Jamaica- another revolution deferred, part 4


Rastafari

The greatest African Conscious and Cultural Revolution that swept the Caribbean Islands, one not seen since the Haitian Revolution had its inauspicious beginning in a speech by Marcus Garvey in a 1920 speech

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Look for me in the whirl wind

“Look to Africa”, said Marcus Garvey in 1920, “when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand”.  Many thought the prophecy was fulfilled when in 1930, Ras Tafari Mekonon, was crowned emperor Haile Selassie 1 of Ethiopia and proclaimed “King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the conquering lion of the Tribe of Judah”.

Haile Selassie claimed to be a direct descendant of King David, the 225th ruler in an unbroken line of Ethiopian Kings from the time of Solomon and Sheba. He and his followers took great pride in being black and wanted to regain the African heritage that was lost by loosing faith and straying from the holy ways.

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After Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords with the throne-name Haile Selassie the First and a new chapter in the African consciousness “Roots” reggae explores the themes of the suffering of ghetto dwellers, slavery in Babylon, Haile Selassie as a living deity, and the hoped-for return to Africa. Musicians looking for Bob Marley type popularity, grew dreadlocks and started professing Rastafari.
The lyrics of many songs were changed and sprinkled with references to Rastafari . It was how Reggae was seen by the world and so the musicians obliged. Between 1975 to the present has been the period of the most phenomenal growth for the Rastafarian Movement.struggle was opened, one with religious connotations.  God was finally revealed as real and the Christian doctrine was no longer the monopoly of white missionaries with headquarters in Rome. The bible was studied and any reference to Ethiopia took on added significance.  After Jamaica’s independence in 1962, the lack of political improvement and the Black Power movement in the U.S. led to a big Rasta resurgence.
In 1964 the body of Marcus Garvey was returned from England for reburial in his homeland. In the  mid-60s evolved a slower and cooler mode of music called rocksteady which shifted emphasis to bass and drums. In the late Sixties, Haile Selassie visited the island. Peter Tosh’s “Rasta Shook Them Up” commemorated this major event.
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The event took on such a spiritual affect that when the emperor presented Michael Manley with a walking stick, many felt it helped him get elected. Manley’s term in office started with wide support from Rasta musicians, though his leadership later brought disillusionment. “He Who Feels It Knows It” was one of the first recordings to use the phrase “I & I,” which expresses unity between man and God. Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus rec orded such forthright Rasta statements as “Ethiopian National Anthem.”

Rasta and Reggae Music

This indigenous music grew from ska, which had elements of  American R&B and Caribbean styles. It also drew from folk music, Pocomania church music, Jonkanoo fife and drum bands, fertility rituals, adaptations of  quadrilles, plantation work songs, and a form called mento. Nyahbingi is the purest form of music played at Rasta meetings or grounations. It uses three hand drums of different sizes, the bass, the funde and the repeater. In the late 1960’s a group known as the Wailing Rude Bwoys and the Wiling Wailers and which had  original members Bob Marley, Junior Brathwaite, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston took the Rock Steady scence by storm. The band gained popularity in the early 1970’s and then broke up. Later Bob Marley changed the name to Bob Marley and the Wailers and caught afire in Jamaica. The popularity of Bob Marley brought many imitators and changed the face of music in Jamaica. Rasta forms the base of reggae music, the vehicle that artists such as Bob Marley used to spread Rasta thought all over the world.
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This growth was largely attributed to Bob Marley, and the worldwide acceptance of reggae as an avenue of Rastafarian self-expression. Marley became a prophet of Rastafarianism in 1975. The movement spread quickly in the Caribbean and was hugely attractive to the local black youths, many of whom saw it as an extension of their adolescent rebellion from school and parental authority.With it came some undesirable elements and these were the elemnts that became the symbols of Reggae Music, particulalry after Marley’s death.The ruthless corporate pirates decided to bring DancHall music from the basment and dance halls, unto the main stage, on wax and with recording contracts.

Bob Marley and many that try to follow in his footsteps, are the voice of the poor and downtrodden. The lyrics of the music speaks to the masses. The message in the music in most case are about oppression, poverty, slavery, apartheid and human rights. The music identifies with the struggles of day to day life of poor peopIn 1969, Burning Spear’s debut album included the exhortation to “Chant Down Babylon”. From other artists in the early Seventies came such songs as “Conquering Lion,” “Deliver Us,” “Rasta Never Fails,” and “Africa is Paradise.”

In 1975,  the Rastafarian chants were increasingly heard on records and by this time the Wailers wore locks. Soon Bob Marley became Jamaica’s first international superstar and the Island with a population of only two million, sent into the world more than 100,000 reggae records over four decades.  Reggaes roots and influence are embedded in the historical conditions of Jamaican slavery and colonialism, thus the people born into a world of suffering because of slavery, used the vitality of the music as a healing, uplifting part of their life.

The emotional effects that slavery has had on Jamaicans was heard in the music of that time and is still heard in the music of today.  Some songs look back at past brutality and exploitation, some sing of the lost homeland in Africa and of hopes for repatriation. Other songs celebrate Marcus Garvey and his philosophy of the return to Africa, while others deal with the political implications of that philosophy and of slavery for the present day.

 America Inc’s  attempt at re-colonization of the Caribbean

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