The Con­gos: ‘Heart of the Con­gos’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TICKET STUBS - Donal Di­neen

Lee Scratch Perry’s Black Ark stu­dios was really only in op­er­a­tion for six or seven key years but in that short spell it gen­er­ated enough heat to last us all a life­time. It was the epi­cen­tre of ground-break­ing vi­bra­tions at a time when Ja­maican mu­sic was still mov­ing and shak­ing the tec­tonic plates.

Sto­ries of tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions are le­gion as are tales of its pro­pri­etor’s ec­cen­tric­ity but like ev­ery pud­ding, the proof is in the eat­ing and pretty much ev­ery­thing served up be­tween 1973 and 1979 has ma­tured with dis­tinc­tion.

This is ar­guably Perry’s finest hour at the con­trols. His en­tire reper­toire of smoke and mir­rors trick­ery is on dis­play. He turns tape hiss into a rhyth­mic de­vice. The drum and the bass dis­tor­tions are from an­other di­men­sion. For some­thing made with rudi­men­tary tools the sound de­sign is stag­ger­ing.

Echo and reverb throw ev­ery­thing in and out of focus. It’s dar­ing in all sorts of ways. What Dziga Ver­tov did to the movie cam­era, Scratch did for the record­ing con­sole. He turned it up­side down and in­side out to make it work for him in his own way.

In the eye of this sonic hur­ri­cane there are har­monies sung so sweetly they may as well have sprung from the fields of sugar cane out back. He pulled a mas­ter stroke in con­vinc­ing the orig­i­nal duo of Cedric My­ton and Roy John­son to en­list a third singer in Watty Bur­nett. Their re­spec­tive falsetto, tenor and bari­tone voices trace a three-lane high­way to higher places in per­fect uni­son. And if that wasn’t a hot enough ticket to Baby­lon, vo­cal group The Med­i­ta­tions are en­listed to make the jour­ney even more en­chant­ing.

Where the sweet­ness and light of the vo­cals meet the heavy dub rid­dims is the sweet spot. That’s the new ter­ri­tory. The wild fron­tier. Lee Perry was work­ing from a dif­fer­ent map. On roads less-trav­elled he was the man for di­rec­tions.

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