Rastafarians have as common parlance the philosophy that word sound is power! After the 1960s, one can identify the development of a fraternity of Rastafari faithful, taking their message into musical expression. In much the same way perhaps that the Psalms are constructed as sacred records of the ‘livity’ of the Old Testament patriarchs. The philosophy of the Movement moved to some extent (but not entirely) off the street corners, due partly to colonial repression and police brutality, into ‘the mixing lab-Oratory’ to create music that would teach the lessons of Redemption of the African. Planno, in philosophizing to his students who would congregate in his yard in Trench town, West Kingston (including ones such as Don Drummond, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, Alton Ellis and Jimmy Cliff ) taught them to ‘tell out King Rasta doctrine around the whole world . . . Get your bible and read it, read it with understanding’ as his basic guide and teaching on liberating the individual. He would conduct his class room in the informal gatherings in his yard as together they built verses animating the experiences, ideals and aspirations of the Movement. The King James Bible consisting of its 66 books, the laws, Prophets, wisdom songs into the Revelation provided a source of reading, reasoning – analysis and interpretation. It was from this source that the Knowledge of liberation was to come, in particular from the Revelations in the Bible – revealing the identity of the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Sellassie I, the Power of the Trinity as the returned Messiah. Planno and a number of other brethren were to develop on the earliest teachings brought by the elders of the 1930s, a multifaceted cultural approach, and a network of over 60 bases in the west Kingston and the surrounding corporate area.
At these bases, the hitherto wayward – brothers in particular – became transformed, they could ﬁnd hope, a receptive environment to mould and teach themselves about their identity, their history, the politics of the time, self-sufﬁciency and most importantly in the context of their survival how to develop a habit of industry – mostly focused on the development of self-employment ideas, and especially music that when it hit ‘yu feel no pain’. Music has been the product emanating from what has been described as the business of hardship resulting out of the Poverty Laboratory.
These bases provided vibrant centres for debates on life, philosophy, the politics of Jamaica and the globe especially as far as it affected the people of Africa, some centres even provided training in Amharic, the ofﬁcial language of Ethiopia. The community bases also provided shelter, humble though this may have been, where warm meals (often a one pot of porridge or ‘a sip’/soup) for all who came, books and newspapers, instruments, recording devices and of course the Wisdom Herb as sacrament to inspire the meditation and reasoning a way forward.
Soon west Kingston was to develop a reputation as a Mecca for musicians and scholars from all across Jamaica and surely enough became a fascination for researchers from around the world, the attraction being the Rastafarians and secondarily their cultural panacea – the emerging institution/industry of reggae music.
Excerpt from: Jalani Niaah (2003) Poverty (lab) oratory:Rastafari and cultural studies, Cultural Studies.
We need to give proper consideration specifically to the Buru (or Burru) tradition as well.
Among the Buru drummers of the first half of the twentieth century was one outstanding and very influential musician who, like Babu Bryan, remains unknown to most Jamaicans, not to mention the rest of the world. The man I am referring to is Watta King. Not to be confused with the notorious West Kingston bad man Woppy King, nor with the Rastafarian patriarch known as Bongo Watto, who were two entirely different individuals, Watta King was a Buru master drummer of Kongo descent who migrated to West Kingston from Clarendon parish.
Although he made his living as a barber, and was not himself a Rasta, Watta gained renown as a drum-builder during the 1940s and 1950s – the very time that Rasta consciousness was beginning to gather force in West Kingston. During these formative years of the Rasta faith, Watta King was the owner of the most sought-after set of African-style drums in the area, and he and his fellow Buru players became the main drummers for the earliest grounations, or ceremonial gatherings, in the Rasta hotbeds of Salt Lane and Back-o-Wall.
It appears that Watta King represents the crucial link between the rural Buru tradition of St Catherine and Clarendon, and the nascent Nyabinghi tradition of West Kingston. His playing appears to have served as a model for many in the first generation of Rasta drummers, and his great influence can be traced through at least four important drummers of later years (and likely several others). Baba Job (also known as Brother Job), who was to become Count Ossie‘s mentor, and Seeco Patterson, Bob Marley‘s percussionist who I mentioned earlier, both spoke to me of Watta King as their “teacher” – the man most responsible for their early development as drummers. And Skully Simms, one of the most important session hand drummers from the 1970s on, told me in considerable detail about the influence Watta King had on him. …
Distant Drums: The Unsung Contribution of African-Jamaican Percussion to Popular Music at Home and Abroad Author: KENNETH BILBY Source: Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 4, Pioneering Icons of Jamaican Popular Music, Part II (December 2010)
Reggae is not unlike “highlife,” the most popular form of Ghanaian music, which mixes both African and Caribbean inﬂuences and can be traced to the 1920s and 1930s.
While the South African singer Lucky Dube pioneered reggae in places like Ghana during the 1970s, and still ranks as one of the most sought-after performers throughout contemporary Africa, other “imports,” such as Don Carlos, Jimmy Cliff, and Bob Marley, not forgetting more recent acts such as Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, and Buju Banton, have emerged to create and deﬁne a certain ethos that, at least from one perspective, may be seen as “Rasta.”
In all likelihood, “Rasta” as a religious-cultural import inﬂuenced a few Ghanaian youth to practice Rastafarianism in the 1970s and 1980s. Its social message, often wrapped in musical garb, would have been appealing, for instance, to disenfranchised youth during those long years of economic mismanagement and domestic privation.
Reggae was, and remains, an important “Rasta fashion,” and so too is the general appearance of “the Rastaman,” particularly the dreadlocks, which seem to carry enormous appeal in Ghana. It seems highly likely that some of these early Rastas noted the similarity between the appearance of Rasta celebrities like Bob Marley, with his long matted hair, and traditional African fetish priests and, therefore, perceived Rastafarianism as an authentically African way of life. Okomfo Anokye is worth noting here, as a truly legendary ﬁgure in Ghanaian religion and culture. According to Ashanti mythology, he established the Ashanti Kingdom by calling forth its sacred Golden Stool from the sky. In addition, Ashantis claim that one of the three palm nuts Anokye threw on the ground marks the spot that would later become Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti kingdom.
Furthermore, they link him to a legendary sword, observable today in a small room behind Kumasi’s Okomfo Anokye Hospital. According to Ashanti tradition, this sword was mysteriously placed at the exact spot where Okomfo Anoyke called forth the Golden Stool. Royal lore claims that the Ashanti dynasty will suffer unspeakable tragedies should the sword ever be removed.
Not only do Ashantis treat Okomfo Anoyke as their founder and protector, they hold him as one of their highest fetish priests, mysteriously born as a locksman with fully-grown, matted hair. This arresting detail is not lost on current Ghanaian Rastafarians. While it is difﬁcult to prove that early Ghanaian Rastafarians made any kind of solid connection between their faith and the ﬁgure of Okomfo Anokye, from my perspective, the link seems obvious. More than a few non-Rastafarian Ghanaians remarked to me that with the emergence of Rastafarianism among Ghanaian youth in the mid-to-late 1970s, fetish priests found a wider audience for their words and deeds.
Excerpt from: AS IT IS IN ZION:SEEKING THE RASTAFARI IN GHANA,WEST AFRICA Darren J. N. Middleton, Black Theology: An International Journal, 2006.
Science has been moving in complementary ways to art for centuries, including recently, with the introduction of biotechnology into the arts.
The mix of eastern/western and holistic/analytical-technocratic thinking contributed to a multi-angular approach to human nature.
The informatics that supports biotechnology became a craftsperson’s tool. According to Whitelaw, especially biotechnology involves technologies such as genetic engineering, tissue culture and cloning, while it produces results that are the source of inspiration for those occupied with the subject.
Bioart rather suggests that any future outcome for embodiment in the field of informatics should leave some space for the aesthetic processes of composition. The term bioart, an invention of artist Eduardo Kac for his work ‘Time Capsule’ in 1997, and its derivatives, such as biomusic, belong to what could be described as the next level of syncretic creativity. It is about a technoetic evolution, where the self comes to the forefront through generative arrangements and processes. The self is shaped through new dimensions of consciousness.
Dominant and subversive versions of Africa and African history reproduced the dynamic outlined above but on an international scale. In Britain in the 1980s imperial relations were being re-imagined in the context of humanitarian aid. Black youths in Britain wielded their African heritage as a tool to build their communities and give voice to their analysis. Meanwhile the mainstream press, and charitable structures,were also building a version of Africa; one of helpless victims of natural disasters.
Given such a context, the ‘performance’ that is being considered here contains dialogues that traverse the African diaspora and are based on the acquisition of‘oral skills’ in Creolised language, which acted as a mode of response to the imposition of European culture on non-European peoples. Resistance became most evident in the contested spaces constructed around specific types of language-use that expressed an alternative black subjectivity that bridged intergenerational gaps within black communities.
The use of particular linguistic forms, both oral and scribal, continued the type of ‘pan Caribbean consciousness‘ that was necessary for the Windrush Generation’s survival and was passed down to the generations born in Britain thereafter. For many deejays, therefore, the world view expressed through the usage of Standard English reduced them to the voiceless, passive victims of a Eurocentric historical bias. By blending several aspects of Jamaican oral culture with their own local argot, deejays verbally presented critiques of certain entrenched ideas, for instance, poetry as an exclusively white domain.
This type of engagement was exemplifed in a lyric performed on Diamonds Sound System by the British deejay Papa Benji, which suggested that ‘poetry me better than Shakespeare, and me voice gone clear everywhere’.
The deejay thus became the veritable keeper of memories, for once the word was performed, recorded and disseminated, it became an artefact; a historical document. It also enabled the performers to present their own arguments, in their own words and on their own terms in a ‘commonly agreed language’ that countered their ‘social problem’ status.