Fundamentals in Reggaeton and Rastafarianism

Kelly Furlong                                                                                                  4/19/16

SOC-210

Caribbean Culture is a term that defines the artistic, musical, literary, culinary, political, and social elements that best represent the Caribbean peoples all over the world. Historically, the Caribbean islands have been influenced by Europe, African, and other immigrant populations that have become ingrained into mainstream Caribbean Culture. While many influences in the Caribbean are derived from Creolization, there are also African influences that have greatly impacted Caribbean Culture and Society. Elements of African culture has influenced Caribbean states over time. Two key components to the culture in the Caribbean has been Reggaeton and the influences of Rastafarianism. Not only have they impacted social aspects in the Caribbean, but they have both become more well-known and celebrated around the world.

According to Neil J. Savishinsky, the emergence of Jamaican reggae onto the international music scene in the 1970’s “parallels” with the Jamaican Rastafarian Movement whose origins are found on the Island of Jamaica.The reggae music genre and the rastafarian religion have become important aspects of Jamaican society by influencing the lives of those who embrace them. Both have expanded beyond the island and have attracted a widespread global following.

Reggae music embodies a certain image, sound, political and social consciousness and most importantly, a cultural identity. Since its development in Jamaica during the 1960’s, reggae has become an internationally recognized term. It has developed through a succession of recognition and has continued to do so. This genre in music has generated its own star performers such as, Bob Marley who have achieved worldwide recognition in the music industry. Reggae stands apart from other types of music genres in that in that it has traveled the farthest from its place of origin. In the Caribbean, this musical style has evolved and become a mixture of jazz, rhythm-and-blues, soul, calypso, and Rastafarian music, and which first emerged from the cultural setting in Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica.

Rastafarianism is a set of cultural norms and belief system which is most prevalent in the Caribbean. Formally, Rastafari is an Abrahamic religion which developed in Jamaica in the 1930’s. This was following the coronation of Haile Selassie as emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. His adherents worship him in a similar way to Jesus, as a second advent. Members of the Rastafarian way of life are known Ras, Rastas, or Rastafarians. One of its early leaders was known as Leonard Howell who was arrested in 1953 by the Jamaican government for preaching revolutionary forms of government. The name Rastafari is taken from the words Ras and Tafari which is the title and first name of Haile Selassie before his coronation (Edmonds, Gonzales 2010).  Rastafarianism functions as an ideology and holds a heightened resonance and appeal for Africans and those of African descent. The messages of Rastafari promote love and respect for all living things and emphasizes the importance of human dignity and self-respect, above all else, they speak of freedom from spiritual, psychological, and physical slavery and oppression.

Rastafarianism is considered a religion with deep political connections and African traditions has a heavy influence as well. The cultural norms of Rastafarianism and biblical themes have also influenced the belief system. One of the most arguably famous Rastafari’s is Bob Marley whose reggae genre of music earned Jamaica and the Rastafari movement international recognition. There is no formal, organized leadership in Rastafarianism which creates a wide variety of spiritual and moral beliefs within the religion.Africa was also the focus of the new religion Rastafarianism which had its origins in Jamaica in the 1930’s and remained largely confined to that island down to 1945. The central belief of Rastafarians was that Haile Selassie was the black reincarnated messiah ( Higman 249). Although rastafarians did not construct a church, they followed thr teachings of the Bible and identified with Zionismin its struggle against Babylon.

Some Rastafarians see Rasta as a way of life rather than a religion, while others see it first and foremost as a religion. Despite its diverse interpretations, the diversity within the movement is the belief in the divinity and/ or messiahship of the Ethiopian Emperor. The influences of Jamaican culture, resistance of oppression, and their overall pride in their African heritage. Essences of Rastafari can be found in clothing, prayer, dance, and music. Rastafari’s look to Africa as a heaven on Earth and believe that the Garden of Eden resides there. Another central concept surrounding Rastafarianism is Babylon, which refers to a white power structure in Europe and the Americas. Rasta’s seek to resist Babylon, which once cruelly enslaved blacks, and still continue to hold them to poverty, illiteracy and inequality. The greed and conceit of Babylon is contrasted by the simplicity of the Rastas.

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According to the quotes made by Chevanes and Kebede, Rastafari is a system that comes from a “Lineage of ideas and forms of action of four hundred years”. This suggests that there is more of a historical background to Rastafarianism that others may not be aware of. Kebede touches on the importance of managing a collective identity in order to preserve Rastafari beliefs. Kebede also goes on to say that Rastafair has endured because of a carefully developed and collective identity. Both Chevanes and Kebede share their insight as to why Rastafarianism is significant and how it has survived over time.

In the early 1930’s the religious and social movement evolved in Jamaica. Rastas sought to provide a voice for poor Blacks in Jamaica by encouraging resistance to oppressive societal structures. The Rastafari’s aim to clarify the Western interpretation of the bible, as to spread their word and fight against the hierarchy of Western culture. Rastafarians await a time of repartition of Blacks and a return to Ethiopia. The appeal of this belief system has led to its success and survival throughout the 1900’s. Rastafari has become a pivotal part of the people’s lives who practice it. In current day, the belief system is gaining a larger following and recognition.  Its history and loyal followers have brought this culture and religion into contemporary society and has continued to grow and develop.

Reggae music embodies a certain image, sound, political and social consciousness and most importantly, a cultural identity. Since its development in Jamaica during the 1960’s, reggae has become an internationally recognized term. It has developed through a succession of recognition and has continued to do so. This genre in music has generated its own star performers such as, Bob Marley who have achieved worldwide recognition in the music industry. Reggae stands apart from other types of music genres in that in that it has traveled the farthest from its place of origin. In the Caribbean this musical style has evolved and become a mixture of jazz, rhythm-and-blues, soul, calypso, and Rastafarian music, and which first emerged from the cultural setting in Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica.

Jamaican reggae is popular throughout Africa for the same reason that its popularity has spread throughout the world: it has a uniquely beautiful rhythm with a unique sound. It generates a special feeling that moves people in body and spirit in a powerful way. The appeal of reggae comes largely from its strong rhythm. Reggae is a type of music that emerged in the mid-sixties. The rhythm using bass, electric guitar and drum. The minimal instruments needed to create a reggae rhythm is a bass guitar, a drum set, and a six-stringed rhythm guitar (Waters). During the 1970’s when music from Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff began to surface, Africa was profoundly affected as well as other parts of the world.

Instruments play an important role in creating a specific sound in Reggae. Reggae is based on a small number of instruments from western parts of the world as well as Africa. Instruments include guitar, electric guitar, horns keyboards, and some form of percussion such as drums, bongos, or snare drums. The drums are once of the mot important instruments in reggae music. This stems from Jamaican roots back to Africa. In African music, the drums along with other forms of percussion are the lead instruments. A key aspect of reggae is that it always has a consistent rhythm, many reggae bands include a section specifically for percussion. An example is seen below.

The birth of Reggae in 1968 signaled the beginning of a wholesale embrace of the Rastafarian faith and more radical political themes in popular Jamaican music. Soon, a whole generation began to wear dread locks in their hair. This is a Rastafarian hairstyle where the hair is neither cut of combed (King 46). While reggae musicians were influenced by both American R&B and soul music, many of these musicians, started to make a musical exodus to Africa.

Representations of Rastafari can be found in music, primarily Reggaeton. One of the most influential artists in Reggae was singer, songwriter, and musician Bob Marley. Marley was also a committed Rasta and infused his music with a sense of Rastafarian spirituality. Marley also managed to use his platform to promote Rastafarianism by emphasizing this lifestyle in his music and his appearance by wearing his hair in dreads and also wearing Rastafarian colors, red, yellow, and green. Bob Marley became a key proponent to by taking Rastafari and Reggae music by taking both out of Jamaica and bringing them international attention. Marley was a Pan-Africanist and believed in the unity of African people worldwide. This was connected to his religious beliefs as a Rasta. He used this as inspirational in his music and included anti-imperialist and Pan-Africanist themes in many of his songs. He is credited for popularizing Reggae Music and Rastafarianism around the globe as well as becoming a figure of Jamaican culture and identity.

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In Jamaica, Rastafarianism emerged as a native religion which addressed issues that affected the majority of the black population. It is a religion based on social change, and reggae music is the means of further spreading these beliefs. The message of Rastafarianism has spread worldwide by reggae artists such as Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Pete Tosh, and many others. Reggae is an important means of transportation vital messages of Rastafarianism. The musician becomes the messenger, and as Rastafarians see it, “the solider and the musician are tools for change”. The reggae message crosses international borders and deals with themes that apply to all aspects of humanity. These themes include universal suffrage, poverty, literacy, and oppression. Reggae also proclaims that it is possible to enjoy life even in the presence of tragedy. The music of rastas is not only an artistic form of expression, but commentary on existing social issues.

The religion of Rastafari and Reggae music has become ingrained in Caribbean society as a cultural norm. They have also circulated the globe and gained a respectable following. These cultural aspects have made a considerable impact in Jamaica by influencing social, political, and other ideologies. Both elements have been influenced by African origins and have brought a part of their culture to the Caribbean.

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Work Cited

Savishinsky, Neil J. “Rastafari in the Promised Land: The Spread of a Jamaican Socioreligious Movement among the Youth of West Africa.”African Studies Review 37.3 (1994): 19-50. JSTOR. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/524901?ref=search-gateway:2ff3c70bb0317283aa5406228a47a122>.

Chevannes, Barry. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1994. Print.

King, Stephen A., Barry T. Bays, and P. Rene. Foster. Reggae, Rastafari, and the Rhetoric of Social Control. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2002. Print.

Waters, Alan. “Reggae Music in Africa.” Reggae Music in Africa. N.p., 1994. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. <http://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/passages/4761530.0008.004/–reggae-music-in-africa?rgn=main%3Bview>.

MacLeod, Erin C. Representations of Rastafari. Visions of Zion: Ethiopians and Rastafari in the Search for the Promised Land. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Higman, B. W. “Democrats and Dictators.” A Concise History of the Caribbean. New York: Cambridge UP, 2011. N. pag. Print. 

 

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