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.
Jalani Niaah (2003) Poverty (lab) oratory: Rastafari and cultural studies, Cultural Studies.