Flashback Friday: The Congos “Heart of the Congos”
I honestly could lift the needle off the record after the first song on Heart of the Congos, the stone cold gem “Fisherman,” and this record would still warrant the “classic” status. The record, birthed into this world in 1977 from infamous Black Ark studio, is a stunning collection of dub reggae tracks from the core singing duo of of Cedric Myton and Roy “Ashanti” Johnson. The two singers ventured into the famous studio of dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry and came out with twelve songs of joyous, funky dub music that became one of the pinnacle documents of the genre.
Outside of the previously mentioned “Fisherman,” the record ventures all over the map stylistically. From the buoyant groove of “At the Feast” to the churning, hazy rhythm of “Congoman,” the record is as intricate and fun as it is funky and well thought out. The session musicians meshed with Perry’s nimble production to create tapestries for the vocal duo to really spread their wings over. With Myton’s pristine falsetto blending with Johnson’s smooth tenor, the duo really stretch the boundaries of dub/roots reggae in ways that others still have not. There is a spirit in songs like “Open the Gate,” which has the deep bass and treble-y guitars and percussion so familiar in dub, that the singers lay down in spades. “Sodom and Gomorrow” is a classic example of the the band locking into a groove and the vocalists adding the heart to the musical flesh and bones that Perry and the band created.
I found my way to this album via the groups recent FRKWYS collaboration with Sun Araw, and I am embarrassed that it took me this long to find this amazing record. After hearing both the stunning opening track and the rest of the equally great album, it was one of those moments where I instantly understood that this was an pivotal and important record. The sound is so fully realized and distinct, with the fleshed out music and the vocal interplay between the lead singers joining to create a lush product that soaks into your skin and infects your spirit. Despite the tepid reception the album received when it dropped in the late 70’s (and really has to this day), this is an important record not only for the dub reggae genre, but for popular music in general. If you haven’t heard the soulful and commanding music the Congos and Lee Perry put together on Heart of the Congos, do yourself a favor and get your hands on this record.
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