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Ghetto Skyline by Daweh Congo

Ghetto Skyline by Daweh Congo

Ghetto Skyline by Daweh Congo

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Daweh expands his repertoire for his most mature effort yet.


Card carrying reggae enthusiasts outside the Caribbean are apt to cry “sell-out” if a trusted artist – even temporarily - abandons the form. The sixth album by smoky voiced chanter and artful lyricist Daweh Congo – after years of loyal service to the one drop and its more militant cousins – contains a few such departures and may invite the usual mutterings of discontent.

'Ghetto Skyline', produced by Sweden’s Jonahgold for Goldheart Music, has a metropolitan, Autumnal sound and a careful blend of organic and electronic instrumentation. It’s a close approximation of Daweh’s singing – cooler and less nasal than his inevitable point of comparison, Burning Spear. He’s toned down the rapid fire delivery and his trademark unusual phrasing of the lower registers, letting his unflashy yet impressive way with words come to the fore. Opener Ghetto Skyline tells of “the hopes and dreams of the street people turning” against the backdrop of a crimson polluted urban horizon, while One Day begins with the punchy “time for action and no rhetoric, no more diagnosis, come on heal the sick”.

The traditional reggae offerings cover a pleasing range of styles. Refugee puts an acoustic grounation jam to traffic sounds for a busking effect; Ganja Baby bums a toke off the intro to Norwegian Wood before becoming a catchy singalong in its own right; and Live And Be Happy splices some Spanish guitar with sampled words of wisdom from the man himself.

The hybrid (Struggle, Steppin’) and non reggae tracks (Daybreak) are no less successful, bringing together hip-hop beats, chillout piano, bluesy harmonica and guitarist Tender G’s searing lead work. The result is a pop fusion – slightly less daring in its choices than that of Winston McAnuff – with an adult, late eighties/early nineties feel.

Considering that reggae was once summarised by the late Joe Higgs as being about “freedom” “acceptance” and “understanding”, criticising its practitioners for breaking out of its rigid rhythmic confines doesn’t make much sense. If anything, the record’s pebble-smooth mix and carefully balanced arrangements can feel a little too restrained (second track Straight Up Conscious proves Congo’s soothing voice is best contrasted with rhythms that have a little more fire in their belly). But while this leaves 'Ghetto Skyline' ideally suited to more ruminative moods, it is a definite grower and his most mature effort yet.

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