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Artist Hall of Fame

AbyssiniansText by Harry Hawks

The most revered and respected of Jamaica’s roots vocal groups whose transcendental, ethereal harmonies are beautiful beyond compare; their debut single ‘Satta A Masa Gana’ from 1969 is one of the most versioned songs and rhythms in the history of reggae music and is now a Rastafarian hymn.
Date Added: Mar 9, 2015, Date Updated: Jan 24, 2020 Copyright (C) 2020 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Members:Bernard Collins
Lynford Manning
Donald Manning
1968 -
Place of Establishment: Kingston
Jamaica
Related Artist(s):
Carlton & The Shoes
The Abyssinians, Donald Manning, Linford Manning & Bernard Collins, were formed in 1968 although Donald and Linford had previously sung with their brother, Carlton, in the legendary vocal trio Carlton & His Shoes(Carlton & The Shoes). Their initial recording as The Abyssinians was in March 1969: the almighty 'Satta Massa Ganna' which means "give thanks" in Amharic. Partly sung in Amharic and partly adapted from 'Happy Land', the b-side of Carlton & His Shoes' massive hit '|rhythm|||Love Me Forever|||', the record was a self production fashioned at Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd)'s Studio One on Brentford Road with Leroy Sibbles on bass, Filberto 'Fil' Callender on drums, Eric Frater on lead guitar, Richard Ace on piano, Robbie Lyn on keyboards, Vin 'Don D Junior' Gordon on trombone and Felix 'Deadly Headley' Bennett on saxophone. Carlton Manning had comprehensively coached the group in harmony techniques and 'Satta Amasa Gana' was one of the first instances of the Rastafarian influence on reggae music. These themes would later become commonplace but were practically unheard of, and unheard, at the time and 'Satta Amasa Gana' would prove to be an indelible influence, "lyrically, rhythmically and spiritually", on the music of the coming decade. Initial white label pressings were backed with 'Jerusalem', while later copies came backed by 'Thunder Storm' a Nyahbinghi driven version of 'Satta' released on the group's own Clinch label. That same year The Abyssinians recorded 'Declaration Of Rights' for Coxsone but this superb song "Get up and fight for your rights my brothers. Get up and fight for your rights my sisters" was also completely out of step with the current reggae mainstream. Coxsone was at the forefront of recording militant conscious tunes and was also working with Winston Rodney, The Burning Spear, at the same time but the time was not right for 'Declaration Of Rights' either. Coxsone originally released the song on a various artists compilation 'Solid Gold' in 1971 although the tune later appeared on a seven inch single backed by a version on the Coxsone label.

The music of The Abyssinians might have been timeless but it took two long years for 'Satta' to register with the record buying public after the group "hustled copies of the record around the Kingston sound systems" until "the tune took off in a big way" and it was eventually voted Number Two Greatest Hit Of 1971 in Swing magazine. Producer Joe Gibbs(Joel Gibson) was the first to version the 'Satta Amasa Gana' rhythm for 'Dub Serial', one of the first ever dub LP's, then with a spoken version from Peter Tosh 'Here Comes The Judge' backed by Winston Wright's instrumental 'Rebeloution' and a further instrumental cut 'Ah So' credited to The Destroyers... a studio aggregation that included horns heroes Tommy McCook and Bobby Ellis. The Abyssinians answered back with a spoken version of 'Satta' on Clinch entitled 'Mabrak' where the trio quoted passages from the Bible and admonished Joe Gibbs "Ah no so..." although Bernard Collins later recalled "but it wasn't until Joe Gibbs bring out this version that everybody start going at this song."

Based at their record shack at Cross Roads the group continued to record a series of classic tunes for Clinch including 'Let My Days Be Long', 'Leggo Beast' aka 'Licken Sticks', 'Poor Jason Whyte' and 'Satta Me No Born Yah' where Bernard adapted 'Declaration Of Rights' to the 'Satta' rhythm. Every single release on the label was perfect, the epitomé of roots rock reggae, songs of hope and faith that inspired, educated and uplifted the spirit. Big Youth deejayed 'Satta' as 'I Pray Thee' in summer 1973and his version proved so popular that it was released not only on Clinch but also on Dahna Dimps & Ista Lion and Big Youth's own Augustus Buchanan & Negusa Nagast labels. The group could never be accused of over-recording although they also worked occasionally for other producers, where they always gave their very best, on classic sides including 'Yim Mas Gan' for Lloyd 'Matador' Daley, 'Reason Time' released on Federal's Roots subsidiary and 'Tenaystillin Wandimae' for Clive 'Azul' Hunt(Clive Hunt) at Sound Tracs. The group then began work on an album for the Sound Tracs label"run by Pat Cooper... you had guys like Clive 'Azul' Hunt, Geoffrey Chung, Mikey Chung... all of the top notch musicians working with the company" . 'Tenaystillin Wandimae' was inexplicably omitted from the group's debut long player 'Satta Massa Gana' when it was released on Penetrate in 1976 although the album included updates of 'Satta', 'Declaration Of Rights' and 'Yim Mas Gan' plus seven other tracks of equal brilliance including the sublime 'Abendigo' ('Abednego') and 'Forward Unto Zion'. The album was pirated in the UK on a white label pressing which unfortunately lessened its impact but it was through this illegal release that the group finally came to the attention of mainstream reggae record buyers. The album was eventually officially released in the UK in 1977 as 'Forward Onto Zion' on Klik, then on Forward the following year and this faultless set has subsequently appeared on a number of different imprints including Azul in the USA and the group's own Clinch label in Jamaica.

After appearing in Jeremy Marre's wonderful 'Roots, Rock Reggae' documentary performing a heart breaking acoustic version of 'Satta' the group were signed to Virgin's Front Line label in London. A number of tracks on the resulting Front Line album, 'Arise', released in 1978 were produced by Bernard Collins while the remainder were produced by Donald and Linford and the set included updates of 'Licken Sticks' and 'Let My Days Be Long', a beautiful adoption and adaptation of 'Nature Boy' entitled 'Jah Loves' and the moving 'This Land Is For Everyone'. The group separated in the early eighties, their music once again out of step with the times, although Donald, as Donald Abyssinians, released the sublime 'Peculiar Number' on Dahna Dimps and Bernard continued to re-release records on the Clinch label in Jamaica. Bernard visited the UK in the late eighties, delved deeper into the archives, and released further cuts of 'Satta' including 'Mandela' from Tommy McCook and Richard Ace's organ cut 'Charming Version' on UK Clinch. The trio came together again in 1989 and recorded the enigmatic '19.95 Plus Tax' album as The Original Abyssinians which was re-released three years later with a slightly altered track listing as 'Reunion' on Artists Only!. In 2004 Steve Barrow of Blood & Fire commissioned the marvellous 'Tree Of Satta' release... an entire CD of 'Satta' versions that mixed and matched established cuts of the rhythm with brand new interpretations from veterans such as Ernest Ranglin and U Roy alongside current hit makers Luciano and Yami Bolo.

Linford had left the group "for good" in 1990 and "he will sing but in the church for Jesus Christ" so in 2004 David Morrison joined Bernard and Donald in The Abyssinians. Over the last ten years the group have toured Europe and the USA mesmerising audiences with their heavenly harmonies and moralising messages... their appearances not only thrilling long time aficionados but also winning over new audiences whenever and wherever they play. Always the connoisseurs group of choice they have never ceased to make spiritually charged music both on record and on stage and their live performances are an affirmation of the lasting beauty of their music. Making no concessions to fads or fashions, their position as elder statesmen is unassailable, and their music has been pivotal to the continued relevance of roots reggae.

Sources:
Dave Hendley, Chris Lane & John MacGillivray: The Abyssinians: Declaration Of Rights Blues & Soul No. 222 29th March 29th to 11th April 1977
www.theabyssinians.com
Mar 9, 2015 (Jan 24, 2020 Update) Text by Harry Hawks
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Abyssinians - Satta Massa Ganna (Give Thanks)
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Abyssinians - Forward On To Zion
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Abyssinians - Satta Massa Ganna (Give Thanks)
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Abyssinians - Satta: The Best Of The Abyssinians
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