A religious movement that accepts Haile Selassie I,
as King of Kings, Lord of Lords and the Lion of Judah as Jahy.
Music & Rastafari
A religious movement that emerged in Jamaica in the early 1930s,
arising from an interpretation of Biblical prophecy.
Role of Music in the Rastafari movement
Music has long played an integral role in Rastafari, and the connection between the movement and various kinds of music has become well known, due to the international fame of musicians like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
Nyabinghi music is the most integral form of Rastafarian music. It is played at worship ceremonies called grounations, that include drumming, chanting and dancing, along with prayer and smoking of ritual ganja. The name Nyabinghi comes from an East African movement from the 1850s to the 1950s that was led by women who militarily opposed European imperialism. This form of nyabinghi was centered around Muhumusa, a healing woman from Uganda who organized resistance against German colonialists. Thye British in Africa later led efforts against Nyabinghi, classifying it as witchcraft through the Witchcraft Ordinance of 1912. In Jamaica, the concepts of Nyabinghi were appropriated for similar anticolonial efforts, and it is often danced to invoke the power of Jah against an oppressor.
The drum is a symbol of the Africanness of Rastafari, and some mansions assert that Jah’s spirit of divine energy is present in the drum. African music survived slavery because many slaveowners encouraged it as a method of keeping morale high. Afro-Caribbean music arose with the influx of influences from the native peoples of Jamaica, as well as the European slaveowners.
Another style of Rastafarian music is called burru drumming, first played in the Parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, and then in West Kingston. Burru was later introduced to the burgeoning Rasta community in Kingston.
Maroons, or communities of escaped slaves, kept purer African musical traditions alive in the interior of Jamaica, and were also contributing founders of Rastafari.
The first recording of Rastafarian music was perhaps made by Count Ossie. This was followed in the 1950s by various recordings of burru, as well as music of other Jamaican religions such as Pocomania. In 1953, Ossie introduced akete drums to Rastafarian communities in West Kingston, using styles and rhythms adapted from burru.
Ossie then recorded with the Fokes Brothers on “Oh Carolina”, a song produced by Prince Buster. “Oh Carolina” was the first popular song from Jamaica, and the same recording session produced the ska hits “They Got to Go” and “Thirty Pieces of Silver”. Ossie later became well known for other recordings (with his band, The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari) – especially 1974’s Grounation, featuring roots percussion and musical styles. Ossie also recorded albums that fell solidly into the jazz category, incorporating roots percussion and traditional Rasta influences into avant-garde jazz along the lines of Sun Ra or Archie Shepp, prior to his death in 1976.
Reggae was born amidst poor blacks in Trenchtown, the main ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica, who listened to radio stations from the United States.
Jamaican musicians, many of them being Rastas, soon blended traditional Jamaican folk music, American R&B, and jazz into ska, that later developed into reggae under the influence of soul.
Reggae began to enter international consciousness in the early 1970s, and Rastafari mushroomed in popularity internationally, largely due to the fame of Bob Marley, who incorporated nyabinghi and Rastafarian chanting into his music.
Songs like “Rastaman Chant” led to the movement and reggae music being seen as closely intertwined in the consciousness of audiences across the world (especially among oppressed and poor groups of African Americans and Native Americans, First Nations Canadians, Australian Aborigines and New Zealand Maori, and throughout most of Africa). Other reggae musicians with strong Rastafarian elements in their music include Toots and The Maytals, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Ras Michael, Prince Lincoln Thompson, Bunny Wailer Prince Far I, Israel Vibration and literally hundreds more.
Some orthodox Rastas disdain reggae as a form of commercial music and “sellout to Babylon.” To others, it is “JAH Throne Music”.