The legend goes as follows: Seminal reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry walks into Rastafarian devotional singer “Ashanti” Roy Johnson’s backyard with the intention of purchasing a bread-fruit tree. Johnson is strumming his guitar and singing the lyrics to “Fisherman.” Perry invites Johnson, along with Cedric Myton of The Tartans, into his iconic Black Art Studio to record a full length album. He rounds out the trio with baritone Watty Burnett, a session vocalist at the studio. The result of those sessions was their showpiece record, Heart of the Congos.
The album was definitively Rastafarian — working references to Babylon, Christianity and the Bible into their political tracks. Due in part to a dispute over distribution, the album fell short of sales goals, causing a rift within the group and with Perry. Despite rave critical reviews to this day — Heart of the Congos is widely received as a landmark of reggae music — the album never reached the mainstream radio waves. Shortly after the record release, both Burnett and Johnson quit the Congos, but Myton continued to perform with new members until the mid 1980s.
The Congos reformed with Myton, Burnett, and Lindburgh Lewis by the mid 1990s. In 2012, the group resurrected their musical careers through a collaboration with the psychedelic looper Sun Araw and the moody analog experimental musician M Geddes Gengras. This collaborative album, Icon Give Thank, was named one of the best albums of the year by both Pitchfork and Tiny Mix Tapes. The gospel-esque music of the Congos blends seamlessly into the trippy noise of Sun Araw and Gengras, all while retaining the beachy vibes of their ’70s Jamaican roots.