Drum roll for a classic
The Abyssinians: (from left) Bernard Collins, and brothers Donald and Lyndford Manning.

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 28th of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

Today, family and colleagues of Fil Callender will gather at Swallowfield Chapel in St Andrew for his thanksgiving service. A respected, but low-key musician, the Panamanian-born Callender played drums on the original Sata Masa Gana, considered reggae’s unofficial anthem.

Callender, who went on to play guitar with the In Crowd Band, died May 27 at age 75.

The session for Sata Masa Gana took place in 1969 at Studio One. The Abyssinians — brothers Donald and Lynford Manning and lead vocalist Bernard Collins — recorded the utopic song for their Clinch label.

The trio co-wrote Sata Masa Gana (Amharic for give thanks) at the height of the global black power movement. It has been covered or sampled by multiple artistes, musicians and producers including Third World, Dennis Brown, Micky Hanson and Bobby Digital.

Sata Masa Gana was officially released in 1971 and celebrated its golden anniversary last year. Donald Manning described it as, “The best song ever recorded in Jamaica because it tell yuh about di King of Kings an’ di Lord of Lords.”

Donald, 81, and Lynford live in South Florida. Collins still resides in Kingston at the home where he first met them in the late 1960s; they shared a passion for music and an interest in Rastafari.

The Mannings’ older brother Neville was a priest in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Reading the Bible was a daily ritual at their home in Jones Town.

While working as a groom and exercise jockey at Caymanas Park, Donald also found time for music. Carlton, another Manning brother, was a member of Carlton And The Shoes, best known for the classic rocksteady song Love me Forever.

It was at Carlton’s home in Jones Town that The Abyssinians wrote Sata Masa Gana which depicts a paradise where the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords sits upon a throne and he rules us all”.

In addition to Callender, the side that played on ‘Sata’ was Leroy Sibbles (bass), Eric Frater (rhythm guitar), Richard Ace (piano), Headley Bennett (alto saxophone), and Vin Gordon (trombone).

Although it was two years before the song was released, Sata Masa Gana became an instant hit in the dancehalls and sparked a series of ‘versions’.

Donald Manning has mixed feelings about The Abyssinians’ most famous song.

“I don’t like talk ’bout it, bring back to much bad memories. All kinda robbery gwaan with dat record,” he said.

The Abyssinians recorded the outstanding Sata Masa Gana album in 1976. It contains a fresh version of their signature song, produced by Geoffrey Chung, as well as Declaration of Rights, another reggae standard.

Various versions of The Abyssinians, led by Collins, still performs. They have dates scheduled for the Netherlands and United Kingdom in August.

Fil Callender (Photo: United Reggae)
Howard Campbell

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