The Congos – Congo Ashanti [1979]

The Congos - Congo Ashanti

Outside of reggae circles, the Congos have never really had the recognition that they deserve. Inside of reggae circles they are widely held as being one of the most important vocal groups to emerge from Jamaica, and they have been responsible for some of the most beautiful and complex vocal roots anthems ever – such as ‘Row Fisherman Row’.

Their 1979 album called ‘Congo Ashanti’ was released in Jamaica, but also somehow managed to get picked up by CBS records in France.

Both had the same track listing, but they had very different album sleeves. We have featured both below, beginning with the Jamaican version.

This is the Jamaican 1979 release on Congo Ashanty Records. The black and white artwork, and bright yellow highlights on the edges gives the impression of someone trying to bring something dense and dark out from the shadows – which is a good metaphor for the music which is deep and complex.
The Congos - Congo Ashanti

By contrast, this is the CBS release which came out in the same year (see image below). The bigger marketing budget of CBS shines through in the quality of the photograph, which focuses on one of the Congos with water dripping of his thick dreads.
Congo Ashanti
It’s a stunning photo in its own right.

The album is pure vocal roots, deep basslines, and well-crafted harmonies, and makes a great companion piece to the Congos classic ‘Heart of the Congos‘ which was released in 1977.

Track List:

  • Days Chasing Days
  • Jackpot
  • Hail The World Of Jah
  • Education Of Brainwashing
  • Youth Man
  • Yoyo
  • Nana
  • Thief Is In The Vineyard

The album was re-released again via the Blood & Fire label in 2003, and you really should add it to your collection if you haven’t already.

Listen To It
 
 
Listen to ‘Thief Is In The Vineyard’ by the Congos:

Listen to ‘Days Chasing Days’ by the Congos:

Buy It
 
 

The Congos – Heart Of The Congos [1977]

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The Congos - Heart Of The Congos

This is going straight into the Iconic & Classic Album Covers category.

Produced by Lee Perry and classed by many as one of the greatest vocal roots albums ever made, The Heart Of The Congos also has a wonderful album cover to match the music.

The cover shows Cedric Myton and Roy Johnson, the main vocalists, playing congo drums in, what is said to be, a local fishing shed – which totally suits the ‘local’ and ‘rural’ feel that the music conveys.

The album itself has also been known as ‘Heart of the Congo Man’ and was first released on Lee Perry’s ‘Black Art’ label in 1977.

If you have never heard this album, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy – it is a dense and complex roots production with soaring vocals and melodies. The uninitiated may find it hard going at first, but perseverance will eventually reward you as you’ll discover more and more layers to the album with every listen. Steve Barrow (founder of Blood & Fire records and reggae historian) stated the “Heart Of The Congos is the most perfectly realized album to come from Lee Perry’s Black Ark.”

Track List:

  • Fisherman
  • Congoman
  • Open Up The Gate
  • Children Crying
  • La La Bam Bam
  • Can’t Come In
  • Sodom And Gomorrow
  • The Wrong Thing
  • Ark Of The Covenant
  • Solid Foundation

The album has been reissued a number of times on a number of different labels, and more recently the now (sadly) demised Blood & Fire label produced an extended version that captured extra tracks and recordings.

The album cover produced for the re-issue was reverential to the themes contained in the original songs, and even tried to maintain the ‘home-made feel’ to the artwork – it featured the original cover mounted in the center of a sculpture, and surrounded it with symbols relating to the spirit and themes contained within the album.

Album cover for the Blood and Fire re-issue of ‘Heart of the Congos':
The Congos - Heart Of The Congos Blood and Fire

Track Listing for the Blood and Fire re-issue of ‘Heart of the Congos':

  • Fisherman
  • Congoman
  • Open Up The Gate
  • Children Crying
  • La La Bam Bam
  • Can’t Come In
  • Sodom And Gomorrow
  • The Wrong Thing
  • Ark Of The Covenant
  • Solid Foundation
  • At The Feast
  • NicodemusCongoman
  • Congoman Chant
  • Bring The Meakabeak
  • Noah Sugar Pan
  • Solid Foundation

The re-issue is a nice tribute to the original album, but at the end of the day we prefer the original photo and hand-made design of the original release for defining the spirit of this wonderful album.

Listen To It

Listen to ‘Children Crying’ by The Congos:

Listen to ‘Fisherman’ by The Congos:

Buy It
Still widely available on CD or download: