Seke Molenga

From the Heart of the Congo

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For an unfinished album, this is one hell of a set, wherein the inimitable Lee "Scratch" Perry brilliantly weaves together African and reggae elements into one lush aural tapestry. Just how Seke Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo, two fresh-faced Zairian musicians, ended up at Perry's Black Ark Studio in 1977 is open to debate. Suffice to say, the Upsetter was intrigued, CBS France were initially paying the bills, and the pair were eager to please. A dozen numbers were recorded in all, ten in the duo's native Lingala language, a pair co-penned with Perry. CBS, however, pulled out half-way through the sessions, and the previously reliable Island label passed when Perry sent them some particularly poor quality tapes of his rough mixes as a taster. And so, the planned Monama album remained incomplete, with Kawongolo handed six of the most finished tracks as a consolation prize. Two years later, Sonafric released them as the Seke Molenga & Kalo Kawongolo album.

Two things are evident right off the bat; first -- precisely what Perry was trying, and came so close to achieving, and second that the Africans had little, if any, studio experience, at least not in Jamaica. On the island it was an artist eat artist world, and if you didn't step up, others were going to step right over you. And that's precisely what happened here. The brass section sensed their chance, and led by saxophonist Felix "Deadly Headly" Bennett, easily shouldered aside the singers and effortlessly made themselves the center of attention across "Bad Food" and "Guipimbu Glen," with the duo barely holding their own on "Mengieb." Incidentally, "Guipimbu Glen" features a broad hint of the layered vocals that would eventually feature so prominently on Perry's own albums. The Upsetter, though, had his revenge on "Mutoya Motema," letting the band get deep in the groove, and when the brass do eventually step up, he pulls the rug out right out from under them.

For by then, he's effectively drawn listeners' attention to the thwack of the rim shots -- like an axe smacking into wood -- thus the brassmen's efforts are barely noticeable. In the final production/mix down, Perry probably would have better balanced the album, bringing up the singers in the mix, who really only shine on the chanting "African Roots." But the duo's Afro-styled vocals and percussion, also buried in the mix, interlaced with the flashy brass, urban sax-styled solos, and upbeat reggae rhythms still is a revelation. The complete album remains tantalizing and unreleased, and this set is further muddied by the final track, which comes not from the Zaireans sessions, but one with Robert Palmer, who cut three numbers at Black Ark in 1976, and is sorely out of place here.

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