dUb, Higher Learning

On Rastafari branch and roots

Peter Tosh – Live @ The Greek Theater, Los Angeles, CA, – August 23.1983


By 1960, several Jamaican institutions had begun to show an interest in the counterculture, and to contribute to the demarginalisation of the Rastafari movement which had previously been repressed.
One such institution was the University of the West Indies, which put the Rastafari on its agenda.
In the course of these trajectories, Jamaican public opinion, which had predominantly perceived the Rastafari movement to be a crowd of violent criminals, fools and outcasts, changed successfully.

Particularly, reggae music (as the emancipation of Jamaican popular music) was co-opted.
The result of the blending of Afro-Jamaican Burru and Kumina drum techniques and folk traditions with Afro-American musical styles (including jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, soul and swing) led to the creation of mento, ska, rocksteady and reggae styles like dancehall, dub, lovers, raggamuffin, rockers and roots, which ‘exerted a tremendous influence on the development of post- World War II popular music globally’.
The musical film The harder they come (1972), starring Jimmy Cliff, contributed enormously to the transnationalisation, popularisation and commercialisation of roots reggae. Not until this style developed, did reggae lyrics exhibit the spirituality and socio-political engagement that came to be seen as the hallmark of roots reggae. And, clearly no one represented the Rastafari rhetoric and feelings of this genre to the world more ably and persuasively than Bob Marley.

Augier urges Rastafari to accept Jamaica as home


In fact, conscious reggae music, with its recreational, critical and inspirational dimensions, would soon transcend the Rastafari milieu and succeed in conquering a global audience. Today, Rastafari not only has observer status in the United Nations, but even more importantly it has become part of everyday culture in Jamaica, and even abroad.
However, the various Rastafari mansions relate differently to reggae music: whereas Boboshanti reject reggae as part of their culture and only consider drumming and chanting as true Rastafari music, the Theocracy Reign Order of the Nyahbinghi describes its relationship to reggae through the metaphor:

‘Reggae is the branch, Nyahbinghi is the root.’



Text from:

The global–local nexus: popular music studies and the case of Rastafari culture in West Africa
Frank Wittmann, 2011.
Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies


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