The Abyssinians are better known for their trio unique harmony roots and spiritual music. It is even said that Satta Massagana is the anthem for reggae music. After a string of hits, like Declaration of Rights, Forward unto Zion, Ymassgan African race and many more, the group never quite managed to break into the mainstream, although they seemed poised for international stardom during the early ’70s/and ’80s. The singers were all born in Kingston, Jamaica, the original member names are Donald and Linford Manning, and Bernard Collins. The group was formed in 1969. Then they recorded Satta Massagana at Coxson Dodd’s Studio 1 and self-released on their Clinch Label.
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. 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 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 Bay.
The group separated in 1980 and reconnected in 1989 joining together again and recorded an album over a three year period named $19.95+Tax. Limited copies were printed and the same album was re-released on the Artist Only Record Label by the name REUNION, the three original members of the Abyssinians began to do their promotional tour. They worked together until 1991 where the group made their split again for the second time when Bernard Collins started to sing with two of his close friends, Donald Manning started to sing with his brother Carlton Manning and David Morrison which they have toured internationally. Carlton Manning had played a key role in mentoring the Abyssinians during the early years. 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 teaches 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.”
In 1993, Heartbeat Records reissued Satta Massagana (a.k.a. Forward Onto Zion),. “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.
“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 . . . Brethren 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. DinaIgzhabhier 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.’”
During the 90s, the Forward album was released on CD (Music disc), as well as a set called Best Of (Music disc), 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.
In 2004, Donald Manning and Bernard Collins re-united with David Morrison, steadily touring Europe, the US and South America throughout the 2010's right up to The Pandemic. In 2023, The Abyssinians will be actively on tour, starting March 24 through April 1 in the UK followed by a cross country US Summer Tour with an appearance along with Rebelution on Saturday August 19 at Reggae On The Rocks — Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado.
Donald Manning will be joined with Everton Pessoa and George Henry. Unfortunately both Bernard and David are unable to travel due to health issues.