Few groups captured the essence of Roots Reggae as this Jamaican close-harmony trio. The members were Bernard Collins, lead vocalist and brothers Donald and Lynford Manning, who, along with their older brother Carlton had previously been members of his popular Studio One group, Carlton and his Shoes
Committed Rastafarians, the Abyssinians began singing together in 1968 and in 1969 they made their first recordings together at Studio One, including their now legendary first single, ?Satta Massa Gana? (meaning ?Give Thanks and Praise? in the Ethiopian Amharic language). However, Studio One owner Coxsone Dodd declined to release the track, apparently telling the group that he didn?t think the Jamaican public would buy mournful, deeply religious music sung partly in the ancient language of Ethiopia but the trio disagreed and were so sure their track could be a hit they saved up the money to buy the master tape from Dodd and in 1971 the track finally came out on their own newly-formed Clinch label
With it?s deeply devotional message, heavy rhythm and wistful lyrics dreaming of an Africa far away ?Satta? immediately struck a chord not just in Jamaica but with Reggae fans all around the world. A battle then broke out between Clinch and Studio One when Coxsone Dodd rush released ?Satta? himself, backed with another track they?d recorded at the same session, ?Jerusalem?. DJ versions inevitably followed (after Clinch re-recorded the rhythm, using many of the musicians from Studio One, including Lynford and Donald?s brother Carlton on guitar) including Big Youth?s ?I Pray Thee?, Dillinger?s ?I Saw E Saw? and the Abyssinians own new toasting version entitled ?Mabrak?, which saw each member reciting passages of the Bible in Amharic
Dodd responed by releasing two new instrumental versions, ?Night in Ethiopia? by Studio One legend Jackie Mittoo and ?Cool It? by saxophonist Tommy McCook, who, to confuse matters even further, then recorded another instrumental version for Clinch called ?Mandela? !
The Abyssinians released three further hit singles in 1971 ? ?Declaration of Rights?, ?Jerusalem? and ?Let My Days Be Long?. Over the next few years they continued releasing excellent singles both on their own Clinch label as well as recording tracks for other producers such as the successful singles "Yim Mas Gan," for Lloyd "Matador" Daley (which was also released on the Harry J label in the UK, further increasing their popularity outside of Jamaica) and ?Love Comes and Goes? for Tommy Cowan
The trio?s debut album, ?Forward Unto Zion? was released in 1976. It included re-recordings of classics alongside new material and it brought the group further international acclaim. Their follow-up, ?Arise?, paid for by Virgin during their foray in to the Reggae market was released in 1978 through a deal with Bob Marley?s Tuff Gong label but it was nowhere near as successful as it?s predecessor, not helped by the increasingly strained relationship between the group members themselves.
Soon after they finished recording the album Collins quit and was replaced by Lynford and Donald?s brother Carlton. Bernard Collins subsequently relaunched the Clinch label, frequently having minor hits whilst also reissuing their back catalogue. There are now two groups both calling themselves the Abyssinians, one fronted by Collins and the other by the Manning brothers. However, the music they made together as a trio in more harmonious times will always be remembered amongst Reggae fans as some of the finest Roots music ever recorded