The next morning, everyone’s still reeling from the experience, especially Stallones, whose own music may not stylistically align with Rae Town fare, but whose knowledge of it is encyclopedic. Between Lowes, Gengras and Stallones, collectively, the crew can ID nearly every obscure soul, reggae and disco nugget on offer at Rae Town. “Man, it’s weird to say, but that was a peak life experience at some level,” says Stallones, zeroing in on what may be the greatest lesson of Jamaican music culture. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. Being able to bathe in records in that way. The most beautiful sounding records. It’s soul music. The whole purpose of this music is to be the most pure externalization of a man’s feelings about romance and love, and to play it that loud on a system like that, and for people to come and it to be the entire community. It’s a necessary thing for the human spirit. And as awkward as you feel participating in it as an outsider, you’d be a fool not to seize on this ability we have to create something within ourselves and be part of something like that, and do it regularly.” At its best moments, music and community blend into one living thing in Jamaica. Every participant becomes a caretaker. This is why a guitar leans against the holy table in the Congoman Last Supper mural. This is what admiring Japanese nerds wandering around Rae Town know. In the record shops dotting Tokyo’s Shinjuku, one can find all this music alphabetized into neat little racks. But you can’t buy or sell the thing that makes it come alive, this is something inborn.
The Congos began making music in the mid-’60s, when Ashanti Roy and Cedric Myton sang and played guitar to pass the time, working as tailors. A few years later, their friend and producer Lee “Scratch” Perry suggested they add bass vocalist Watty Burnett to round out Myton’s gripping falsetto and Roy’s rich tenor. Today Myton and Roy sit together (Burnett spends most of the year in Long Island, NY), Ashanti plucks a guitar as Myton reminiscences: “1976, eighth of January. I was trim by the police, with some wicked kicks!” Beatings, forced shavings and other humiliating discrimination continued long after Bob Marley’s rise to global fame turned the dreadlock Rasta into an icon. In Myton’s mind, that trim happened this morning, and his indignation and pride burn undiminished. As the pair mix personal anecdotes with pointed social commentary, blurring past and present, it becomes clear that their musical careers are just one aspect of a Rasta way of life. At 65, Myton possesses the coiled, bodily energy of a teenager and tan eyes whose gaze mixes mirth and wisdom. His speaking voice is gleefully unmodulated. When he launches into his signature falsetto, the turn towards precision is uncanny. As talk shifts to the experience of working with Stallones and Gengras, their perspective is equally positive. “It was nice, nice vibes. Excellent vibe,” Roy says, his voice booming. Myton seamlessly picks up, “It was an experience, the music and all was strange—” “Yes strange!” Roy interjects, still strumming the guitar. “It’s a new venture, you know?” Myton continues, “Music is undiluted. It’s so wide.”