Congo Ashanti Roy
|Congo Ashanti Roy
Photo: Kishi Yamamoto
Roydell Johnson (a.k.a. Congo Ashanti Roy), a native of Hanover, Jamaica, grew up singing spirituals at home and cut his teeth as a member of Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus. More importantly, Ashanti Roy attended school with Lee Perry, the start of a relationship that would lead to Perry producing him in later years. A chance meeting led to Ashanti Roy and Cedric Myton working together under the name The Congos, and hooking up with such major musical talents as Sly Dunbar and Ernest Ranglin. While the music that backed The Congos was undeniably great, their most distinctive feature was their voices: Ashanti Roy's strong, clear tenor, and Cedric Myton's breathtaking falsetto.
The Congos were primarily known for one record, Heart Of The Congos, released in 1977, and in possibly the crowning masterpiece of his career, produced by Lee Perry at his Black Ark studios in Kingston. What Perry brought to the mix was his usual anarchic presence, but also his technique of using primitive (even for its time) four-track recording technology that emphasized a cluttered, dense, but hot live sound.
Great though it was, 'Heart Of The Congos' sold only reasonably well in Jamaica, but became a hotly sought-after collectible in the USA and Britain by a cult of reggae aficionados. Not long after the record was released, Myton and Ashanti Roy went their separate ways but continued to use the name the Congos or Congo as a means of identification.
Leaving Jamaica for the UK following a less creatively successful period, Ashanti Roy was brought to On-U Sound by his friend Mikey Dread in the early 1980s; both subsequently becoming contemporary contributors to the Singers And Players' family. Like a lot of other reggae artists of the time who had been the victims of brief flirtations with major labels, Ashanti Roy was looking for work and a deal.
Aware of the growing reputation of On-U Sound, he arrived at Southern Studios with several great tunes that were to become On-U conscious classics, including "African Blood" [Rhythm 27] and "Breaking Down the Pressure" [Rhythm 36], the latter undoubtedly the tougher tune and probably also superior in that the studio production from Adrian Sherwood is him at his crazed best. In 1984, in another major collaboration, Ashanti Roy also drafted in Sherwood to engineer and/or mix most of his solo album 'Level Vibes', released on Sonic Boom Records.
It is probably true to say that no individual from The Congos went on to produce any solo work which approached the enduring quality of 'Heart Of The Congos', however Ashanti Roy's work for On-U Sound was definitely as near as he got. All of his early On-U cuts are strong lyrical tunes which constitute the singer's best efforts away from the magisterial hand of Mr. Perry.
Ashanti Roy still makes occassional appearances on On-U projects to this day, most recently on Sherwood produced material by Junior Degado and Charlie "Eskimo Fox".
(Adapted and supplemented by the editor from John Dougan's, All-Music Guide entry with additional material from Steve Barker)