Radics: "I already got my first music lessons when I was still in primary school; basically they thought us to play the recorder and to read music. When I was younger I played the trumpet for a while, but from the first time I sat down behind a drum kit, I knew this was the instrument for me. For a while I was still torn between the bass and the drums, but eventually I decided to invest in my first drum kit. When I told them, my parents were a bit weary at first, but I managed to talk them round into letting me use the garden shed to rehearse in. I spent hours on end in that shed, beating away by myself trying to learn as many different styles and patterns as possible. During all the years I've been playing I've had about five real drum lessons, but apart from that I completely self-taught. The guy who was trying to teach me just wasn't showing me what I wanted to learn, so I quit. Now I've matured as a musician, I realize I was probably trying to jump before I could walk, but as a young guy, things never seem to go quite fast enough. In those days I made it my goal to attend as many concerts as possible. I regarded these concerts as master classes; if I'd learned something the night was a success. The list of drummers that inspired me is long and varied; in reggae I have to mention Carlton Barret, Sly Dunbar, Carlton 'Santa' Davis and Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace and in Congolese music Titina Alcapone (Koffi Olomide, red.), Papy Kakol (Werra Son, red.) and Bimi Ombale (Zaika Langa Langa, red.)."
From the start aLion and you decided Asham Band would be a backing band, why exactly?
Wim Radics: "We had both already worked with a number of different artists and we liked the variation it offered both on a personal and a musical level. At times it demands a degree of empathy or effort and that's not always easy, but the important thing is that you learn from these moments. Making music means being able to collaborate; as a singer you can be a genius at what you do but without the right band to back you, you'll be nowhere, and vice versa of course. Us wanting to be a backing band is one thing, but in a small region like Flanders the number of vocalists you can back isn't enormous. Apart from that, aLion and I have certain standards we like to uphold; we know what we want and what not, so we're not going to accept every proposal that's put in front of us."
As a musician backing different singers, don't you run the risk to start playing on autopilot after a while?
Wim Radics: "There's definitely a chance that might happen, but with Asham Band we try to watch out not to fall in that hole. As I just said, it's not the case that if tomorrow we get the request to back a big reggae star, we're immediately going to say yes; only if we're convinced we can rise to the challenge will we accept. Quality is often in preparation, something a lot of backing bands seem to forget. Apart from that, there's also the musical aspect of things. We'll be far more inclined to accept backing a roots artist with a Studio 1 pedigree than the latest dancehall sensation; that's just a matter of personal taste. In short, everyone's free to give us a call, but we won't always say yes. When I go to a concert, I like to get my money's worth and that's something we always keep in mind when we're playing ourselves as well."
From all the artists Asham has shared the stage with over the past few years, the relationship with Collieman seems closest or am I mistaken?
Wim Radics: "I guess from the public's perspective it might appear that way, yes, but it's just because of the fact we recorded and are now promoting an album ('The Same Blood', Majestic, 2012, red.) together. Creating these songs meant we had to work together intensively and that strengthened the bond that was already there. That being said, I'd say the bond we have with Johnny Den Artiest is comparable, so Collieman is definitely not a unique case in that aspect."
On your website Asham is described as being "the original sweet Jamaican poor people's powder snack", which for many people still won't mean all that much. What exactly is Asham?
Wim Radics: "To be honest, in the beginning we weren't quite sure ourselves! (laughs) When you start a band, you always have to go in search of a fitting name and we wanted something with a bit of substance to it and also a name with a reference to something that made you feel good or tasted nice. After doing some research we stumbled on Asham. In Jamaica Asham is the name of a snack made of corn powder (Asham or Brown George is a corn-based Jamaican cuisine dessert made by shelling dry corn, parching it in a hot pot and then pounding it in a wooden mortar and sifting it until it is similar to sand. Salt or sugar can then be added to the brown mixture and it can be eaten dry or with water, red.). It used to be very popular with the poor ghetto youths who couldn't really afford anything else. When you see Asham play, it should sound as sweet and nice as your favorite candy treat! (laughs)"