Higher Learning

On Dancehall Queen


Key participants consistently create, or transcend boundaries, notably, in the form of categories, spaces and material reality. The phenomenon of Dancehall queen is a crucial example. Dancehall queens emerged as informal community celebrities and have existed since the 1970s. Since Poochiloo and other less acknowledged queens of the Dancehall, Carlene Smith (the 1992 media proclaimed queen) in particular, and Stacey (crowned queen in 1999), have ushered in a new era in Dancehall: the rise of image, style, appeal, and a ‘narrative of queen’.

However, this was an old phenomenon that featured in such traditional forms (both secular and religious) as Kumina, a Congo-derived Afro-Jamaican religion (with Mrs Imogene ‘Queenie’ Kennedy as the most popular), Jonkonnu, Bruckins Party and Queen Party.

This is paralleled by the ‘Mother’ or chief spiritual arbiter in Revival and Burru’s ‘Mother Lundy’. Additionally, there are Carnivals in the wider Caribbean (and its diaspora) where carnival queens are crowned based on authenticity, appropriate movements, mannerisms and dress. The ways in which the presence of ‘queen’ within both secular and religious settings mimics the status and symbol of great African queens, especially queen mothers of the Akan tradition such as Yaa Asantewa, Queen Mother of Ejisu whose war against the British is a well-known fact of West African history,


Ras Tafari’s Empress Menen, as well as the colonial legacy of the British Queen, is noteworthy.

The idea of ‘queen’ as a category, once simplified, reveals the consistently elevated place of woman as a key counterpart of the male ‘king’, in both the popular and religious realms. In this sense, within the Diaspora, the pervasiveness of a central female persona is consistent with African popular and sacred traditions as well as the kinship patterns that are matrilineal and/or matriarchal in character.

For the dancer and the queen in particular, Dancehall is a stage, a status
granting institution outside the socially constricting everyday, a space to emerge and maintain stardom on the basis of physical attributes and/or ability. It is also platform through which women define the terms and conditions of success, style, contest, while creating place and space for other women beyond constricting social conditions.


Text source:

Sonjah Stanley Niaah (2004) Making space: Kingston’s Dancehall
culture and its philosophy of ‘boundarylessness’
,
African Identities, 2:2

Image source:
Dancehall Queen Junko

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Higher Learning

On Reggae as a part of the inner landscape


Reggae is a key expression of the Rastafarian inner landscape. As a product which stands on its own merit, reggae is often conceived as divorced from the core Rastafari space and purpose. However, Nettleford reminded us that reggae exists because of Rastafari. He stated:


I keep telling people that reggae or ska right through to dancehall appropriated the Rastafarian movement, not the other way around. People don’t understand this; that in fact reggae has taken to itself an ontology, a way of being, a cosmology, a way of thinking about the world, and an epistemology – a way of knowing, getting to know things – through the Rastafarian movement . . . Mr Marley . . . decided that he had to employ not only the outward signs but also the inward grace of the movement. The inner landscape is very much dependent on the belief, faith of the Rastafarian movement . . .

Reggae is therefore in and of itself a landscape dependent on the belief of the Rastafari. In reggae, the Rastafarian has a medium through which to represent the issues, identities and aesthetic of an experience which would otherwise be a subaltern voice. Planno, in support of the reggae medium, said, “We [Rastafari] take the V off ‘pope’ and create ‘pop’ music.” This medium, now world music, has become a quintessential Voice’ and Vision’ of the Rastafari’s landscape, as it seeks to proselytise, conscientise and, in the idiom of Rastafari, ‘chant down Babylon’.
The landscape that reggae provides as a national site for converging the experiences and aspirations of the Jamaican people significantly supports the thesis of Nettleford about the centrality of Rastafari as a cultural treasure for humanity. The potential in reggae is therefore not only in its manifested unification of the inner and outer landscapes of the Rastafari and the African Jamaican experience, but also in its humane qualities that provide an empathetic potential for all who hold the need for liberation, equity and dignity. To this extent the society has been typecast within the Rastafari scenery or landscape of reggae. It is this landscape that scholars such as Kwame Dawes identify not only as the spirit of Jamaica but also as the aesthetic of the Caribbean people and, I would add, perhaps even the African diaspora.

This idea of the reggae machinery as one of the chief expressions of the spirit of the Caribbean peoples links us back to Sir Arthur Lewis’s statement, “We are all Rastas”, as the music has been imbued and mandated to speak for us to break the silence. This, of course, brings into focus the social contradictions: reggae, a highly commercialised and successful music genre, has out-stripped in prominence its own inventors, the Rastafari. Additionally, reggae, which is a testimony of the Rastafari inner landscape, has increasingly been channelled away from its core producers’ ideological anxieties to represent seemingly the less germane aspects of the African experience. Nettleford realised this contradiction, and it was this that he identified as an appropriation of Rastafari by some reggae musicians who, he implied, are like wolves in sheep’s clothing, without a genuine appreciation for the inner grace.

Chapter from-

Nettleford and Rastafari’s Inner Landscape
by JAHLANI NIAAH
Source: Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 3/4, (December 2011)

Image source: Island Outpost

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Higher Learning

On Emperor Haile Sellassie I as the Living God

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

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Babylon Report, dUb, Higher Learning

On industry, slackness and spirituality

Another influence was the growing backlash against “slackness” and “violence” music in certain circles. Hence the “banning” of Lady Saw from  performing in Montego Bay proclaimed by that city’s Mayor after her notorious success at one of the music festivals there; or the decision by various members of the Jamaican Federation of Musicians to refuse to provide musical backing for singers of slackness or violence, or a renewed policy of filtering of much of this music by certain of the radio stations and a corresponding promotion of “spiritual” music.

The conditions in the “industry” were therefore conducive to a renewal. It is obvious that the swing benefitted enormously from the emergence of heavily “spiritual” singers of the quality of Garnet Silk in the early nineties, or Luciano slightly after, but the dance hall also experienced a duality in some and an outright “conversion” in others of its major figures. Lady Saw, for example, the top female D.J. who continues to be the undisputed queen of sex lyrics, can sing a highly successful song of praise and thanks to God (“Glory be to God”) for her material advancement resulting from those same “slackness” songs. In the midst of his 1991 album of sex lyrics, “Gold”, Capleton sings a song “Bible fi dem,” proclaiming his religious righteousness. It is neither that these singers are being inconsistent nor that they are being opportunist. Indeed, their reconciliation of sex with spirituality is consistent with a value system that does not dichotomize carnality and spirituality.

Naturally, such a mix does not meet with approval from orthodox Rastafari. In discussing “the anointing” of dancehall, Yasus Afari argues that: “You cannot accept just any song into the dance because the dance is to praise Jah.”

Even Capleton becomes intolerant of sexual lyrics in his more recent phase. And yet, Bob Marley had no difficulty in singing songs of sexual expression, if not slackness, recognizing the validity of this human dimension, just as front-line “conscious” singers like Buju Banton today defend the mix of carnality and spirituality.

Found in: Babylon to Vatican: Religion in the Dance Hall
Author: Joseph Pereira
Source: Journal of West Indian Literature, Vol. 8, No. 1 (OCTOBER 1998)

Image source: Lady Saw Net Worth

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Babylon Report, Higher Learning

On eating with Christ

On Friday, March 16, 1934, Leonard Howell and Robert Hinds, founding evangelists of the Rastafari gospel, were in the fourth day of their trial for sedition in a Jamaican court. They were on trial because they promoted a message that threatened Jamaica’s colonial status quo: Black Jamaicans should transfer their loyalty from Britain’s King George V to King Ras Tafari of Ethiopia. They preached that King Ras Tafari was Christ returned to redeem Black people and to inaugurate a new and just order.

Jamaica’s national newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, which covered the trial, reported that “Howell said that it was prophesied that in the days of the kings of the earth, Jehovah would raise up a king with a righteous government . . . that Christ would return to earth as the Messiah, in the flesh; and that they would be able to see Him, and touch Him,
and eat with HIM.”

Found in:
The Cultural Production of a Black Messiah: Ethiopianism and the Rastafari
by Charles Price, from:
Journal of Africana Religions, Volume 2, Number 3, 2014, pp. 418-433

Art source: Christ ‘Pantocrator’

The Trustees of the British Museum, Museum number 1998,0605.34.

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Higher Learning

Emperor wept

rasta

Found in chapter Visit by Emperor, from:
Protest and Mysticisim: The Rastafari Cult of Jamaica
Author: Sheila Kitzinger
Source: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Autumn, 1969)

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Higher Learning, Kaneh Bosm

RASTAFARI AS A SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE – MESSAGES FROM JAMAICA

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Higher Learning

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN HAILE SELASSIE WENT TO JAMAICA?

What happened when Haile Selassie went to Jamaica?

On April 21, 1966, Haile Selassie visited Jamaica. Remember, this was 36-years after his coronation and the enthusiasm of Rasta was undimmed. There was now a new generation of Rastas, many of whom still harboured the vision of an exodus. But by now, many had built an Rastafarian worldview: Babylon was how they described the white-dominated post-colonial system, which directed its efforts to controlling black people and keeping them in a condition Rastas described as “mental slavery,” meaning they were still subservient to whites and accepted their own inferiority. Haile Selassie was overwhelmed by the rapturous reception and clearly liked the lavish praise and worshipful admiration of Rastas. He did nothing to dispel beliefs in his divine status. By this time, Garvey had died and his criticism of Haile Selassie forgotten. The Emperor himself had been ousted in 1936 after Italy invaded Ethiopia, or Abyssinia, as it was then known. He lived in exile; this, in fact, was one of the principal reasons Garvey attacked him – for leaving his own countrymen at the mercy of Italy. Haile Selassie reinstituted his powers as emperor in 1941, with support from Britain. We don’t know for sure, but it’s likely that when Haile Selassie visited, a 21-year-old Jamaican who had, the year, before formed a trio called the Wailers, was among the rapturous thousands honouring their redeemer. His name was Robert Nesta Marley.

From HAILE SELASSIE — RASTAFARIAN MESSIAH by Ellis Cashmore.

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