I love Reggae. Let me qualify that with, when I say reggae I’m talking 70’s, predominantly Jamaican, Roots Reggae. I don’t own a lot but what I do own I play a lot. This album I really do play rather a lot.
Produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry at his Black Ark Studio (where the entrance door was lowered and a picture of Emperor Haile Selassie I was hung above it so everyone who entered the studio had to bow down to His Imperial Majesty) and is regarded as one of Scratch’s greatest productions. The band responsible reads like a who’s who of late 70’s Jamaican reggae Sly Dunbar on drums, Ernest Ranglin in guitar, Boris (“I Wanna Wake Up With You”) Gardiner on bass, Gregory Isaacs sings backing vocals. The Congos themselves were Cedric Myton and Roydel Johnson a duo of Rastafarian’s both of whom had previously performed with the legendary Ras Michael in his groups the Royal Rasses (Myton) and the Sons of Negus (Johnson). They are pictured on the front cover playing, you guessed it, congos and on the reverse with a group of fishermen.
Which brings us to track one side one, “Fisherman”, a beautiful dreamy, laid back groove over which Cedric sings, in a stunning clear falsetto, lyrics that can be taken on face value as being simply about finding enough food to feed your growing family and buying a little collie along the way. But then you hear the line “Row fisherman row, We've got to reach on higher grounds” and you realise the concerns of the singer are somewhat more spiritual. The following “Congoman” is a Rastafarian chant telling how they have come to “To enlighten the world with psalms, an' songs, an' voices”. This is an album concerned with Rastafarian devotion and repatriation set to some of the most incredible reggae music you will hear. The titles tell a story of their own “Open Up The Gate”, “Sodom And Gomorrow”, “The Ark Of Covenant”. The songs are wonderful, “Children Crying” hangs off the most delicious melody, as do “Can’t Come In” and “Solid Foundation”.
The original 1977 Jamaican issue was on Scratch’s Black Art label and was a very limited release, rumoured to be only several hundred copies, and sells these days for huge sums. Fortunately the record struck a chord with many and it has been lovingly re-issued a number of times which allowed it to reach a much wider audience. When Brummies The Beat were given their Go-Feet imprint by Chrysalis one of the first things they did was arrange to re-issue “Heart Of The Congos” on their label. Then in 1996 Mick Hucknall (another reason to show the guy a little more respect) via his Blood & Fire label oversaw a luxurious 2 CD remaster including extra tacks and a 36 page booklet.
“Heart Of The Congos” is a landmark of Roots Reggae and anyone with an inkling of interest in Jamaican music should search out and fall in love with it.
Children Crying - https://youtu.be/6AsbZ-RLfDM