As we know, roots reggae is imbued with the spiritual message of Rastafarianism, the Jamaican repatriative faith that adopted some of its theology from Ethiopian Christianity and a plethora of metaphors from Judaism, although the Torah (as well as the New Testament) is seen by believers as partly corrupted. In Rastafarian parlance, Zion is a Utopian vision of freedom and justice located in the land once and forever ruled by Haile Selassie. Still, common cultural reference points engendered an unsurprising affinity between Jewish and Jamaican musicians – a kind of Judeo-Rasta subgenre flourishes in the work of King Django, David Solid Gould and Matisyahu, among others.
Meanwhile, back in that other Zion, Tel Avivian producers Kalbata (Ariel Tagar) and Mixmonster (Uri Wertheim) spent a year sculpting instrumental tracks inspired by King Tubby and early dancehall. Traveling to Kingston, they invited an all-star cast of venerable singers and toasters, all of who came to prominence in the seventies and eighties, to flesh out their bare bones. Congo Beat the Drum is the intriguing result of this new-meets-old, red-green-gold Star of David session.
Following the sweet lover stylings of Puddy Roots and Little John, the leonine nyabinghi of the title track, chanted by digital dancehall star Major Mackerel, is absolutely ferocious. Now that we have your attention, dub poet Mutabaruka calls out the political and clerical elite on “Same Thing Every Day” before ceding the mic to Trinity and Jah Thomas, who are having “Trouble in the Dance”, despite the exemplary, minimalist backing propelling their call-and-response. On “Aim”, Tullo T shakes the pixie dust amiably and ambiently scattered by Kalbata and Mixmonster with a huge smile spreading wider and wider on his face. Finally, Echo Minott and the late Prince Jazzbo get down to brass tacks, the former plaintively pleading the case of the poor man on “Out a Road” and the latter pointing accusing fingers on the trickily titled “Voice Make a Joyful Noise”.
The thirty-seven minute album breezes by far too quickly, crying out for full-scale, extended dub versioning. The closing, lounge-y “CRB Version” of “Prisoner in Love” is a great start.