Tree Of Satta - The Abyssinians And Friends

Satta Massa Gana - The Abyssinians
Thunderstorm - Bongo Herman
Mabrak - The Abyssinians
I Pray Thee - Big Youth
Charming Version - Lloyd Charmers
Wisdom - Prince Far I
Satta Me No Born Yah - Bernard Collins
I Saw Esau - Dillinger
Mandela - Tommy McCook
Satta Don - Bernard Collins
Blessed - U Roy
Man Of Jah Order - Luciano
It's A Joy - Natural Black
Conspiracy - Yami Bolo
Dislocate - Capleton
How Long - Tony Tuff
Ranglin Satta - Ernest Ranglin
Corner Stone - Jah Mali
Good And Bad - Anthony B
Dahina Dimps - Dean Fraser
 
In December 2001, Blood and Fire received a phone call from Bernard Collins. co-founder and lead vocalist of the Abyssinians vocal trio; Bernard was offering to license to us a one-rhythm album featuring 16 cuts of the roots anthem 'Satta Massa Gana'. The set was to begin with the original 1969 vocal cut and was to include all the versions recorded during the 1970s, ending up with Bernard's 'Satta Don' vocal recorded in 1995. Bernard even had a title; the set was to be called 'Tree Of Satta' because he reasoned that the song was like a tree that had borne much fruit and grown many branches. In fact, there are over 450 different songs which utilise the 'Satta Massa Gana' bassline. Naturally, we were very interested; 'Satta Massa Gana' is, for us and many others, the greatest roots song of all time.

For our part, since there were only 14 cuts already recorded during the period 1969-1976, we suggested that Bernard might try recording some of today's roots artists on the original 1969 rhythm track. We made a few suggestions and Bernard began to voice some of the newer artists. To date, he has made a further 16 versions. we made our choice from the 'old' and the newly-voiced cuts; this album is the result.

'Satta Massa Gana' was written and recorded at a pivotal point in Jamaica's cultural history, the end of a period during which various self-styled prophets and leaders had created a distinct cultural-social identity for the descendants of Jamaica's former slave population, the ghetto poor of mid-20th century Kingston.

This period of gestation which began in the late 19th and early 20th century with Pan-Africanists such as Robert Love and the much better-known Marcus Garvey, as well as the 'flying preacher' Alexander Bedward and the early Rasta leader Leonard Howell, founder of the celebrated Pinnacle community, really culminated in the visit to Jamaica of Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1966. The visit of the Negus conferred on the Rasta people of Jamaica a validation which significantly helped to erode their earlier pariah status in Jamaican society, and led on to worldwide interest and awareness of Rasta, most notably manifested in the subsequent global success of Bob Marley.

These notes will attempt to trace some of the genesis and themes of 'Satta Massa Gana', for the most part utilising quotation from the Abyssinians themselves, taken from interviews conducted by reggae archivist Carter van Pelt and published via his internet website '400 Years'; secondary material was collected by radio producer Nicky Birch and this writer in April 2002.

The history of the Abyssinians begins when Bernard Collins arrived in Kingston from St Catherine in the early 1960s. Bernard met up with the Heptones' Leroy Sibbles, who also introduced him to Carlton Manning & The Shoes. Two of Carlton's brothers, Donald and Linford, became members of the Abyssinians with Bernard. At the same time, Bernard had developed a deep interest in Rasta:

'You see, the Rasta influence long time, even before His Majesty come. When His Majesty come now and see the people actually see him, they get even more involved, cause people start seeing themselves more and want to identify Themselves. Back in Jonestown near Baker Street, where Donald and I (used to meet), and he had another brother who was a priest in the (Ethiopian) Church at one time. He was a man who used to... have classes around there, where we could all go there 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, information, so during that time we used to keep classes round there. That's how come we get acquainted with the Amharic. Donald elder brother who died some years ago, used to keep a school there. Bredren from all about used to come there and learn.'

Carlton Manning had written a song called 'Happy Land', released as the b-side of the first pressings of Carlton & The Shoes' classic 1968 hit 'Love Me Forever' on Studio One. 'Happy Land' begins with two lines which are also the first tow lines of 'Satta Massa Gana', although the latter's melody is completely different to the earlier song. Donald Manning was studying the (Ethiopian) language Amharic at the time, and 'Satta Massa Gana' was said to mean 'Give Praises' in that language. In an interview with Carter van Pelt, Donald Manning recalled:

'When we sing 'Satta Amassa Gana', I was giving thanks to God, but you can't give thanks to God and say 'Satta Amassa Gana'. So when I go back and read the Amharic books and I realise that, I go back and say 'You think a so?' Version 'Satta' now, I say 'You think a so? It no so. Tena Yi Stillin. Dina Ifzhabhier Y Mas Gan. Satta Amassa Gana'. When I say 'Dina' mean 'good', 'Igzhabier' mean 'God', 'Yi Mas Gan' (means) 'he may be praise', so correct the mistake that I made by singing 'Satta Massa Gana'.

(In fact, according to various students of Amharic, the correct phrase for 'Give praise' would be 'misgana sittu'. Apparently 'misgana' is a noun meaning 'praise', from the verb 'Amessegene', to praise.)

Bernard had auditioned for Treasure isle, but it wasn't until early 1969 that he decided to record his own music for himself, rather than entrust it to another producer. He decided to get some time at Clement Dodd's Studio One, noticing that other producers like Harry Mudie and Harry J (Johnson) also hired Mr Dodd's studio to record.

'What I did now, I say, I'm going to start save and do my own session. Like wha' I see Moodie's do. Cause as long as you have some money, you can go in and do your ting. That's how come. And at the time, Donald and I come together, and we just go inside of Coxsone and do the recording. Pay Coxsone for the session and everything. But 'Declaration Of Rights' now, was the second song I do. Because after 'Satta Massa Gana' is like a whole heap of little things, so I went back to Coxsone to see if I actually coulda do some tune for him. So Leroy Sibbles was a good friend of mine from the Heptones, cause he generally used to come along in Trenchtown there where I tell you I go and meet. So Leroy say come along a de studio, so I went there one day and we lay down a track. The first track I lay was a tine called 'Cheating Is Wrong'. And Coxsone came and he heard the track and he say he think I could do a better track. And I went back and I did 'Declaration Of Rights'. A couple months after I realised he released it on an album called Solid Gold, a kind of all-star album. That was about 71, 72. With Leroy Sibbles singing harmony along with George Henry...

In the meantime, 'Satta Massa Gana' had enjoyed considerable success in the dancehalls, both in the original vocal version, and in an instrumental copy made by Tommy McCook & Bobby Ellis (under the name Destroyers) for Joe Gibbs.  Bernard said:

'If you listen to the flip side of 'Mabrak', same 'Satta' version, 'You tink a so?' The flip side is drum and bass. That was release from '70 so. Because we record that tune on two track. 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 man!' And we just release the flip side 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'. Cause we get the dub wax a it right in the dancehall, and from there on you find the dub and version start springing up. From '70 come down. Because as I say when 'Satta' release it was like two A-side, in '69. But by '70, this version business came in, where you could just version back the same original track and put it on the flip side. All of this take place in the '70s, coming down. Version business...'

The Abyssinians recorded again for producer Lloyd 'Matador' Daley ('Yim Mas Gan'), some further singles released on Bernard's Clinch label, and the excellent 'Love Comes And Goes' but it wasn't until mid decade that they recorded an album which eventually became titled 'Forward On To Zion' for a short-lived outfit called Sound Tracs. That LP surfaced briefly in 1976 in the UK on a white label; it was released on the Penetrate label in Jamaica. It has been reissued several times, both legally (by Heartbeat in the USA) and illegally (i.e. without permission of all of the original trio). The group next recorded the album 'Arise', released by Virgin Records in 1978. In 1982, the group recorded their third album ('Forward') for the US independent Alligator.

Following this period, the three members went their separate ways; at one point in the 1990s there were two versions of the group, one featuring Bernard Collins, the other with the Manning brothers. Last year, the group reunited, with Bernard and Donald Manning singing together, alongside 'new' member David Morrison. hopefully they will sort out any issues that remain between them and continue the legacy of what is arguably the greatest roots harmony group of all time.

1. Satta Massa Gana - The Abyssinians
This is the original vocal cut featuring Bernard Collins, Donald and Linford Manning, recorded in March 1969 at Studio One, Brentford Road, Kingston. Trombonist Vin Gordon remembered the session well:

'I remember something good about that. We put down that song at 7 o'clock in the morning. It was a private session. But we used Coxsone Dodd's studio. The group played the rhythm (on guitar) and we find the introduction... it was me and Headley. That session it was so quick. It was like a live session. It was so early that you got an early morning buzz out of it. The melody and the minor key. I remember that morning man. The flow was right cause it was so early. The first tune always be the best one cause the vibes is there. It's a good rhythm - why now, everybody can go in a it up to now, 'cause the rhythm is so good... The song went into the next session. I think Harry Mudie came up and wanted to do a song, I think it was the back of 'Drifters' (sic). That song did right in the same morning.

2. Thunderstorm - Bongo Herman
Featuring Bongo Herman - the renowned percussionist who had played for Haile Selassie I on his arrival at Kingston Airport in 1966 - with Donald Manning on repeater. Bongo Herman has also cut a new version which will hopefully be released on volume 2 of 'Tree Of Satta'.

3. Mabrak - The Abyssinians
Conceived as a riposte to the 'versioning' of the original 'Satta' rhythm by Joe Gibbs & The Destroyers instrumental 'A So', this has all three group members declaiming various phrases from the Amharic, as well as sounding off about the practice of copying another's work. When Donald Manning says 'This is it, originally...' at the beginning of this third version of 'Satta Massa Gana' it's no idle boast. The original 'Satta Massa Gana' has gone on to become the greatest Rasta anthem and a genuine roots classic...

4. I Pray Thee - Big Youth
An early Big Youth masterpiece based on Psalm 2, which Jah Youth recut with the Soul Syndicate band for his own label shortly after this recording was made; that version is available on 'Natty Universal Dread' (BAFCD 034). As good as that version is, this cut is the first.

5. Charming Version - Lloyd Charmers
Lloyd Charmers (real name Lloyd Tyrell) began his career as a member of the Charmers vocal duo, recording proto-ska with partner Teddy for Prince Buster. Later in the 1960s he became a member of the Uniques with Roy Shirley,co-composing the classic rock steady tune 'My Conversation'. By the early 1970s. he was running his own joint venture - Lovelink - with BB Seaton and Ken Boothe which also used a similar clasped hand image as Bernard Collins' 'Clinch' imprint for its logo. The multi-talented Charmers - vocalist, musician, producer - still found time to contribute this organ version. Based in the UK since topping the UK charts in 1974 with his production of the David Gates song 'Everything I Own' for vocalist Ken Boothe, Lloyd remains one of reggae's most astute producers.

6. Wisdom - Prince Far I
The voice of thunder delivers some great lines - 'By wisdom he made the heaven and stretched out the earth above the water and made a great light: the sun to rule by day and the moon and star to rule by night; a thousand years in thy sight is like an evenin' gone' - in his truly inimitable style. Prince Far I was senselessly shot to death in 1983.

7. Satta Me No Born Yah - Bernard Collins
Bernard's solo version with reworked lyrics, voiced at King Tubby's and originally released on Clinch 7" 45rpm with track 8 (see below) on the flip.

8. I Saw Esau - Dillinger
Dillinger, recorded just before he became one of the most successful deejays of the mid-1970s via his Channel One hits. His lyrics incorporate both biblical story sources and nursery rhyme elements into a satisfying humorous style that he subsequently made his trademark.

9. Mandela - Tommy McCook
A fittingly dignified horn line - played by Tommy on tenor sax and Vivian Hall on trumpet - graces the rhythm here, further augmented with percussion, recorded in 1976. As Bernard remembered it: 'Those overdubs were the same sessions where me did 'This Land' - about 1976.

10. Satta Don - Bernard Collins
Bernard revisited the rhythm in 1995; the new lyrics reflect the consistent versioning of 'Satta', whose rhythm had been copied over 400 times since it was first recorded. Bernard told Carter van Pelt: '...because normally when it released first, it used to just play in the dancehall, because 'Satta' is really a dancehall tune in those days, because it was in the dance it used to play. Home buyers never have it. People in the home never buy much of it. It was just sound system people...'

11. Blessed - U-Roy
Psalms 1 chanted in definitive style by the dj godfather. Born Ewart Beckford, U-Roy drew the blueprint for Jamaican deejaying, initially through his work on King Tubby's legendary sound system and his chart-topping releases for Duke Reid. 35 years later, his abilities and superb vocal tone remain seemingly unaltered by time.

12. Man Of Jah - Luciano
Luciano was born Jepther McClymont in Davey Town, Manchester on 20th October 1974. He got his start in the music business recording for Castro Brown and Freddie McGregor, but really found his direction during his association with Philip 'Fatis' Burrell which began in 1993. Since then he has become the pre-eminent vocalist of the new roots music, with a worldwide following enhanced considerably via the 'modern classic' status accorded to albums like 'Where There Is Life' (1995) and 'The Messenger' (1996). Vocally reminiscent of the late Dennis Brown, he is a brilliant live performer and remains fully committed to the twin themes of consciousness and spirituality - as he sings here, 'a luta continua', the struggle carries on.

13. It's A Joy -Natural Black
Guyanan-born Natural Black (born Mortimer Softley in Georgetown on 16th March 1975) arrived in Jamaica in 1995, determined to establish himself in the birthplace of reggae. He recorded singles for Jack Scorpio, Beres Hammond's Harmony House label and Freddie McGregor's Big Ship, but his career took off when he met his manager, Roger Grant of Organic Records in 2000. Since then he has toured Europe and released his first album (Patate Records, Paris). In the future, he looks sure tp progress further from that inspiring debut set.

14. Conspiracy - Yami Bolo
Born Rolando Ephraim McLean on 1st October 1970 and growing up in Kingston 13, Yami got his start singing on dubplates for Jah Stitch, selector for Lincoln 'Sugar' Minott's Youth Promotion sound system. He went on to make music with the late roots maestro Augustus Pablo, before recording the excellent album 'Up Life Street' for producer Trevor 'Leggo' Douglas. He has also recorded for Sly Dunbar and Tappa Zukie, as well as many sides on his own Yam Euphony label. here he delivers a suitably apocalyptic lyric - 'More fire and flood rains, come to wash 'way Babylon' runs one couplet - and further embellishes it with various 'Waterhouse style' vocal slurs and fills in his easily recognisable style.

15. Dislocate - Capleton
Of all the 'bobo dread' deejays, Capleton (b. Clifton George Bailey III, 13th April 1967, Islington, St Mary) is arguably the most uncompromising, both on record and in his brilliantly energising live performances. His lyrics here - different to his previous 'Satta' anthem 'Raggy Road' recorded for Bobby Digital - reflects that brilliant consciousness to the fullness, with a blistering attack on false leaders and their manipulation of the youth, coupled with a reminder that judgement will be rendered, since 'by your works you will get paid'.

16. How Long - Tony Tuff
Tony Tuff was born Winston Morris in Western Kingston, 1955; he started out with Derrick Howard and Sugar Minott as a member of the African Brothers vocal trio. They cut an excellent string of 45s under that group name, sounding a bit like a junior version of the Abyssinians, before separating to pursue their own solo careers. Tony worked with Ranking Joe, and began recording extensively for many producers, most notably Vivian 'Yabby You' Jackson in the late 1970s, and the late Henry 'Junjo' Lawes in the early 1980s. His performance here - slightly reminiscent of Gregory Isaacs at his peak - showcases his plaintive and thoroughly winning style.

17. Ranglin Satta - Ernest Ranglin
Ernest Ranglin (b. 19th June 1932, Robin's Hall, Manchester, Ja.) is not only the premier Jamaican guitarist, playing on numerous Studio One and Treasure Isle sessions throughout the 1960s, as well as on later classics like the Melodians' 'Rivers Of Babylon' and 'Heart Of The Congos', he is also a top-rated jazz guitarist with a thoroughly deserved worldwide reputation, based on his extensive catalogue (either under his own name or in fruitful collaborations with fellow Jamaican, keyboard king Monty Alexander). Blessed with a formidable technique, his bebop roots are fully manifested in his assured improvisations on the original 1969 rhythm track.

18. Corner Stone - Jah Mali
Jah Mali - born Ryan Thomas on 5th April 1972, at Race Course, Clarendon - began his career with Bobby Digital's Brickwall label and Donovan Germain's Penthouse operation, cutting albums for both these leading Jamaican producers ('Treasure Box' and 'El Shaddai' respectively) and despite, by Jamaican standards, a relatively small output since the late 1990s he remains one of the best vocalists to emerge in the wake of the late Garnett Silk, his early influence. His lyric here shows his remarkable facility with biblical imagery - also in evidence on his early hits.

19. Good And Bad - Anthony B
Born Keith Anthony Blair on 31st March 1976, and growing up in Clarks Town, Trelawny where he deejayed on local sound systems Shaggy Hi-Power and Lover's Voice, Anthony B began recording for the Wizard label before moving on to Richard bell's Star Trail imprint. his first massive hit 'Fire Pon Rome' (1996) is arguably the record that kicked off the whole preoccupation with lyrics that promise 'more fire' for all Babylonians. Since then, Anthony has maintained his position via a series of relatively consistent and frequently stunning releases, along with regular tours which have taken him all over the world. He remains a leading member of reggae's new roots tendency, along with such as Capleton and Sizzla. his lyrics here emphasises his open mindedness, an attribute not always shared by his colleagues, along with his determination and exemplary consciousness.

20. Dahina Dimps - Dean Fraser
Dean Ivanhoe Fraser was born on August 4th, 1957 in Kingston. He learned to play in a community club run by the National volunteers Youth organisation in Jonestown, Kingston. he took lessons from music teacher Babe O'Brien in Trench Town at the age of 15. from there he got a job with the great Sonny Bradshaw's band, and began his recording career by cutting a version of Paul Desmond's immortal 'Take 5' for Inner Circle in 1976. The following year he joined Lloyd Parks' We The People band; he cut his debut LP 'Black Man Horn' in 1978 and since then has maintained his position as Jamaica's leading saxophonist, starting his own 809 Band in the late 1980s and cutting LPs for Island Records, King Jammy, Witty, Mikey Bennett, Phillip 'Fatis' Burrell and others. For Burrell he became the musical director for the early international career of Luciano, arranging that singer's first two Island albums and leading his touring band. in summary, Fraser is a consummate musician; for this version he played soprano and alto sax (in the choruses) on a sublime variation of the original theme and a fitting closer for this first volume of the 'Tree Of Satta'.

In conclusion we would like to point out that this set marks the first time we have ever featured new artists on a Blood And Fire release. We are very happy and honoured to present these representatives of reggae's new generation to our audience and sincerely hope that the efforts of all concerned will find favour with all who love good roots music.
Steve Barrow - January 2004
 
© Blood & Fire