Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Abyssinians-Satta Massagana (1976)

It's only appropriate that I begin this project with an album I've only listened to once. As I get older, the idea of buying music I may not really like becomes rarer and rarer. Gone are the days of trying out various genres of music that, while interesting, aren't things I'm going to regularly listen to. Gone are the days of listening to noise, Japanese psychedelic music, or far Eastern traditional music. It may sound great. There's lots of music in those genres I love. But I don't need to own it, and I'll rarely listen to it. I wouldn't categorize reggae quite the same way. And there are lots of groups and albums in the genre I love. But to say I have anything close to true knowledge of the genre would be a farce. There are albums I love, and that is it. Very little context to those albums, and very little knowledge of those artists, which isn't the case with much of my favorite music. This classic of the genre, released locally and bootlegged for years, according to the liner notes, is a cornerstone of reggae, and its importance puts it on par with the works of Toots and The Maytals and perhaps even Bob Marley, but I don't hear it. I don't know if Satta Massagana made me give up on exploring the genre with greater depth, but it certainly didn't help. This is not an album I'm drawn to in any way, and I can't imagine when the next time I'm going to take it out is. I remember very clearly my reactions to listening to this album for the first time: it was slow, and all the songs sort of sounded the same to me. I generally try not to level that criticism at music, because that is often the case when something is unfamiliar. Many of my favorite albums, in early listens, never hit me and all came across like one single sound (Zen Arcade comes to mind), until subsequent listens allowed me to hear what I was missing. But Satta Massagana never pulls me in, and I really feel no reason to explore it further. The first track, "Declaration Of Rights" should make me feel solidarity with at least the lyrics, but I never really care. I suppose one, especially a novice of the genre, could easily make the case that a lot of reggae music sounds the same (as does, at the end of the day, most music in a given genre). What elevates the likes of The Maytals or The Mighty Diamonds is beautiful vocal harmonies that carry the song. Vocal harmonies that carry the song isn't only a reggae thing, and it would certainly have to be the case for an album like Satta Massagana to stand out, you'd hear it in the vocals. But I don't. The songs all sound the same to me, and pretty lifeless. Not ethat every track falls betweeen 2:43 and 3:45 minutes in length. A song or two does stand out. "Forward Unto Zion" has a fantastic use of horns early on, and at the tail end of the album "I and I" and "African Race" also stick out to me. But the others simply do not. Do I hold onto this album almost solely for the reason that my wife bought it for me, as per my own request, as a birthday present? It seems likely. I often only hold onto DVDs and records I don't care for, thinking that one day it will click. I will be shocked if this one ever does.

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