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Friday, April 21, 2006

Session 2: Out of Africa comes the CONGOMAN

Among the feverish and frantic output of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark studio in the mid ‘70s, few albums stand out as much as The Congos’ Heart of the Congos.

The almost holy alliance of Cedric Myton, Roydel Johnson and Scratch produced a slab of pure, Biblical roots reggae, to King of Bongo’s mind actually the finest album to come out of the Ark. Myton’s angelic falsetto combined with the Johnson’s amiable tenor may just have been enough to make a good group, but add Scratch’s trademark extraterrestrial production (plus cows) and the uniquely Rastafarian take on Biblical imagery featured on most of the tracks, and you have in your hands a document, a missal, no, even a pure Ark of the Covenant of Music!

Heart of the Congos Buy Heart of the Congos from Amazon

During the recording (aided by such stalwarts as future No 1 artist Boris Gardiner on Bass and Sly Dunbar on Drums), the Congos actually convinced Perry to adopt some strictures on his life – he ran with them every morning on Hellshire Beach, and began growing dreads for the first time in his life. Overdubs and African rhythms were loaded onto the groaning master tapes, and the sessions were a wellspring of mystical Rasta musings. This atmosphere is well documented in the BBC documentary Roots Rock Reggae, produced at the time by English film-maker Jeremy Marre.

The pure spirituality of the music is worth noting, fans: the first two tracks (Fisherman and Congoman, whilst smoking, say little of what’s to come. Then, Open up the Gate, and impassioned plea for repatriation to Africa and a stinging indictment of Babylon; Children Crying (“send us another Moses”); La La Bam Bam is a Rasta retelling of Bible stories of the betrayal of Christ, Daniel in the lion’s den, and Joseph and his coat of many colours. Can’t Come In sings of the strictures necessary to make it to Heaven; Sodom and Gomorrow - a King of Bongo standout track in a standout album: “they keep on BURNING!” The WrongThing rails against the divisiveness of orthodox Christianity; Ark of the Covenant, a monster track of the Flood; Solid Foundation is a reaffirmation of Rasta faith.

A special edition of the album has been released, with extra tracks including the mighty Nicodemus, retelling the story of the Pharisee who followed Christ in secret whilst denying him in public.

Whatever your religious beliefs, such a passionate and strong sustained burst of soulful creativity has to be a must for your collection!

Unfairly ignored for many years, due to Island’s intransigence in the release schedule, Heart of the Congos is garnering much-needed attention. Sadly, the protagonists have splintered, and each holds a little ball of poison in his heart for the others. Having reached a pinnacle, maybe it had to be that way. The Black Ark burned, and Scratch ekes a living in exile in Switzerland. The Congos severed connections with Perry in 78, tempted by a lucrative contract. He responded symbolically by cutting off his locks. The new deal didn’t come off, and Cedric and Roy went their separate ways.

Children Crying

Beginning with Cedric Myton’s falsetto harmonies, Roy Johnson leads us into a vision of the children crying in the wilderness. He tries to draw Jah’s attention to their pleas: send us another prophet! The music, a mellow reggae beat underpinned by Boris Gardiner’s staunch bassline and fleshed out vocally by Myton and backing vocalists the Meditations, drives the story forward. Scratch livens up the proceedings with his trusty cow moos. Ladies and gentlemen, assume the correct posture and enjoy:
Children Crying [mp3 | 04:13mins | 192 kbps | 5.94 MB]
File under: Life Affirming Roots Reggae

[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served guys, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]


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