Live review: Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras meet The Congos
There is only one concoction to be made when you take natty dread Rastafarians and Southern Californian mind-expandingness quite a lot like The Doors; a collaboration called ‘Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras meet The Congos.’ You can imagine our curiosity of seeing this act live and personal when we frequented the East London venue Village Underground. It was The Barbican that offered this chance of venturing into somewhat of an unknown territory, this extraordinary performance at the heart of Shoreditch’s live music scene.
Where the all brick-walled venue lacked relations in how/what the soundscape of the evening was to be, it gave way to a spacious and relaxed atmosphere, fitting surely more people in than it seemed. The size of the crowd was appropriate, thus making it comfortable to follow the gig. As can be expected from London gig-goers, people from all walks of life came to Village Underground for a Friday night treat, rather than a sole collection of indie rockers and/or reggae heads. Before the gig, the conversations held with the people waiting outside revealed some long-term fans of The Congos, who were intrigued to see how the Californian input would sound live alongside the legendary reggae group.
The gig starts. If one was like myself, unable to distinguish who was who, the first impression was a stage full of separate sorts. However, the roles were soon to be more than obvious, as the show started by the group singing: “get together rastafari!”
The vocals instantaneously featured amazing four voice harmonies (The Congos) lightly supported by a prolonged, dreamy and abstract soundscape created by the band (Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras). Not only did it sound incredibly beautiful, but this beginning also set the stage for the audience; the spirit of the evening would be exactly this. We were to be one – enjoy our surroundings, one another and ourselves. Blatantly some of the crowd already knew what this was all about, yet the diverse crowd did seem, by and large, to confess the notion of One Love faithfully. At least for the night; cheerful phrases such as “The Congos ona di radio, bless!” were said to us with sincerity, connecting the audience with the performers as well as with each other.
The Congos’ uplifting rasta chants felt genuine, since the get-go working as an outstanding foundation for the gig. To elaborate how the warm vibes came across; later on a full-on rasta mister bumped into me as he skanked, but after realising gently patted me on my whiteboy head with the utmost humbleness.
The Congos’ was on the radio, the peace was set. No feelings negative from anyone towards anyone; even if you were 7 feet tall and took a confident step to fully stand in front of some standard shorties – no antagonising. This episode as usual did happen, but only aroused confusion and giggles amongst the neglected.
An initially attention-catching figure was the all-impressive vocalist Watty Burnett, a man whose white dreadlocks were, to absolute, enchanting and awe-inspiring. Burnett’s appearance communicated life-long dedication for Rastafarian dogmata, and his deep sound was exquisitely contrasting with the falsetto’s (Cedric Myton), whose voice was to not surprise unique and heartfelt as well.
Above baritone Watty Burnett, below Cedric Myton.
It was the line of elders that filled us all with compassion, which made the gig remarkable, as the Angelenos for some reason chose to stay further back content with less attention. Fair enough though, and please do keep on producing an extensive sound world that succeeds in strengthening the dub-reggae legends’ harmonic performance with soulful ambience. Their collaboration (live at least) forms a solid output of a deep, dubby and spaced out atmosphere.
Sound-wise, and this is the part where we talk about Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras; the show contained refined detail throughout. They had a sound that as mentioned, generally worked superiorly with The Congos, but they also effectively used the room the vocalists left for them. Well-thought-out subtleties of the guitar and the keyboard counteracted with the singing, and all three high-tone elements were every now and then (as characteristic for reggae) heavily reverbed. This filled the venue with a penetrating delay that would echo in the audience’s ears until the drums sharply took over control. The bass all in all was completely tight. Perfectly working with the drums, there was no lack of foundation for the singers to rely on.
The overall feeling that remains in me, is as if I was in Africa in slow motion, yet aurally in a separate uber-dubby and laid-back world, at times confidently guided by the control-taking vocalists. This, no doubt, can only be experienced through an act such as this. Seeing and feeling the positive energy of the LA hipsters combined with authentic Rastafarian legends cannot only make one smile from ear-to-ear out of amazement, but also give the audience trust into what experimental joint (pun intended) work can bring out. Merging two generations from two very different cultures makes this collaboration contemporary and inherently interesting, worthwhile of attention and appreciation.
No less than a dream-like experience full of soul – a performance with nothing shallow, an unfrivolous and honest hour-long show. This hour was a magnificent, semi-spiritual journey guided and filled by blazed out rasta atmosphere that the audience completely absorbed and went along with. One was to leave the venue with a true Jah blessing, colours of green red and yellow flashing in their eyes, head all stoned from only watching the amazing elders, and sons of contemporary psychedelia perform.
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