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Jah be praised

Ted AlvarezVail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily
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Reggae musics heart lies in celebration. Its perfect party music, with its lilting, bouncy rhythm and sun-kissed melodies nursed on the culture of the Caribbean. But if its heart makes even the staunchest wallflower want to dance, reggaes soul dwells in a deep Rastafarian spirituality that seeks to bring both listener and performer closer to God.

The Abyssinians strive for spiritual relevance perhaps more than any other reggae band: Several of their biggest songs are sung in Amharic, an ancient language of Ethiopa still spoken in some circles and identified with rastafarianisms avatar of God, Haile Selassie. Satta Massagana and Y Mas Gan became anthems for reggae in the 70s, unifying both rastafarians and simple reggae fans alike. In addition to their fierce spiritual messages, The Abyssinians (Donald Manning, David Morrison and Bernard Collins) also became famous for injecting their songs with rich, three-part harmonies. Three voices sang as one in minor key, uniting the music of their Caribbean home with their spiritual home of the Far East. The experimentation of The Abyssinians helped give birth to two main offshoots of reggae: dub and dancehall. Satta Massagana underwent numerous reworkings by both The Abyssinians and other artists, resulting in endless permutations from the initial groove. When I was at the studio one day, one of my bredren just put it on single track [one channel], and we just get the drum and bass, remembered Collins in The Abyssinians official bio. And him say, but wait, this sound good mon! And we just release the flipside of Mabrak, which is Issat pure drum and bass. And that used to play in the dancehall, regular. From there on you find the dub and version start springing up.Outside of spirituality, The Abyssinians (which is an ancient word for Ethiopians) also sang for uplift of their people in spite of horrendous past tragedies. Never is this more vivid than on African Race.I went to the movie theater in Jamaica name Tropical, and them was showing a movie (where) them was bringing slave from Africa, and the movie make I cry, Manning said. When them was rowing the boat, the man beat the drum for them to pull the oar, and when them could not row the boat anymore, them throw them overboard and some of them die. Some of them jump overboard and a lot of different, wicked, evil things happen. Thats why I make that song, we are the slave descendent from the African race. We are proud, its no disgrace.Satta Massagana and Arise became reggae album classics from the fertile 70s, but in the 80s, The Abyssinians disbanded. In the 90s they returned to reclaim their rightful position as some of the founding fathers of modern reggae.In Jamaica here now, the Abyssinians do have a name, yes, in a certain area. If you call upon Satta Massagana, Declaration of Rights, everybody knows those songs, Collins says. But if you say Abyssinians to most of the young youths, they dont know. Sometime them dont even know what the word Abyssinian mean. They never hear that word before. But if you say Satta Massagana or Declaration of Rights, they know the song.Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or talvarez@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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