The Abyssinians – Satta Massagana

8th February 2022 · 1960s, 1969, Music, Reggae

Satta Massagana was the debut single of The Abyssinians, arguably the greatest of all the vocal groups to come out of Jamaica.

With their heavenly harmonies, dark themes and devotional lyrics, The Abyssinians are one of the finest in the pantheon of Jamaica’s vocal groups, defining and refining the genre with their deeply spiritual approach to reggae music.

They made their debut with this classic tune – Satta Massagana – recorded back in 1969 at Studio One and released on a rare 10-inch vinyl.

The version – Thunder Storm – features the sensational percussion of Bongo Les and Bongo Herman Davis, as seen in the opening sequence of the great reggae film Rockers from 1978.

The Abyssinians were originally formed in 1968 by friends Bernard Collins and Donald Manning, adding Donald’s brother Lynford from yet another brother’s band, Carlton & The Shoes.

This song, a Rastafarian hymn sung in Amharic and loosely adapted from Carlton’s song Happy Land – also produced by Coxsone Dodd at Studio One – was the new group’s first recording the following March.

However, it would not be released for another two years because, bafflingly, the normally wise Coxsone Dodd saw no commercial potential for the song, believing it to constitute “cultural subversion.”

Two years later the group bought the master tapes from him for £90 (an outlandishly inflated sum at the time) and released it on their own Clinch label. With its throbbing rhythm and melancholy melody, and a devotional message dreaming of faraway Africa, it struck a chord across Jamaica.

Its massive success prompted Dodd, realising the error of his earlier decision, to release not one but two instrumentals – a piano version (Night In Ethiopia) by Jackie Mittoo and a mellow sax version by Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks.

Meanwhile,The Abyssinians released further takes on the song by toasters Big Youth (I Pray Thee) and Dillinger (I Saw Esau), as well as another sax instrumental (Mandella) by Tommy McCook, and their own devotional adaptation (Mabrak) featuring the group reciting passages from the Old Testament in Amharic.

It has since been recorded by dozens of artists.