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Abyssinians in London

Abyssinians in London

Abyssinians in London

By on - Photos by Emma-Louise - Comment

A redemptive performance, overcoming sound issues early on.

44 years, and a few schisms and reconciliations since their inception, the intricate harmonies of the Abyssinians are a dependable experience live. So much so, that if anything does go awry at their concerts, it’s not likely to be their fault.


Bernard Collins, Donald Manning and third man in the room David Morrison struggled with sound level problems initially in their set at South London’s aptly named, listed, Clapham Grand. Yet they powered on to deliver a redemptive performance – sweetened by their decision to re-play one of the blighted early favourites in the encore.

Such issues are common when reggae comes to all-purpose venues; only a minority of promotions bring in a name engineer like Nick Manasseh or Gussie P. And with a powerful solo vocalist these are easily ignored. Not so, the delicate blend of these Jamaican Rastafarians who were consistently disturbed by peals of feedback and low microphone levels through some of their best loved minor key material. During Blackman Strain Collins was literally sweating and straining to be heard.

Fortunately, by the mighty Yim Mas Gan the microphones were turned up and the keening squeals shut down. The trio’s crystalline voices assumed their rightful place above the thundering basslines of Jahmel Ellison of the Rasites who lead the band.

The concert gathered momentum for its major key middle segment. The robust voiced Manning took the main mic for Meditation. Morisson did the same for a new song praising Selassie. At various times all three men knelt in prayer.

Then it was back to the sombre mystical sounds that are the group’s staple. Collins ended Let My Days Be Long by saying “We all want to live longer. No one wants to die”. These words carried extra weight after the senseless tragedy in Woolwich that had shaken the capital the day before.

AbyssiniansAs ever it would have been nice to have real horns in the band: more so than for veterans with less brass driven catalogues such as the Congos. With three frontmen it is entirely understandable why budgets can negate a full ensemble. But adding a single saxophonist or trombonist (say, Henry “Matic” Tenyue) for the likes of Yim Mas Gan and Abendigo would place these beautiful vocals in their element. Consequently, the brass-free Declaration of Rights, with its meandering snaking organ was the highlight of the night.  

After an hour and fifteen minutes, the MC put the microphone into the appreciative crowd asking if they wanted more. At an audience member’s audible request to hear Good Lord again due to the sound glitches the Abyssinians performed it a second time – a lovely touch that capped the evening. The show closed to the descending melodies of the group’s most famous rhythm: Manning taking the lead for 90s recut Power Over Evil and Collins stepping centre for Satta Amassagana itself.

Support came from former Roots Revealer Chris Mundahl (who did a nice approximation of Garnett Silk) the cultural vinyl of selector Skinshape and the speedy ska of Chainska Brassika (whose horns supported Culture back in March).


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