Reggae Music and the Rasta Movement: Paths and Trends...

Reggae Music and the Rasta Movement: Paths and Trends...


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Rastafarian Movement & History



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Published 18 October 2012
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Language English
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Rastafarianism constitutes an religious movement independent of the musical …

Rastafarian Movement & History

To the four points of the compass

If one were to randomly flip through the reggae section of a music store and scan the album
inserts in the same way one would carelessly leaf through a book’s table of contents, certain
words, images, sensations, and ideas would accumulate and scramble for attention:
Bob Marley; dub; ghetto; Jah; Jimmy Cliff wearing a green cap; yellow; red; get up, stand up;
natty dread; Ethiopia; Jamaica; Mother Africa; apartheid; ganja and drug squads; Peter Tosh;
Burning Spear; Aswad; LKJ; dub poetry…

In the wake of reggae bubbles a world rich in images, symbols, connotations, myths, and
messages as well as misunderstandings. A muddled socio-cultural universe where ganja
smoke forms a nebula in which the long-haired silhouette of Rastas gives the appearance of
Ethiopian warriors, fascinating musicians wiggling rhythmically, Afro-Caribbean vibrancy
glutted with sounds of soul, R&B, impassioned songs mixing hymnal grace and the virulence
of political pamphlet.

Made in Jamaica

All this was Made in Jamaica, an island of which we know little. A sunny island à la
Belafonte as well as a reservoir of emigrants towards Great Britain and the United States. For
the well-informed, it was a country marked by sudden fits of violent politico-religious
convulsions arbitrated by two leaders who reproduced an Anglo-Saxon bipolarity: Manley
(the progressive), and Bastamente (the conservative). For the less well-informed, it was just a
Caribbean island with rum, cyclones, coconuts, and calypso.

Along came reggae with its interesting cultural baggage and all that was attached to it. Reggae
seduced listeners with its rhythmic flexibility, accessibility, and the indefinable richness of its
subject matter; a music that could change with the wind. It reflected the tensions and
tendencies of Jamaica’s pop music. In all its different forms, one can find a reggae that was
remodelled and manipulated by the show-biz circuit, diffused by production companies
looking for commercial success.

To achieve this; they played on a certain exoticism often disguised by a certain cultural
pretext, tainted by a confused radical ideology. The cultural context was drained or diluted by
a “folkloric halo” foreign to the Jamaican reality and resulting in a fragmented, destabilized,
decaffeinated music. Aren’t the curly manes of countless reggae amateurs and numerous
Rastas reminiscent of the provocative hairstyles of the first hippies? Marijuana, ganja, as with
any ‘grass’, leads to paths far from the burdensomeness and reputed alienation of day to day
life. Like Woodstock, Jamaica is an island; like Kathmandu, it is far enough away that, under