Congo Natty is one man, a family, a movement. Mikail Tafari aka Rebel MC stands at the core, but as "Jungle Revolution" shows, he's the lens that brings the whole into focus.
Ten tracks long, "Jungle Revolution" clearly lays out the way in which Tafari sees Jungle as a re-boot of roots reggae for a new century. Full of blood and fire, the sternum-buzz of sub-bass, rapid fire drum breaks, sweet hooks, righteous anger and professions of love, it's the kind of passionate, committed, raw and spiritual, beautiful record that doesn't come along that often. "The message of reggae is Ras Tafari and Ras Tafari is love," he explains. "They sang about love but they was also prophesying and talking about the system, talking about things that were going on in the world. I saw Jungle as being that same music, where we were going to spread a message."
That message is spread by a diverse cast of collaborators. The album was mixed with On-U legend Adrian Sherwood and Skip McDonald (whose career goes back as far as the Sugarhill Band) plays guitar and, on the deep dub of "Revolution," melodica. Production smarts are martialled from Benny Page (on the straight up ragga-jungle of "UK Allstars"), Vital Elements (the 150bpm anthem "Jah Warriors" and "Jungle Is I and I"), Serial Killaz (the pure roots bounce and rinse out of "Get Ready") and Boyson & Crooks (creeping technoid paranoia on "London Dungeons"). Vocalists, meanwhile, run a huge range. There's a who's who of UK soundsystem culture on "UK Allstars." True Congo Natty family like Nanci & Phoebe (check out Phoebe "Iron Dread" Hibbert's verse on "Microchip" and Nanci Correia's contributions throughout the record) and La La & The Boo Yaa ("Jungle Souljah") fill the album with sweet hooks and total commitment. Last, there are artists perhaps best known for their work with others, but drawing new sustenance from Congo Natty's Rasta beliefs and political views. Lady Chann offers a scintillating contribution on "Jungle Is I and I" and Buggsy, best known for his work with Joker, makes a telling intervention.
That this all holds together into a coherent whole that nods back to the legacy of roots reggae and classic jungle without being in thrall to either is down to the clear-eyed vision of the pioneer behind it. That he could make a record so vital, so alive with love and anger and pure joy, shows that Congo Natty the man is more than just a legend. He's a revolutionary. And that revolution is happening now.
There's already an Oscars buzz surrounding this movie.