Tag Archives: Rastafari

New compilation charts the links between Rastafari and reggae

Layout 1Rastafari – a religion or maybe more a way of living – emerged in Jamaica in the 30s, a time of political and social change. But the pivotal catalyst for the Rastafari movement was the crowning of a black king in 1930 – Haile Selassie I or Ras Tafari. Followers of the movement see him as Jah, an incarnation of God.

A new compilation from Soul Jazz Records charts the many links between reggae and Rastafari. The album, which carry a hefty 20 tracks, spans nearly 30 years of revolutionary and exceptional music influenced by mento, jazz, nyabinghi drumming, anti-colonialism, equal rights and worldwide love.

Rastafari – The Dreads Enter Babylon 1955-83 is an in-depth look at reggae and Rastafari and includes righteous and conscious cuts from the likes of Counts Ossie, Johnny Clarke, Ras Michael, Rod Taylor and Mutabaruka.

According to the a press release from Soul Jazz, one of the earliest mentions of Ethiopia in Jamaican music can be found on mento singer Lord Lebby & The Jamaican Calypsonians’ 1955 recording Etheopia (included on the set), a cut where they sing about Ethiopianism, the political movement that calls for a return to Africa for black people.

But it was in the 1960s that Rastafarian music started to grow, particularly thanks to Count Ossie and his drummers. The visit of Haile Selassie to Kingston in 1966 was of course also instrumental and in the following decade Rastafarian reggae went global with Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and a host of more underground artists and musicians. Rastafarianism was now synonymous with reggae. It was spiritual with a political and cultural context.

But most of the cuts on this set are not for the faint-hearted. Crowd-pleasers are few and far between. Several of the songs are percussion-driven instrumentals or instrumentals heavily influenced by avant-garde jazz. A bunch of the tracks also includes chanting rather than singing.

This compilation is however a solid overview of a groundbreaking genre that became a rebel sound.

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Leonard Howell was the first Rasta

Reggae music is for many people synonymous with the teachings of Rastafari and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, crowned Ras Tafari in November 1930. If you dig a little deeper in this philosophy you’ll find Jamaican Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), an important figure in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement as well as for the ideas behind Rastafari.

French film maker and director Hélène Lee has however dug way deep in the Rasta movement and made a documentary about a well-travelled Jamaican preacher called Leonard Percival Howell (1898-1981), contemporary with Marcus Garvey and perhaps the most important figure behind the creation and rise of the Rasta movement in Jamaica.

The First Rasta follows in the footsteps in Leonard Howell and contains interviews with his family, academics, co-workers, musicians, politicians and ordinary people.

In his late teen Leonard Howell boards a boat in Jamaica and travels the world. Upon his return to his home island after almost 20 years he has lots of ideas and criticizes the western way of living. He is regarded by the authorities as a revolutionary and refuses to pay taxes to King George VI of the United Kingdom and is in 1933 arrested for treason and blasphemy.

He’s jailed, ridiculed and treated as insane, but manages to establish the first Rasta community in 1939. In Pinnacle, as the community is called, the first ideas concerning Rasta are formulated.

Pinnacle is isolated from the rest of society and frowned upon by the authorities. The camp is raided several times before it is finally shut down in 1959. The Rasta followers start to spread all over Jamaica and many settles down in the Kingston ghetto areas, and contrary to what the authorities wanted the movement starts to gain followers, where some of the most well-known ones are Burning Spear and Bob Marley.

This is a well-researched documentary that goes beyond the mere obvious – marijuana, reggae and dreadlocks. Hélène Lee manages to present a movement and a complex person with inspiration ranging from spirituality and black awareness to communism.

Even though the Rasta’s lives were made difficult in the early years, the movement and the ideas behind Rastafari have spread all over the world, and have had a strong and positive impact on many people lives. And all of this thanks to a man regarded as a threat to society.

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The rebellious daughter

Queen Ifrica is one of few female roots reggae singers today, and has had hits such as the anti child molesting Daddy or the reminiscing Times Like These. As the daughter of ska and rock steady vocalist Derrick Morgan she has music in her veins.

In an interview I did with her on the last night of Uppsala Reggae Festival she reveals that she defied her mother when she became a devoted Rastafarian. Check the interview over at United Reggae.

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