A review of The Congos " Heart of the congos"
It is a frosty morning in Kyoto, and by frosty, I mean that everything looks exactly like sugar-coated corn flakes, Tony the tiger making his grand entrance at a minute before six, wearing his striped scarf and his sugar-induced heart attack smile, but it's unclear which of us seems more out of place in the heavy flow of Japanese humans gushing out of the train station exit. There is definite glancing, one or two genuine stares but at now exactly six a.m. it is too early, and already too late, to accept our presence in their midst.
He looks me up and down, my unruly hair, mismatched black corduroy jacket and suit trousers, discount plastic business shoes, and hands me disapprovingly a monstrous paper bag. He tells me to meet him at Osaka Station at no later than ten, then departs swiftly towards his own position without looking back.
I stand still for a full minute and walk towards the other train station entrance, the one closest to the river, because I have been standing still with the bag for over a whole minute, and was obviously seen doing so, and my image being temporarily tainted by this obvious lack of thrust and purpose, I decide to get to it on the other side of the river.
I find a spot where I can see passers-by coming and still take them by surprise.I put on "Heart of the congos", earphones more or less invisible under my hair, pick a handful of flyers from the bag and start.
"Fisherman" is a programme opener, it tells you everything the album is going to do while keeping you in the dark with mystery.
They gave me so-called training for this but I am not sure exactly what to do with the flyers. I hand one to a human female wearing human male business garments. She power-walks through us, the flyer and I who do not exist.
The chorus kicks in, I don't know dub very much at this point and its heaviness startles me. I feel instantly angry at that woman,whom I should have nothing to do with. The congos tell me that it doesn't matter, she's already gone anyway, and there are more like her coming. I am puzzled how heavy this album can be, being so positive. The beat alone is a balancing act between megaton bass, chtonian kick and snare, and featherweight hi-hats, rim shots and cowbells; but the astonishing trick is the vocals, because they manage to be literally everywhere, while being clearly at the heart of it all.
This album is the triumph of hope over despair. I do not know devotion but I do sorrow, and on this morning when the world tells me I am worth nothing, Congoman teaches me weightlessness, patience and faith.
It took much time to overcome my aversion to religion in my appreciation of a lot of music, and it started with this.
If this was mass, I would be the most devout christian every Sunday at church! It feels monolithic, without being the stubborn slab of concrete that the testaments are. And the apostles sing like no one else, some true chemistry that's clearly lacking in the bible.
The sun starts shining as "children crying" heals the morning.
Several years later, I teach my three and four year olds at nursery to sing "La-la bam bam" during song-time. They love it. Many of them are from the Caribbeans, this is a nursery in Ladbroke Grove, London. Like me, they do not need to know what the words mean to feel the song's positive power. We end up singing it almost every day.
By "the wrong thing", I have been carrying the same flyer in my hand for five or ten minutes, it is all crumpled now and it is fine that no one wants it, it is a pointless piece of glossy paper after all.
"Solid foundation" has a disco beat. I am starting to feel cocky now, looking at people straight in the eye, fifty, thirty, ten meters ahead, at arm's length they face judgement, they must deserve the flyer now, many faces don't look very righteous to me, I can see that they should fear my gaze.
On the train to Osaka, I listen to the album for the third time. I managed to find a seat, it is between rush hours, and I revel in "Ark of the covenant" and the sunshine, murky and sunny is what I think, I wonder what kind of forests they have in Jamaica, here the sun hits through the suits of train commuters, and I sometimes catch a particular sun-ray as they stand still, asleep in their inner murk. Groves maybe? Jamaicans blazing up spliffs in coloured groves. Ladbroke grove? Black-clad Nicky sells me weed under the Westway flyover. he has on a pair of in-ear earphone, I hear distant hi-hat bashment. "have you any herbs?"
The train slows down as it nears Osaka Station, matching "Congoman"'s shuffle briefly as it stops by the platform.
My brother Tony the tiger does not look happy. He would even less if he knew where most of the flyers went. There's a reason they are called flyers. He tells me I'm late. It is exactly Ten o'clock.