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A Music for All Spirits

  • An Interview in Zion : the Life-History ... (by )
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The stereotypes concerning the culture of reggae have become synonymous with the music itself. The genre culturally reappropriates and stylizes natty dreadlocks, counterrevolution, and cannabis consumption as facets of the Jamaican-borne music. The history of reggae music, however, includes more comprehensive interpretations.  It offers more than Bob Marley swinging his hair and smoking marijuana joints.

Popularized in the late 1960s, reggae combines borrowed musical styles. Mento, Jamaican folk music that transformed the hymns of local church music into celebratory dance tunes, was intended largely for rural audiences. Elements of New Orleans rhythm and blues, American jazz, and the concept of call and response melded to create a distinctive Jamaican groove. Predated by rocksteady, a genre named for the dances performed, reggae is a faster paced sound with elements of staccato guitar or piano chords played on the offbeats of the measure.

Toots and the Maytals, a Jamaican ska and rocksteady musical group, receives the credit for effectively naming and introducing reggae to the world. "Do the Reggay" was released in 1968. While it described "reggay" as a "new dance going around the town," the genre grew to better relate to social gossip, news, political commentary, and religious expression. World renowned artists, including Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff (a recipient of the Jamaican Order of Merit award), Peter Tosh (who famously played with Bob Marley), and Marcia Griffiths (the "queen of reggae") opined musically about love, freedom, government, revolution, and local society. While the Rastafarian movement, a way of life that encompasses spiritual cannabis use and a rejection of material possessions, is an important part of reggae culture, it is not a prerequisite.

Today reggae music has spread across the globe, impacting millions of listeners and performers. Giulia Bonocci's study, "An Interview in Zion: The Life-History of a Jamaican Rastafarian in Shashemene, Ethiopia," describes in great detail the diaspora of the Rastafarian movement and its relationship with reggae music. Emma Baulch's article, "Reggae Borderzones, Reggae Graveyards: Bob Marley Fandom in Bali,” points to the diverse interpretations of reggae music in nations all around the world.

By Logan Williams

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