Smoky voiced poetic singer Daweh Congo’s sixth album Ghetto Skyline was a mid-career classic. This was in no small part due to the impact of its opening title track – with its haunting, hinting descriptions of marginalisation poverty and unrest – which got play on even the most conservative roots sound systems in London.
But the song and record were not produced in the UK or Jamaica. They were made in Sweden by Jonahgold of Goldheart Music. His creations do keep a link back to the reggae of London however, for he is a sonic disciple of legendary Swedish producer Tom Hofwander AKA Internal Dread, who himself apprenticed under Dennis Bovell.
Since Ghetto Skyline Gold has put his icy tinged yet warm-hearted productions behind select other artists. These tend to be of an intellectual or literary bent, such as new age dub poet Mooji and the elegant aloof chanteuse Sheya Mission.
Now Jonah has returned to his breakout effort to create his first full dub album around Skyline’s twelve tracks – interspersed with recordings of phone conversations between Daweh and his producer. The product of years of tinkering, it is dedicated to Gold’s late mentor Hofwander who was killed in a tourbus accident in 2012. Fans of the 2008 release will be pleased to know it is both a good companion and a standalone work in its own right.
This is not one of those subtle minimal dub LPs where one snare gradually changes in texture over many tedious minutes. It dwells on the busier half of the spectrum exemplified by The Mighty Two. Frosted castles of sound, robotic vocoder voices, air horns and a myriad of filters interact with organic elements including brass, bluesy guitars and harmonicas, and Congo’s extraordinary richly layered multi-toned voice.
The legacy of Bovell is crystal clear in the delayed snatch of vocal 26 seconds into Dub Moon – which recalls vintage Aswad. At times the deconstruction becomes so fragmented and without melody that it’s hard to discern the parent song – yet there is nothing that can be dismissed as noise.
In lesser hands and ears, taking away a lyricist like Daweh’s songs and stories could have robbed this project of an essential ingredient. Instead Gold has created a meditative masterpiece and a heartfelt tribute to his friend in sound. Unlike lots of modern dub albums this is easily the equal of the vocal and will cause you to search out the original without (reverb and) delay.