Nobody is sure how the two Congolese musicians ended up at the Black Ark (there are two different stories in the CD notes) but this session with Scratch and what was essentially the 1977 version of The Upsetters is interesting, unique and a lot of fun to listen to--basically soucous melodies and vocal styles blended with reggae rhythms. You can look at it as either a laid-back version of soucous or a looser version of reggae. It's amazingly smooth and pretty elaborate, with horn sections (sax, trombone and trumpet), layered percussion and some dubby effects. Scratch contributes his characteristically wacky vocals and eccentric percussion to the first couple cuts, then sticks to the mixing board, which was his best instrument anyway.
Trojan managed to find a couple of unreleased tracks, which I suspect may have not been included because they were a little bit spacier than the others (the vocals on Masanga are drenched in echo--very cool). And there's a final, unrelated bonus track, African Freedom, that's a reggaefication of Paul Revere and the Raiders' Indian Nation--I think the compilers just wanted an excuse to release it somewhere.
I took a star off for the sound quality, but that's no knock on Trojan--this is the best we're probably going to get. They did manage to find a master tape, albeit a pretty beat-up one, and did an admirable job cleaning it up and transfering it, but there's only so much you can do (the previous CD release of this material, From the Heart of the Congo--not to be confused with Heartbeat Records' sublime Lee Perry/Congos CD Heart of the Congos--was "mastered" from mediocre quality vinyl and was nearly unlistenable). Part of the problem was that there was a pretty big band on this session (nine musicians plus The Jolly Boys on backing vocals and Scratch) and the resulting dynamic range was occasionally too much for the old tape, particularly when the whole ensemble was playing at once. But you get used to it--at the worst points it sorta sounds like it was recorded in the 40s--and it's well worth getting a hold of if you have any interest at all in African music, reggae or the great Lee Perry.