OTENG CHILUME & GOSEGO MOTSUMI
Music revelers will likely attend the upcoming UB40 gig in Gaborone unaware of the controversy surrounding the band, which while being represented to be returning to Botswana in more or less the same shape as in the 1990s, is by its own admission actually divided into two following a protracted feud concerning the right to own and use the name UB40.
Ali Campbell, the celebrated talented founder and icon of the band is in an unresolved Abel and Kane stand-off that has pitted him, in concert with Mick Virtue and co-front man Astro, against his blood brother and longtime band mates- Robin Campbell, Jimmy Brown, Norman Hassan, Brian Travers and Earl Falconer and Duncan Campbell- who ‘replaced’ him as lead singer in the other UB40.
So, are there two UB40s? Diehard fans of the band who believe Ali Campbell is UB40 and UB40 is Ali Campbell will say there is only one UB40; but since 2014 the other half of the original band lodged lawsuits in which their lawyer argued they are the real UB40 and that Ali Campbell was “passing himself off as UB40”. Ali Campbell however argues that he and his other colleagues, effectively the other half of the band, have the right to its name, its trademark, website and “goodwill”.
The last time the band performed undivided was in 2008 after shows in Uganda, New Zealand and Australia. Following that, Campbell put out a statement announcing his departure from the band, grumbling about among other complaints, how it was managed. Following this, Campbell was joined by Virtue who cited similar reasons for leaving UB40 and they formed new band, The Dep Band, a name possibly drawn from DEP International Ltd, their defunct production company which was liquidated a long time ago.
The other half of the band which consists of Robin Campbell, Jimmy Brown, Norman Hassan, Brian Travers and Earl Falconer and Duncan Campbell has since recruited the soulful reggae vocalist, Maxi Priest, with whom they went on to record the album TwentyFourSeven (2008) as “UB40”. The album which features a cover of Bob Marley’s I Short the Sheriff was released in two versions; The Mail on Sunday newspaper free insert 10-track version and the 17-track album version which went on to sell 3 million copies. The album however charted poorly, failing to go top 70 in the UK albums chart, a first in the band’s illustrious career. Big retailers, perhaps aware of the controversies surrounding the band refused to stock the album.
The band UB40 derives its name from an incident involving a serious assault of Ali Campbell for which he claimed a substantial amount of money in compensation, which money he then put towards forming the pop and reggae band; the name just references the act of signing and claiming “unemployment benefit” from the UK’s Department of Employment which existed at the time of the band’s formation. It is not surprising then that Ali Campbell is this invested in the band’s name.
Just as Ali Campbell’s UB40 expects a sold out show in Botswana, the other half of the band without him has held successful shows in Europe, with most sold out. In fact, on 18th November, the two UB 40s will perform in both Gaborone, Botswana and Auckland, New Zealand each purporting to be the real UB40.
Speaking to The Botswana Gazette, the organizer of the UB40 concert, Julias Baitumetse, said it was unfortunate that there are two groups going by the same name. He however argued that as the original vocalists of the UB40, Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey were the rightful claimants to the group’s name. “They are the originators of the group and have been at the forefront going on tours, performed in Johannesburg and Durban (South Africa) in the past year where we witnessed them. That is the same group that will be coming to perform in Botswana,” he said, arguing that this is the same UB40 that came to Botswana 23 years ago. This is despite the band announcing its separation in recent years.