The roots harmony vocals trio the Abyssinians was formed
in 1968 by founding members Donald Manning, Bernard Collins
and Linford Manning. It was in 1969 with their release “Satta
Massagana” recorded on Coxson Dodd’s Studio One
label—a Rastafarian hymn based on the Ethiopian Amharic
language, that launched them into the ranks of Reggae music
greats. “Satta Massagana” became one of reggae’s
most popular songs; becoming an anthem that was heard on the
radios, in the dancehalls and in the churches of Jamaica.
It was also covered by many other International artists’
including Third World. What followed were a string of hits
of which included "Declaration of Rights," "Yi
Mas Gan." and “Let My Days Be Long”. Early
albums were a collection of singles recorded throughout the
1970’s on their own label—Clinch, of which included
“Forward On To Zion” (1976) and “ARISE”
The group separated in 1980, during the separation group
co-founder Donald Manning performed internationally under
the name The Abyssinians with his brother Carlton Manning
(of Carlton & The Shoes) and singer David Morrison. In
Jamaica, Bernard Collins performed on stage with longtime
associate George Henry.. In 1989, Donald, Bernard and Linford
joined together again to record over the next three years.
These sessions resulted as the originally released album,
“$19.95 + TAX” in 1995 with a very limited number
of CD’s printed. Artists Only! Records realized the
importance of this album and in 1998 re-titled and re-released
this album as “REUNION”. “REUNION”
now stands strong as one of The Abyssinians greatest albums.
In 2004, Donald Manning & Bernard Collins reunited on
stage for the first time in over ten years along with singer
David Morrison, performing on tour across Europe in the winter,
at Colorado’s Reggae on the Rocks in the summer, and
in December on a two week tour along the California coast
. In February and March of 2005 they returned for an extended
tour of Europe, and during the Summer of 2005 they toured
the West Coast throughout California, Oregon and the Rocky
Mountains in Montana, Utah, and Colorado. During the Summer
they also performed at The 12th Annual Sierra Nevada World
Music Festival, The 10th Annual Monterey Bay Reggae Festival
and The 4th Annual Soul Rebel Festival.
Until Heartbeat Records reissued Satta Massagana (a.k.a.
Forward Onto Zion) in 1993, few groups in reggae were more
of an enigma than the Abyssinians. "Satta Massagana,"
has been referred to as "reggae’s national anthem."
The recording session that yielded "Satta" was arranged
and financed independently and clearly marked a turning point
for reggae -- lyrically, rhythmically, and spiritually.
Donald Manning explains how the song was born. "Carlton
[Manning] wrote ‘Happy Land’ [b-side to ‘Love
Me Forever’] with lyrics, ‘There is a land far,
far away, where there’s no night, there’s only
day. Look into the book of life, and you will see that there’s
a land far, far away.’"
"Satta Massagana" (meaning ‘give thanks’)
is obviously notable for its use of Amharic, the language
of Ethiopia (Abyssinia). The Amharic is a result of Donald
Manning’s Rastafarian influence on the group. The study
of Amharic in Kingston in the 60s was a function of the post-colonial,
Pan-African identity and Rastafarian awareness sweeping the
ghetto after Haile Selassie’s 1966 visit to the island.
Collins recalls how Donald’s brother Neville used to
teach Amharic in the Jonestown area of Kingston. "[He]
was a man who used to . . . have classes around there, where
we could all go and learn the language, cause he used to get
books from Ethiopia through England -- Ethiopian opinions.
And those books contain all literatures that we need . . .
That’s how come we get acquainted with the Amharic .
. . Bredren from all about used to come there and learn."
Donald Manning explains the Amharic in some of the group’s
well-known compositions. "Tena Yi Stillin. Dina Igzhabhier
Y Mas Gan. Satta Massagana.’ When I say ‘Dina’
means ‘good,’ ‘Igzhabier’ means ‘God,’
‘Y Mas Gan,’ [means] ‘he may be praised,’
so I correct the mistake that I made by singing ‘Satta
Massagana’ [to God]. ‘Tena Yi Stillin’ means
‘greetings.’ It means ‘good morning.’
It means ‘good bye.’ It means ‘good afternoon.’
It means ‘health, may He give for thee.’"
The legendary "Satta" recording session included
Leroy Sibbles on bass, Fil Callendar on drums, Eric Frater
on guitar, Robbie Lyn on keyboards, Vin Gordon on trombone
and Felix "Deadley Headley" Bennett on saxophone.
"That tune really, no one specially [gave] a specific
arrangement to that song," recalls Bernard Collins. "We
went there singing the song on our guitars. Cause we had like
the melody progression. So we went there playing the chords
and everything on the guitar, and while we play, everybody
just came in. Cause these men were professional musicians
. . . You haffe say they did all the arrangement really, Leroy
Sibbles feel out his own bass line, Deadley Headley . . .
cause we didn't go in there with no special arrangement --
just the basic chords and the progression of the song and
the melody. Is just a vibes tune.
"[We] released it first on Clinch, it was released as
‘Far Away Land.’ It wasn’t till after a
time, Donald Manning say we should call it ‘Satta Massagana,’
and then we actually register the song as ‘Satta Massagana,’
[with] all three members owning the copyright. All three of
us rallied around to help get it pressed, get to the record
shops, and everything.
"We record that song [‘Satta’] in March
1969, and it wasn’t till about 1970 that [producer]
Joe Gibbs actually [remade] a recording of it. He was the
first one who did a rerecording version, [which] he called
‘A So,’ an instrumental with the Destroyers. That
him do [with] Tommy McCook, Bobby Ellis, and him come by some
other hornsmen. And it playin on the radio. It [was] just
an instrumental. But . . . instrumental versions just bring
back the record right back to the people, because when it
[was] released first, it used to just play in the dancehall.
Because ‘Satta’ is really a dancehall tune in
those days. Home buyers never have it. It was just sound system
people, but it wasn’t until Joe Gibbs bring out this
version that everybody start going at this song."
The original "Satta" recording was ‘versioned’
(remixed and/or re-voiced) more than a dozen times, including
the Abyssinians’ own remake "Mabrak," a direct
response to Joe Gibbs’ "A So." Instrumentals
included "Thunderstorm" featuring Bongo Herman,
and several Tommy McCook/Vivien Hall horn overdubs including
"Mandela." Collins later re-voiced the song as "Satta
Me No Born Yah." Prince Far I, Big Youth, Dillinger and
others also took shots at the rhythm. Since its debut in 1969,
nearly every producer in reggae has remade "Satta,"
and literally hundreds of remakes of the song exist.
Collins says that "Satta" is at the root of modern
dancehall and dub. "[‘Satta’] was like the
first dancehall song. And the first dub, ‘Satta Massagana.’
. . . if you listen to the flip side of ‘Mabrak,’
same ‘Satta’ version . . . is drum and bass. Because
we record that tune on two-track [two-channel tape recorder].
When I was at the studio one day, cutting a pure stamper,
one of my bredren just put it on single track [one channel],
and we just get the drum and bass. And him say, ‘but
wait, this sound good mon!’ And we just release the
flipside of ‘Mabrak,’ which is ‘Issat’
-- pure drum and bass. And that used to play in the dancehall,
regular. Cause we used to sell a lot of dub plates, like a
special to sound systems -- Sir George, Tubby’s, and
all them ready soun (soundsystems). Cause we get the dub wax
of it right in the dancehall, and from there on you find the
dub and version start springing up. From 1970 come down .
. . Version business!" The Abyssinians were featured
performing "Satta" in a capella style in the film
Roots, Rock, Reggae in 1976 and again in Rockers in 1978.
These are the only known film appearances of the original
Carlton Manning’s key role in mentoring the Abyssinians
is comparable to the role Joe Higgs played with the Wailers
years earlier. Not only did Carlton Manning coach the trio
in the minor chord harmony singing that would define its style,
but he taught Donald to play the guitar. Donald Manning recalls
his brother’s efforts. "Most of the harmony that
we sing, Carlton teach us, because me and Bernard was singing
together and Carlton told me that because I was playing the
guitar, Bernard will sing [more] leads than I do . . . so
I must sing the harmony."
Carlton Manning explains how the minor chord harmony style
that he developed with The Shoes characterized The Abyssinians.
"[My] harmonies are mainly minor chords on a 7th, 9th,
13th [tertian (3rds)] harmony. If you know the [guitar], you
deal with the chords and formulate the harmonies from there
if the artists can take it. Minor chords are intricate. The
scales are not the regular scales. You have to know what you’re
doing musically. [That’s how] you get the Far East sound."
From the early to mid-70s, the Abyssinians recorded sparingly,
but the quality of the group’s work was remarkable.
Bernard Collins returned to Studio One in 1970 (without the
Manning brothers) to record "Declaration of Rights"
with George Henry and Leroy Sibbles singing backing vocals.
The recording featured an essential arrangement and organ
melody by Jackie Mittoo and rhythm by Leroy Sibbles on bass
and Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace on drums. Notably,
the song was one of Bob Marley’s favorites, and a lyrical
influence can be heard on The Wailers’ well-known "Get
Up, Stand Up" recorded in 1973.
The next Abyssinians recording sessions yielded "Let
My Days Be Long" and "Poor Jason Whyte," both
released as 45s on the group’s Clinch label. Another
of the group’s most enduring tracks was "Y Mas
Gan," recorded for Lloyd "Matador" Daley in
1972. Other singles, including "Reason Time," "Leggo
Beast," and "Love Comes and Goes" followed
by the mid-70s.
The Abyssinians’ first full album was recorded in 1976
and is regarded as one of the greatest in the history of Jamaican
music. The sessions were supervised by Clive Hunt and resulted
in the album known both as Forward Onto Zion and Satta Massagana.
Every track exudes the spiritual essence of the Abyssinians.
Regrettably, the tapes were pirated, and the album didn’t
see legitimate release until Heartbeat (US) and Blue Moon
(France) released it in the mid-90s.
Collins recalls the sessions for the album. "It’s
a really original album. Everybody put themself in it. I know
I put myself deep in that album. And I figure the other bredren
"The story is . . . you have a company at that time
here name Sound Tracs [run by] Pat Cooper. You had guys like
Clive Hunt, Geoffrey Chung, Mikey Chung -- all of the top
notch [musicians] working with the company. Donald told me
these people would like to record the album, so we went there
and lay down ten tracks. . . but before the album finish is
like . . . something went wrong within the company. I don't
know what go wrong, but the director of the company actually
went away to the States. Clive Hunt had the tapes, and when
we check Clive Hunt fe find out what going on with the album,
he told us that everybody gone, and the most him can do is
take the tape and try and make some money for himself. So
him start printing the records here [in Jamaica]."
The group’s deeply spiritual, africentric lyrics were
crystallized on virtually every cut on the album, and it featured
remakes of "Satta," "Declaration of Rights,"
and "Y Mas Gan." Donald Manning’s masterpiece
"African Race" is one of defining compositions of
the album and of the group’s career. After a seductively
beautiful acoustic guitar solo by Mikey Chung, the song erupts
into a chilling roots anthem. The lyrics speak with pride
of African heritage and survival of slavery. Donald Manning
explains the inspiration. "I went to the movie theater
in Jamaica name Tropical. And them was showing a movie . .
. them was bringing slave from Africa, and the movie make
I cry . . . when I see what them do to the slave them. When
them was rowing the boat, the man beat the drum for them to
pull the oar . . . and when them could not row the boat anymore,
them throw them overboard and some of them die. Some of them
jump overboard and a lot of different, wicked, evil things
happen. That's why I make that song, 'we are the slave descendent
from the African race. We are proud, it's no disgrace.’"
Despite the illegitimate release of the Clive Hunt sessions,
the success of the "Tenayistillin" single in England
gained the Abyssinians enough credibility with Virgin that
the group became one of the crop signed to the UK giant in
1978. The fruit of the Virgin deal was the Arise album, a
good effort but certainly not the cornerstone that the group
needed for international commercial success. The underexposure
of the Clive Hunt sessions was one of the major tragedies
of the Abyssinians’ career.
The group gained some exposure through its performance at
Sunsplash II in 1979, although the performance was not included
on the documentary film of the event.
Forward, released in 1982 by Alligator in the US, collected
some early tracks like "Jerusalem" (b-side to the
original "Satta" 45), "Mabrak," "Peculiar
Number," several superb Bernard Collins solo cuts, plus
"Forward Onto Zion" and the remake of "Satta,"
both from the Clive Hunt sessions.
The Abyssinians were inactive during the mid-80s, because
Linford Manning left Jamaica in 1980, and Donald left in 1984.
Bernard Collins went to New York in 1986 to work on an album
at Phillip Smart’s HC&F studio on Long Island. Many
of those tracks would be used for the Last Days album. The
Abyssinians would play Sunsplash in Jamaica in 1989 and in
Europe in 1990, and then Linford Manning left the group for
good. The group performed again on Sunsplash 92 in Montego
During the 90s, the Forward album was released on CD (Musidisc),
as well as set called Best Of (Musidisc), which features many
hard to find singles from the early years of the group. Satta
Dub (TABOU.1) and Declaration of Dub (Heartbeat) feature Karl
Pitterson dub mixes of many tracks from the Clive Hunt sessions
alongside other selected dubs. Virgin reissued Arise on CD
in the early 90s.
Collins understands the struggle the Abyssinians still must
endure to ensure the name is known and remembered. "In
Jamaica here now, the Abyssinians do have a name, yes, in
a certain area. If you call upon ‘Satta Massagana,’
‘Declaration of Rights,’ everybody knows those
songs, but if you say ‘Abyssinians’ to most of
the young youths, they don’t know. Sometime them don’t
even know what the word ‘Abyssinian’ mean. They
never hear that word before. But if you say ‘Satta Massagana’
or ‘Declaration of Rights,’ they know the song."
The Abyssinians: David Morrison, Bernard Collins
& Donald Manning
Picture By: Mitin Assefa 2005