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African music forms and rhythms that emerged in the Americas constituted a beat that has “always threaded back to Africa.”
In the words of the Caribbean poet, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, the middle passage created “bridges of sound” that carried memories of Africa to the Americas, music that echoed down the generations from “Harlem” to “Havana.”
Individual islands in the Caribbean and the mainland diasporic slave communities in the Americas shared the basic rhythms (and some instruments) derived from Africa. But these were fused with the instruments and rhythms of the cultures with which African slaves interacted, a process that the Cuban ethnomusicologist Frederick Ortiz termed “transculturation.”
Trinidadian calypso and parang, and the samba and son rhythms in Cuba (son was a modified, more refined version of rumba which became popular in the second half of the nine- teenth century) combined the structure and elements of Spanish canción (song) and Spanish guitar with African rhythm and percussion instruments.
Son, samba, rumba, and other Latin and African-Caribbean dances influenced salsa. In the Southern U.S., the European fife and drum convey some of the rural music that has the most authentic African rhythms.
The fife and drum are also the basis of Jonkanoo music in Jamaica (Jonkanoo is a Jamaican Christmas tradition, incorporating African traditions going back to the days of slavery).
This incorporation of European instruments and music forms demonstrates how Africans in the diaspora subverted the dominant culture and asserted positive African identities. Slaves played for their master and learnt European instruments and rhythms but these became syncretized into popular folk music (defined as played with acoustic
instruments). Jamaican mento draws on the fife and drum of Jonkanoo, Pocomania (an African-Christian revivalist cult) and church music, the European quadrille, and slave work songs passed through the generations.
Musical forms in different parts of the diaspora have also retained purer African elements where percussion instruments and call-and-response vocals predominate. Examples here include rumba in Cuba, Rastafarian Nyabhingi in Jamaica, and the Kongo and Yoruba music found in African-derived religious sects such as Kumina in Jamaica,
Shango in Trinidad, Haitian Voodoo, and Cuban Santeria. Such music was performed “beyond the ken” of whites during slavery and continues to be associated with peasant or urban working-class cultures.
Barbara Bush (2006) African Echoes, Modern Fusions: Caribbean Music,
Identity and Resistance in the African Diaspora, Music Reference Services Quarterly.
Image source: Nyabinghi Drum Circle with Wolf
The doctrine that Ras Tafari known to the world as the Emperor Haile Sellassie I of Ethiopia, is the Living God, was developed by several persons independently.
Of these Mr. Leonard P. Howell is genuinely regarded as being the first to preach the divinity of Ras Tafari in Kingston. Howell is said to have fought against King Prempeh of Ashanti (1896), and claimed to speak an African language.
‘The Promised Key’, a basic Ras Tafari text, published in Accra, Ghana around 1930, shows clear evidence of Jamaican authorship. (Jamaica Times 28th May 1938).
Howell also spent several years in the north-eastern U.S., where he came into contact with black and white racism.
Another early preacher was Mr. Joseph Nathaniel Hibbert. Mr. Hibbert was born in Jamaica in 1894, but went with his adopted father to Costa Rica in 1911, returning to Jamaica in 1931. In Costa Rica Mr. Hibbert had leased 28 acres, which he put in bananas. In 1924 he had joined the Ancient Mystic Order of Ethiopia, a Masonic society the constitution of which was revised in 1888, and which became incorporated in 1928 in Panama. Mr. Hibbert became a Master Mason of this Order, and, returning to Jamaica, began to preach Haile Sellassie as the King of Kings, the returned Messiah and the Redeemer of Israel.
This was at Benoah District, St. Andrew, from whence he moved to Kingston to find Howell already preaching Ras Tafari as God at the Redemption Market. Mr. H. Archibald Dunkley is another man who may claim to have brought the doctrine to Jamaica. Mr. Dunkley was a Jamaican seaman on the Atlantic Fruit Company’s boats, and finally quit the sea on the 8th December 1930, when he landed at Port Antonio off the s.S. St. Mary. Coining to Kingston, Dunkley studied the Bible for two-and-a half years on his own, to determine whether Haile Sellassie was the Messiah whom Garvey had prophesied. Ezekiel 30, I Timothy 6, Revelation 17 and 19 and Isaiah 43 finally convinced him.
In 1933 Dunkley opened his Mission, preaching Ras Tafari as the King of Kings, the Root of David, the Son of the Living God, but not the Father Himself. Other early preachers include Robert Hinds, who joined Howell, and Altamont Read who turned his following over to one Mr. Johnson when he became Mr. N. W. Manley’s bodyguard about 1940.
Found in: HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT, from:
The Rastafari Movement In Kingston, Jamaica. PART 1
Authors: M. G. SMITH, ROY AUGIER and REX NETTLEFORD
Source: Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (September 1967)
Image source: Colin Edward Murray Art