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″
Despite the initiative by the Rastas those forces which harangued Bishop on the question of elections but turned a blind eye to the elections in Guyana still hoped to foment discontent from within. The elementary initiatives towards solving the needs of the working people were affected by the deteriorating security situation as the incidents of bombings and shootings increased, culminating in the June 19, 1980 bombing attack at Queens Park, St George. The Prime Ministers and the officials of the State had gathered to celebrate Labour Day when the bomb exploded. But no one on the platform was hurt; the force of the bomb killed three children and injured others. Some of the elements involved in this bombing campaign were involved in the large scale planting of ganja. This ganja was not for local consumption but for the international capitalist market and the big planters attempted to use the centrality of the weed in the lives of many youths as a leverage to move the Rastas after the previous attempt at demonstrations had failed. Ganja and its use pose a serious problem throughout the Caribbean for the way in which the trade is now linked to international gangsterism. Those imported psychologists and doctors who describe ganja as a dangerous narcotic forget that the British State imported ganja into the Caribbean up until 1907 to sell to the Indian indentured workers. The use of ganja by youths in the sixties and seventies was a principal method of social control and as soon as a youth was perceived by the state as rebellious the charge of – possession of ganja was always a useful weapon in the hands of the coercive apparatus of the state.
Found in Rasta, Ganja and Capitalism, from: THE RASTAFARIANS IN THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN by HORACE CAMPBELL. Source: Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4, RASTAFARI (December 1980)
Image source: AP Photo/David McFadden
As the central sacrament to Rastafarians, the importance of ganja (marijuana) has been well documented and this importance extends into the sphere of Rasta-influenced Jamaican music. Rasta-influenced musicians were often outspoken advocates of ganja smoking, with songs full of exhortations to “smoke the herb”: Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It,” Bob Marley’s “Kaya” and “Easy Skanking,” Culture’s “International Herb,” Horace Andy’s “Better Collie,” Lee Perry’s “Free Up the Weed” and “Roast Fish, Cornbread and Collie Weed,” and Leroy Horsemouth Wallace’s “Herb Vendor” are a mere few of hundreds of such songs. Yet while it would probably be difficult to find a Jamaican musician of the roots era who was avowedly anti-ganja, some Jamaican musicians nevertheless felt that the prominence of this theme led to a distorted view of reggae in the world at large, as musicians played to the expectations of their international audiences. Paul Henton voiced a sentiment common among some Jamaican musicians, who felt that their colleagues sung about ganja at least in part “just because they know that the white people love it. If tomorrow morning the people or the fans say ‘Okay, we don’t want to hear anymore of this ganja stuff,’ they’ll stop singing about it and stop promoting it!”
Inside Jamaica, where ganja songs have flourished within several genres of Jamaican popular music (such as roots reggae and ragga), the situation has been more complex. Ganja was declared illegal in Jamaica in 1913 and for the decades since, its illegality has been a primary tool used by the ruling class in the social control of working-class Jamaicans. Correspondingly, it became a combustible element in the constellation of factors (including music, Rastafari, class conflict) that factor into Jamaica’s social tensions. As such, it is not surprising that ganja played a central role in the blended class, cultural, and political content that exploded in Jamaica in the 1970s and that arguably found its most powerful and passionate articulation in roots reggae. This centrality can be felt in the comments of legendary drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace: “The people respect you in Jamaica when you can put forty and fifty bag a ganja on a plane! We don’t call that drugs. That is ganja business. . . . We do those things like we are revolutionary. We put forty bag on a plane and feel good. . . . We send those so people in America could smoke the good ganja, not just for money alone.”
Found in: The Ganja Factor, from: DUB Soundscapes and shattered songs in Jamaican reggae by Michael E. Veal. Wesleyan University Press 2007.
Image source: Peter Tosh