I was hoping to start out by saying how its ok to feel thankful and be thankful. I feel very thankful that I’m I am to share this music with you…but damn! If someone should feel thankful it should be Seke Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo. Not only did they release an unbelievable hybrid of Congolese Soukous and cavernous dub music, at a time when no such mixtures existed, but simply in doing so, pretty much damn near saved themselves from certain death and starvation. It’s not often you find essential records like these, with this kind of a backstory.
The story goes…a Jamaican promoter looks for musicians to cook up a new angle to take reggae through. Interested in tapping into an African music market largely untouched by Jamaican releases, she enlists two Congolese musicians to travel back with her to Jamaica and take her up on her offer of impending reggae stardom. Upon arriving in Jamaica, she proceeds to abandon them in the streets of Kingston and literally let them fend for themselves.
Stranded, homeless, and unable to speak a lick of English, Seke and Kalo resorted to begging in order to survive. Yet, somehow, on some fateful day, they crossed paths with Lee “Scratch” Perry and confided in him (as best they could) the story of how they got there.
Lee taking all of this as a sign from Jah gracing his own Black Ark with a connection to Africa, proceeds to record eight songs with them as a gesture of gratitude and help. Feeding, housing, and recording them, Lee Perry didn’t quite know what to do with the fascinatingly eclectic music he created with Seke and Kalo. Astounding songs like “Bad Food”, “Mengieb” and title track that swing from all sorts of decidedly spaced out African music really prove how locked-in they were all into actually creating that sound which could have escaped them when they were left to fend for themselves.
These tapes finally laid down, under the working title Monama, were sent off to Island Records in hopes of something to come out as a release. As Island passed on this uncategorizable album, and shelved its release, all those involved thought these recordings were destined to be lost to circumstance. Only time has let it known that Lee, rather than doom their recording to the vaults, gave the master tapes to Kalo and let him do with them as he saw fit.
Recorded in 1977 by Lee Perry in his Black Ark studios, it wasn’t until 1979 that a French label took the master tape of this recording and unleashed it unto a world. Release by Sonafric Records as Seke Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo then a bit later in Belgium as From The Heart Of The Congo (unwittingly connecting it with the other rarely heard but now highly influential Heart of the Congos from The Congos) now the duo had some official record of its release. Of course, what might sound or seem commonplace now, really wasn’t back then, and a recording like this still withstands a long test of time.
Something final to add: lord knows why so many releases either appended tracks like Robert Palmer’s “Love Can Run Faster”or Brother Hood’s “African Freedom” to Seke and Kalo’s original master tapes. So, today I’m sharing with you both what I truly believe is the “official” vision plus other tracks that fill out this visionary bit of music. My take: it’s absolutely essential stuff that if you’re in the least bit into any reggae or African music you musn’t pass up in partaking in.