JAZZ / Up to scratch and down to earth: Arrested Developm't - Jazz Cafe, London

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The Independent Culture
THE ethnic-style wall-hangings of the Jazz Cafe are augmented in cornball country style for the British debut of Tennessee's Arrested Development. Apart from a drum-kit, three or four mikes and a record deck gaffer-taped to a table-top, the only stage gear appears to be a tastefully arranged selection of cotton bales and sacks marked 'coffee' and 'sugar', a few rustic farm signs, and two lines of washing strung across the stage.

Arrested Development, the hottest new crew in hip-hop, are different on several counts: they are equal parts male and female, and they have none of that 'bitch / 'ho' attitude towards women that we have come to expect from rappers; and they are a bucolic reaction to urban pressures, advocating a return to the land and 'African' behaviour - sandals or bare feet are de rigueur, instead of high-priced, life-threatening trainers. Musically too, they are more open and varied than most rappers, describing their music as 'cultural- southern-hiphop-folk-ethnic- funk'. They are black hippies, really: when the six of them bound onstage it is soon clear that their spiritual forefather is Sly Stone. This is a high-stepping show of lofty morality and cheerful didacticism. And few instruments: just a drummer, for people who only need a beat.

The group's leader is Speech, a diminutive 23-year-old in rasta colours, short dreads and huge baggy shorts, with a relaxed, authoritative delivery and agreeably liberal opinions on a variety of topics, from teen pregnancy to children's play activities. 'Dig your hands in the dirt / Children, play with earth', he instructs. Besides the earth, they praise rain , 'natural' beauty and the wisdom of tramps. What is unusual about Arrested Development is that they manage to make these improving texts palatable, even popular: their single 'Tennessee' has already secured them an American hit and an appearance on Top of the Pops.

Off to one side, the group's DJ Headliner squats on the table in baggy dungaree shorts, adding scribbles and scratches to the music, but it's the three female dancer-singers who dominate the stage - Montsho Eshee, bare- bellied and bare-legged, with wild limbwork and wide-eyed facial gestures animating the lyrics, the more static but vocally accomplished Dionne Farris, and the ebullient Aerle Taree.

Initially, it's a disconcerting show. Unlike your usual confrontational rap performance, nobody stands around with arms folded, scowling; there is plenty of onstage action, and even a few rudimentary props, such as the brightly coloured brollies that are unfurled and twirled during 'Raining Revolution'. It's cheap and cheerful choreography, indicative of a kind of Oxfam rap style that engages rather than antagonises. File alongside De La Soul and P M Dawn.