IN THE SOUNDS Top Ten of ’76 I voted this album (then known as Satta A Massagana) number two.
It would have tied at number one with the magical Black Heart Man by Bunny Wailer, if it weren’t for the fact that it wasn’t a Jamaican release, it was an out-and-out bootleg on a white label. Thus, although it was one of the most sought-after Jamaican albums, the Abysinnians never saw any financial returns whatsoever. So conscience knocked it down a place. Silly really.
Well, here we are a year later, and Forward On To Zion still slays me every time I hear it… Let’s face it, folks, I just want to do a straight conversion job on everybody who reads this.
OK. The Abysinnians consist of two brothers, Donald and Linval Manning (not Drummond as I mistakenly wrote in my JA story all-too-many months back) and Bernard Collins. The trio came together in ’69, and their very first release (cut at Channel One with Heptones whizz Leroy Sibbles arranging) was Satta A Massagana, now firmly established as an anthem as potent and integral to JA music as Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’ is to rock ‘n’ roll.
The Abysinnians are the Great Undiscovered Jamaican band – or let me put it to ya this way, this album’s their first chance to be heard by a mass white British market. The only reason I can think of for them not being signed in the Rush (remember the Rush?) round ’75 is their lack of dynamic hustler/manager to perform the services that Prince Tony Robinson fulfilled for the comparatively mediocre Gladiators.
The Abysinnians write great songs. No kid. And their three-part harmonies break every rule, shatter every preconception. Each conjunction/configuration of baritone, tenor and alto tingles previous dormant knobs on the spine, unlocking your heart by unexpected combinations. You can never anticipate the Abysinnians’ harmonies – they always startle by hitting some wild, keening permutation of notes that cut through resistence with a honey laser. Bernard’s lead vocals breathe soul/passon/anguish/tenderness, while the Drummond Brothers’ back-up voices sway behind him with unearthly siren allure. On ‘I And I’, the three sing in classic gospel-style call and response, beseeching. When their voices merge on the chorus, the attraction’s irresistible as the moon tugging the sea.
Their voices glide over a rhythm track of appalling splendour. JA’s finest pool their energies to create cross-swirling rhythms that pulse softly, like harbour lights reflected in ebb-tide waters. A few names to indicate quality – Horsemouth Wallace drums, Touter Harvey and the Wailers’ Tyrone Downie play keyboards, Tommy McCook blows. Among others. I may be being fanciful, but you know Family Man in the Wailers conjures rhythms you’ve never heard but always felt? Robbie Shakespeare does the same with melody bass lines – of course! I always knew that sweet’n’low tune existed I just never heard it till now… For what it’s worth, it was the bass line on ‘Declaration Of Rights’ that decided me to play bass, on the grounds that it was unthinkable anything could be that good without my trying it. Seen? SEEN!
Feel free to think I’m some kind of ranting nutter who’s finally flipped on account of the full moon. You can imagine me baying at the stars, frothing at the mouth, in a red gold and green straitjacket if you like, but if you don’t make an effort to hear this record, I’ll know that I’m not the one who’s nuts.
© Vivien Goldman, Sounds, 2 July 1977