So tuned to the beat of Burru drums, the early Rasta lamentations, comprised of mournful dirges of Christian songs, hymns, and psalms from the Psalter, were social, political, and religious commentary on the unfavorable condition of the black Jamaican masses, and of the Rastafarians in particular. As the movement responded to harassment and persecution from the Jamaican public and the “Babylon police” in the 1950s, these lamentations became increasingly militant with a strong revolution and liberation motif. By the 1960s, Rastas had developed an impressive repertoire of musical lamentations adopted to their peculiar method of black revolutionary protest and call for political, social, and economic change in Jamaica. In 1969, The Melodians, comprising Brent Dowe, Tony Brevette, and Trevor McNaughton, sang Psalm 137 in new Rasta voices under the title “Rivers of Babylon.” The song remained local until “Bonnie Em,” singing under the influence of reggae star Bob Marley and the Wailers, did a Cover Disco Version in 1975, which became an immediate hit internationally.
Found in Why the Hebrew Psalms? from Tuning Hebrew Psalms to Reggae Rhythms: Rastas’ Revolutionary Lamentations for Social Change
Author: NATHANIEL SAMUEL MURRELL.
Source: CrossCurrents, Vol. 50, No. 4, Jewish–Christian Relations (WINTER 2000/2001)
Image source: The Melodians – Rivers of Babylon 7″