The Redistribution & Revival of Roots

20 12 2007

By Derek Beres

It seems impossible that someone wouldn’t immediately take to the quintessential reggae classic “Satta Massagana”. Yet when the Abyssinians recorded it at Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One in 1969, he shelved it for two years; in ‘71 the band had to buy it back for £90. Not only did it become a juggernaut of a hit for the vocal trio, it also set the tone for melodic, spiritually focused roots reggae in the mainstream. Interestingly, at the time only one of the three singers—Donald Manning—was Rastafari. Yet nearly 40 years later that song remains biblical in Rasta folklore.

What are the “roots” of reggae, really? We can trace it back to the African griot tradition and the imported folk stories carried to the Caribbean during slave times. Indian culture planted seeds in the mid-19th century as indentured servants mingled with local Africans and introduced important concepts (karma, redemption) as well as nutrition (Ayurveda, ganja), of which would eventually define Rastafari

Musically, reggae was an interesting concoction of traditional Nyabhingi drumming and chanting set to the tunes of airwave-dominated American R&B, soul and jazz; ska was the Jamaican flip on these. We can probably attribute Toots (of Maytals fame) for coining “reggae”, though it was already a fusion of many forms by that time. Like any art or culture, reggae did not just appear from nowhere, and its roots spread in many directions.

Today, the Golden Age of this song form remains birthright to a handful of important names, three of which are seeing new light from Heartbeat Records: Bob Marley, Lee Perry and the aforementioned Abbysinians, whose Satta Massagana is crucial to the development of those sweet honey harmonies indicative of roots reggae. The three “previously unreleased” tracks, including extended mixes of “Abendigo” and “Poor Jason Whyte”, are nice but unnecessary. This is one of the most important documents regarding the mindset and spiritual musings of Jamaican culture; the original 15 will stand against time for as long as humans have ears to listen with.

Click here to read the full column on PopMatters.



3 responses

20 12 2007

This is an interesting post. In fact, I was listening to this album this morning. I agree that Hindu Saddhus (i.e. Indian indentured servants) influenced the culture that would become Rasta. Shivaites have worn dreads for a couple of thousand years and the word “ganja” is derived from the Ganjes River, located in India.

Yet, I would say that most of the spiritual context of Rasta culture has come from the Hebrew scriptures. The scriptures have proven valid and vital to the pursuit of truth and justice in many movements. Selassie, who confessed Christ as his Savior, found the scriptures so valuable that he had them translated from Ge’ez to Amharic (similar to the translation of the Greek to English in the West).

Peace & Grace!

5 01 2010

Very interesting. I had no idea that Ganjes river and Ganjah got the same roots.
Thanks for the news. 🙂

10 03 2013
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