In a club with an atmosphere that fogs up yer spectacles every ten seconds, and low frequencies that bother one’s trouser bottoms like a hungry dog, people are liable to properly lose their shit to Congo Natty. The writer of this review remembers witnessing a slice of their Bloc Weekender set a few years back, walking into the room just as they – Congo aka Rebel MC aka Michael West, plus DJ and myriad guest vocalists – whetted the crowd’s whistle with the a capella section of Nineties rager ‘Junglist’. It was bonkers loud and there wasn’t even any music playing at the time. Explicitly fashioned for soundsystems, the Congo Natty aesthetic has pointedly ignored nearly all twenty-first-century developments in jungle and drum’n’bass, continuing to find inspiration in its prototypical early Nineties form – sweet, soulful and informed by roots reggae, but carrying breakbeats and bass to blowtorch your face off.
Jungle Revolution, while not the first album to carry the Congo Natty name, is the first one that was obviously designed as an album, as opposed to an album-length pack of 12-inches. His vision is aided here by the ‘Congo Natty family’, who are nothing if not populous, although I suspect that merely chipping in with some vocals or guitar makes you a member of his brood by definition. On the album’s second track ‘UK Allstars’ alone, the mic is shared by Tenor Fly, Top Cat, General Levy, Tippa Irie, Sweetie Irie and Daddy Freddy – the intro threatens to “take [us] back to 1984”, presumably referring to the Saxon soundsystem and the like, but is actually frantic tonguetwister ragga jungle, the like of which would have been the stuff of a madman’s dreams in the mid-Eighties. And which still carries serious weight now.
Tenor Fly and Daddy Freddy return for ‘Get Ready’, a co-production with nu-skool jump-up geezers Serial Killaz. Their aggro breaks and brash rewinds are softened by Nãnci Correia’s lush singing voice and a melody lifted from The Jamaicans’ ‘Ba Ba Boom’. Correia, in her early twenties and of Portugese origin, is arguably the on-the-downlow star of this album: she adds a new dimension every time she pops up, be that on the splendid, dub-heavy ‘Jah Warriors’ or ‘London Dungeon’, the album’s starkest example of light and shade. Her soothing pipes notwithstanding, the overall feeling is of paranoia and disquiet, thanks in part to a large sample from early Eighties racial tension-themed drama Babylon (I’ll admit to having to Google it). ‘Rebel’, immediately following, opens with a spoken definition of the word ‘bumbaclart’, which is a pretty effective piece of bathos, even if the tracks ends up being a bit so-so.
Apart from that and ‘Micro Chip (Say No)’ – which succeeds ‘Rebel’, closes the album and suffers from autotune abuse and the claim to be “the sons and daughters of Bob Marley” – Jungle Revolution consistently hits bullseyes. There’s a couple of lyrical snippets that aim to cast jungle as the forefather of the various strains of post-millennium British bass music – an idea which is as old as grime itself at least, as you’ll know if you’re aware of Simon Reynolds’ ‘hardcore continuum’. The point is, it’s considerably radder to hear this on a Congo Natty album, as opposed to some dude’s blog. Moreover, it really oughtn’t matter to you that this is consciously (no pun intended) evoking a sound from two decades ago – if you insist on only checking for dance albums that sincerely break new ground, then that’s your lookout, but it seems like such a joyless and academic approach. If modern rave culture doesn’t have room for an album of hectic toasting, Zebedee bass sproing, 150bpm breakbeat mania and lush lighters-out reggae intervals... well, it does have room. I’m calling it.
7Noel Gardner's Score