Caught up in the Jamaican recording industry’s fretful business depravities, the Abyssinians recorded one of the first reggae tracks dealing with Rastafarian concerns. “Satta Massagana,” as recorded in 1969, remains a towering achievement in the divination of a uniquely Jamaican take on popular musics. Making use of Studio One’s recording facilities after hours, so as to avoid the necessity of paying producers and engineers, came as a result of Bernard Collins functioning as a session guitarist for the historic label. Of course, at the time the song was recorded, no one wanted to release it as a single, figuring religious concerns would get in the way of the party atmosphere that touring DJs and their sound-systems depended on. Understandable reasoning, but the vocal trio, in addition to Collins then comprising Donald Manning and his brother Linford, created a song weaving in a horn melody snatched from the East and set alongside lyrical recognition of divine powers. Taking the prayers of rural, working-class Jamaicans, turning it into a danceable tune with a memorable chorus, even if it was written in Amharic, an Ethiopian language, resulted in so many other performers using the melody, the Abyssinians reworked the composition a few times—most notably as “Mabrak.” As with most groups dating so early in Jamaica’s musical development, a number of singers have come in and left the trio. Most frequently, Manning’s brothers have filled out the line-up with Collins being the other mainstay. Unfortunately, a rift developed between the two principals as a result of ownership disputes regarding recordings. But with the message in the Abyssinians’ music trumping concerns of the material world, all was forgiven so a new generation of reggae fans can witness a performance by this troupe of singers when they take the stage alongside any number of other autochthonous strains at the Chicago Folk and Roots Festival. (Dave Cantor)
July 10 at the Chicago Folk and Roots Festival, Welles Park, Lincoln Avenue at Montrose, (773)728-6000. 4pm. $10 suggested donation.