We have Alex Piveyski and Jah to thank for this.
ZIP: V/A – Duke Bloggin Meets the Congos in Midtown (Left-Click)
I have a confession to make: this compilation is actually a failed album review.
Icon Give Thank, a collaboration between venerable reggae legends The Congos and mad experimentalists Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras, was released this spring. As a big fan of the involved parties, I eagerly anticipated the album for months prior to its arrival. When I finally heard it, my expectations were met and shattered. My ears were treated to an incredible melting pot of futuristic dub and Jamaican spiritualism, a sound I considered as a step forward for one of my favorite genres. I didn’t just love this thing, I had communions with it. I listened to it at night as I was falling asleep, with the lights out and my eyes closed. Its mystic chants and invocations echoed in my head like voices calling from both the past and the future at once.
When Jeff asked if anybody was interested in writing about it, I volunteered. And I failed miserably. When I tried to write as a fan, I came off like an overenthusiastic cheerleader. When I tried to take a cooler, more learned and distant approach, I came off like a stuffy pompous douchebag. I was stuck: unable to find a compromise between my reflexive hyperbolic gushing and desired comfortable objectivity. After numerous tries that spanned late spring and early summer, I finally gave up, felled by my own noble intentions. In the wake of my defeat I learned a valuable lesson – it’s paradoxically harder for me to write well about things I’m smitten with than things that I merely like or just find interesting.
One ember of an idea remained glowing even after my self-immolation had been long extinguished. Icon Give Thank had a truly original sound, but it wasn’t exactly a revolutionary mutation or a complete anomaly within the annals of reggae. In fact, it reminded me of several past examples of progressive psychedelic roots dub, as well as other similarly minded attempts at combining classic reggae with the modern music that it influenced. The Congo’s own seminal debut Heart Of The Congos came to mind too. I wanted to cite these precursors in my review, but unfortunately never even got to writing the part where I would logically do so. Still, the list of them stuck in my head.
When Jeff called for Summer Jamz submissions I decided to put that list to a good use — to at least salvage something from the wreckage of my original intentions. After all, what music is more appropriate to summer than reggae (even when said reggae turned parts of my summer into the motherfucking winter of my discontent.) And so Duke Bloggin Meets The Congos In Midtown was born.
I hope you enjoy it, and recommend that you listen to it on headphones, at night, as you’re falling asleep with the lights out and your eyes closed. Or just sit outside and burn a joint or something. You don’t have to get all weird about it like I did.
A Few Words About The Tracklist:
- ‘Happy Song’ and ‘Food Clothing And Shelter’ are taken from Icon Give Thank itself.
- ‘Multiply’ is a collaboration between Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras as Duppy Gun Productions and vocalist Dayone. Naturally, it shares more than a passing similarity to the music found on Icon Give Thank, although Dayone is more dancehall toaster than roots singer.
- “Disco Devil” is a B-side to a Lee Perry single that I randomly found on the Internet years ago. It stands to reason that the A-Side was ‘I Chase The Devil’, a well-known classic Perry produced for Max Romeo. This song isn’t spiritual in the least, and might even be something of an outlier here, but it’s a veritable clinic on unusual dub production and a great example of Perry’s unhinged genius. Without things like this, Icon Give Thank might not even exist.
- “Congoman” is my favorite song from Heart Of The Congos. The sound of it almost anticipates what happens on Icon Give Thank, being of course another Perry production.
- “Run Come Rally” and “Seventy Two Nations” are both taken from Dadawah’s incredible but little known masterpiece, Peace And Love. The album blends nyabinghi drumming with brooding dubby instrumentation that at times verges on psychedelic blues. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
- “Space Movement 1” and “In I Father’s House”are both taken from Creation Rebel’s experimental dub opus Starship Africa, produced by the legendary Adrian Sherwood during his most fertile and creative period. POW’s own Sach O did a great job writing up this album three years ago:
- “Late September In May” might be my favorite song here: another outlier I couldn’t resist, another incredible Lee Perry production. It’s taken from a compilation called Rockstone: Native’s Adventures With Lee Perry In Black Ark. Not only does it somehow combine reggae with deep soul and strains of what might be pre-shoegaze and then shred those elements through the wringer of dub distortion, it may also be the only reggae song about existential dread that has ever been recorded.
- “Queen Of My Empire” and “We’ve Been Troddin” find the Rhythm & Sound production duo paired with vocalists Jennifer Lara and Shalom (respectively). Rhythm & Sound, like Sun Araw, made electronic music that was directly influenced by dub. Even though these two songs are sonically much leaner than anything on Icon Give Thank, they still fit comfortably into this set. Thematically, Rhythm & Sound’s work with Jamaican artists is an obvious forefather to the collaboration that inspired this compilation.
1. Sun Araw/MG Gengras/Congos – happy song
2. Sun Araw/MG Gengras (as Duppy Gun Productions) – Multiply
3. Lee Perry – Disco Devil
4. The Congos – Congoman
5. Dadawah – Run come rally
6. Creation Rebel – Space Movement Section 1
7. Creation Rebel – In I father’s house
8. Native – Late September in May
9. Dadawah – 72 Nations
10. Rhythm & Sound w. Jennifer Lara – Queen of my Empire
11. Rhythm & Sound w. Shalom – We’ve Been Trodden
12. Sun Araw/MG Gengras/Congos – Food Clothing & Shelter