The Rastafarian Movement

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The Rastafarian Movement

Since its founding in the 1930s, the Rastafarian movement has grown to the point where it has become a major cultural and political force in Jamaica. During its existence, the movement has challenged Jamaica's neo-colonialist society's attempts to keep whites at the top and blacks at the bottom of the socio-economic structure.
Because of its controversial actions, the movement has evoked responses from observers that range from "hostility" to "curiosity" (Forsythe 63). On one hand, Rastafarians have been criticized because of their belief that Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia, is God and that marijuana (ganja) should be used as a religious sacrament. On the other hand, the Rastafari have been praised for their continual resistance to and confrontation with oppression, racism, and the exploitation of the poor and underprivileged (Campbell 1).
Unfortunately, most early studies of the Rastafarian movement create a distorted image of the group. Jamaica's national newspaper, the Daily Gleaner's, anti-Rastafarian perspective led many to conclude that the Rastafarians were Black Marxist "racists" whose "criminality" was linked to drug-addiction. As an example of the distorted image, Morris stated the following:
They are vehement in their attacks on the government, the white man, imperialism and Christianity, and their eloquence is touched by that naivete which derives...from an almost total ignorance of the world, economic affairs, and any sense of history. This is not to say that they do not have a cause; it is simply to state that whatever case they may have, they parody it with their odd speech, dress and behaviour. (89)
Despite the often negative image projected in the press and other writings, the Rastafarian movement has grown at a rapid rate. In 1977, an estimated 75,000 native Jamaicans were followers of Rastafari (Davis and Simon, Reggae Bloodlines, 63). By 1988, Barrett conservatively calculated the membership of the worldwide movement to be 300,000 (2). Forsythe observed that Rastafarianism "represents a growing force wherever sizable West Indian communities are found--in Britain, Canada, the USA and in the Caribbean" (63).
There are several possible explanations for the rapid growth of Rastafari. One major factor in its expansion was the emergence in the late 1960s of reggae music, a derivative of American rhythm and blues and Jamaican ska. Reggae helped spread the philosophy of Rastafari to the wider Jamaican audience and the world. During that period of time, Bob Marley and the Wailers were the principal popularizers of reggae.

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"The Rastafarian Movement." 20 Apr 2018
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Before Marley's death in 1981, the Wailers, with albums like Burnin' (1973) and Survival (1979), articulated a message of liberation and redemption which had "the power to transform a world of injustice and war into one of peace and love" (Reid 172). By 1986, the Wailers' ten albums had sold more than 20 million copies (Jennings 69).
Marley and his music were significant forces in the increased popularity of the movement. Barrett felt that the growth of the movement was "largely due to the charismatic personality of Robert Nesta Marley" (213). Davis and Simon proposed that the Wailers' music had thrust "the Rasta cosmology into the middle of the planet's cultural arenas, and suddenly people [wanted] to know what all the chanting and praying and obsessive smoking of herb [were] all about" (Reggae Bloodlines 63).
Because Marley's music was such a powerful force in the rise of the Rastafarian movement, there are many popular and scholarly writings which focus on Marley and his music. An analysis of Marley's songs provides explanations of the success of his music as well as larger insights into the persuasive power of music, particularly music calling for significant changes in society.
Although the Wailers were founded in the early 1960s, only with Catch a Fire in 1973 was the band's influence truly felt outside Jamaica. Because the ten years from 1973 to 1983 included the period of Marley's greatest success, this study will focus on a selected sample of 40 songs, covering the interval between Catch a Fire (1973) and Confrontation (1983).
Marley's use of powerful metaphors assisted in expressing and popularizing Rastafarian ideas. His utilization of religious and social metaphors established a dichotomy between good and evil, provided strategies for action, and offered a solution for peoples' problems by advancing the concept of repatriation. The ambiguous nature of the metaphors and the high level of identification Marley created with his audience made the songs effective as protest music.
Musically, reggae is powerful because it is effective in areas with high illiteracy. In those regions, the music acts as a catharsis which helps free people from the problems of the external world. Reggae disseminates information and offers the poor an opportunity to participate publicly in voicing opinions which would normally be censored by the government (Davis, "Talking Drum..." 34).
Rein and Springer observed that in previous studies lyrics were "counted, evaluated, and analyzed to a fine degree, while the music [was] scarcely mentioned or simply ignored" (252). Because most previous studies focused mainly on the discursive elements of music, there may be a lack of understanding of the meaning and impact of the music and therefore scholars may make less than thorough judgments of songs with social and cultural implications. In other words, an understanding of the aesthetic conditions of musical styles is fundamental to understanding the persuasive impact of music. Before turning to an analysis of reggae's lyrical and musical dimensions, it may be useful to discuss some findings of existing research on music as communication.
As a type of mass communication, "recorded or publicly performed music speaks directly to society as a cultural form" (Lull 364). According to Lull, music communicates on three levels: "physical" (dancing), "emotional" ("feeling" the music), and a "cognitive level" (processing information) (368). Music not only communicates meaning on these levels but "encourages movement" and active participation and socialization through "dancing" and the "mouthing [of] lyrics" (Lull 368).
Scholars have distinguished three persuasive components which distinguish music from other forms of communication. First, music is repetitive in nature. The persuasive elements of music are created through redundancy. Redundancy is "the borrowing of a line from another well-known song" (Booth 244). Redundancy can occur intrinsically or extrinsically. Intrinsic redundancy occurs when the artist borrows musical or lyrical elements from past works while extrinsic redundancy involves borrowing elements which are specifically related to a targeted audience (Gonzalez and Makay 4-9).
Second, music emphasizes the nondiscursive because it operates on a physiological mode which affects the human body:
[Music] literally touch[es] our body intimately in a greater variety and succession of different ways than the spoken word, employing a broader range and a larger variety of different melodies, rhythms, and chord progressions, and instrumentations than are possible with only the spoken word. (Chesebro, Foulger, Nachman, and Yannelli 117)
Third, music is an experiential form of communication. As an artistic form, music involves a collection and pattern of "personal experiences" (Chesebro 118). Since music is connotative in nature, the listener can place his/her interpretation on the song. As Chesebro, Foulger, Nachman, and Yannelli note, "the musical form functions as one of the essential vehicles for sharing highly personal and esoteric experiences" (118).
As a vehicle for sharing personal experiences, reggae can be classified as protest music. As a reaction to injustices, protest music is a vehicle for musical artists to identify an antagonist, the source that is to be blamed for suffering, and offer solutions to escape from problems in the existing social order.
In order to achieve its goals, protest music uses a political message encapsulated within the celebratory tone of music. Knupp states that protest songs often sacrifice instrumentality for expressiveness, that is, the songs "attempt to evoke consciousness while circumventing intellectual activity" (386).
Protest songs do not present formally constructed logical arguments. Rather, protest songs present messages in a general form. Song writers create messages which "thrive on ambiguities, sweeping assertions, and panoramic criticisms rather than on specific issues, policies, and arguments" (Knupp 384-85). In addition, protest songs are simplistic because they often disregard concrete historical references (Knupp 385).
Stewart, Smith, and Denton proclaimed that most protest songs "described the present, identified one or more devils, listed demands or solutions, and urged listeners or participants to act" (230). In an analysis of 714 protest songs, they found the following:
[The songs] tended to be negative rather than positive, pessimistic rather than optimistic, general rather than specific, and mild rather than abrasive in language. While most songs were addressed to the in-group rather than to potential legitimizers or the opposition, they were not "movement centered." (230)
Protest songs may fail to perform important persuasive functions. Knupp argued that protest songs "could be of little use in recruiting new members from those who do not sympathize with the movement" (388). In addition, most protest songs perform largely in-group functions because they are "too negative and ambiguous to be directly attractive to anyone other than movement members or sympathizers" (Knupp 388).
Stewart, Smith, and Denton suggest that attention to the past and future would be helpful in legitimizing the movement for members and non-members (231). In addition, attention to the past and future could help the movement legitimize its goals, establish the urgency of the problem and portray the future more effectively. Finally, the researchers suggest that more attention to the self could assist in reducing feelings of inferiority and act as counterarguments to established institutions.
Despite the questionable benefits of songs to protest movements, Knupp believes protest music to be effective when there is a high degree of ambiguity and when music speaks to a listener's experience and social conditions (386).
Classical and contemporary authors differ in their discussions of the role of metaphor in communication. Classical writers described metaphor as a trope, an embellishment of ordinary language (Foss 187-88). To classical authors, metaphor was considered part of extraordinary, not ordinary language.
However, contemporary theorists view metaphor as part of ordinary language. Lakoff and Johnson state that "metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action" (3). Contemporary language theorists have transformed the narrow view of metaphor to the idea that all thought is metaphorical. Modern writers have argued that metaphor affects our thoughts and experiences of reality (Foss 188), structures how we act (Lakoff and Johnson 3) and is central to the invention of arguments (Ivie 240-41).
There are two elements in the metaphor: the tenor, or subject, and the frame, or vehicle. For instance, Marley might make the statement: "Babylon kills the children day by day." In this example, "Babylon" is the tenor; "kills the children" the frame. Leff states that metaphoric meaning emerges when the interaction between the tenor and the frame "causes a response that decomposes the elements associated with these terms and then recombines them into a new structure of meaning" (217).
A framework helpful in isolating the metaphoric clusters in Marley's music was developed in a paper by Dirk Gibson entitled "I & I v downpressor man: Reggae as an instrument for social change." Gibson's extensive review of reggae songs suggests five reoccurring themes: Jah (God), Downpression/Babylon, War/ Peace, Poverty and Unity. After reviewing 40 songs by Bob Marley and the Wailers, four additional metaphoric clusters were discovered: God/Devil, Oppression/Freedom, War and Unity.
One of the dominant clusters in Marley's songs includes the use of God/Devil terms. In his songs, the Rastafari God is the late emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. In the music Selassie was commonly referred as Jah (short for Jehovah) or His Imperial Majesty.
The first cluster featuring JAH contains several vehicles: "goodness," "uplifting," "lead," "glory," "guide," "protect," "love," "power," "authority," "righteousness," "living," "life," and "faith." These vehicles suggest that JAH serves three functions: Jah is the embodiment of goodness and love; Jah acts as a protector and guide; and Jah asks his followers to remain patient and faithful for the reward of eternal life in Mount Zion, the Rastafari heaven.
Jah is described as the eternal life force of love and goodness. In "Small Axe" (Burnin'), Marley proclaims: "But the goodness of Jah, Jah/I'doreth for Iver." In "Give Thanks and Praises" (Confrontation), Marley exclaims: "Rastafari is His Name/JAH Rastafari is His Name, Jah/If Jah didn't love, if I didn't love I/If Jah didn't love, if I didn't love I/Would I be around today/Would I be around today."
Jah has the power and authority to guide and protect his followers. In "Blackman Redemption" (Confrontation), Marley employs biblical imagery: "Coming from the root of King David/Through the line of Solomon/His Imperial Majesty is the Power of Authority." "Duppy Conqueror" (Burnin') describes a Rasta gaining freedom from the power of imprisonment: "The bars could not hold me/Force could not control me, now/They try to keep me down/But Jah put I around."
Jah tells his followers to be patient in waiting for the coming glory of Zion. In "I Know" (Confrontation), Marley sings: "Ain't it good to know now, JAH will be waiting there." "Johnny Was" (Rastaman Vibration) depicts a poor ghetto woman weeping over the death of her son. Marley reassures the grieving woman that "the wages of sin is death/Gift of Jah is life."
In many of Marley's songs, Jah is described as an omnipresent and omnipotent force who watches and protects his "children" in a manner similar to the Christian God. The one exception to this image is the revolutionary song "Get Up, Stand Up" (Burnin'). In that song, Marley declares that Jah is a "living man" who urges his followers to find Zion "on earth." Marley depicts the Rastafarian God in ambiguous terms--the only reference to Haile Selassie is by his title of "His Imperial Majesty." Marley does not describe Jah as the Black messiah, emperor of Ethiopia, or by the name Haile Selassie.
The Rastafarian devil is the world of Babylon. Babylon is "the corrupt establishment, the 'system,' Church and State,...the police" (Davis and Simon, Reggae International 69). Gibson defines Babylon people as "downpressors" who "act" from personal motive, such as greed, prejudice or jealously (28). In a general sense, Babylon is the oppressor of Rastafari.
The second set of clusters featuring BABYLON includes: "burn," "down," "soft," "sucking the children," "wicked," "fall," "prison," "brutality," "slave driver," "bull-bucker," "vampire," "vulture," "backbiters," "wolf-pack," "system," "vanity" and "destruction." These clusters indicate how Marley outlined the evilness of Babylon and how Babylon will eventually be destroyed. These clusters also suggest that Babylon, like Jah, is described in ambiguous terms.
Marley proclaimed that Babylon is an evil, destructive force in the world. Babylon is either depicted as an unnamed force, as an animal, or as a human downpressor. In identifying the unnamed force, Marley sings in "Chant Down Babylon" (Confrontation): "Come we go burn down Babylon/One more time/Come we go chant down Babylon one more time/For them soft/Yes them soft."
Marley employs animal metaphors to describe Babylon. In "Babylon System" (Survival), Marley represents Babylon as a vampire who is "sucking the children day by day/sucking the blood of the sufferers." In "Rastaman Live Up" (Confrontation), Marley sings: "Keep your culture/Don't be afraid of the vulture/Grow your dreadlock/Don't be afraid of the wolf pack." In "Duppy Conqueror" (Burnin'), the Babylon "bull" (bully) tries to prevent Marley from reaching Mount Zion: "So if you're a bull-bucker/Let me tell you this--I'm a Duppy Conqueror."
Marley further describes Babylon as human downpressors. In "Slave Driver" (Catch a Fire), Babylon is personified in the slave owner: "Everytime I hear the crack of the whip/My blood runs cold/I remember on the slave ship/Where they brutalized our very souls/Slave driver/The table is turned/Catch a fire/So, you can get burned."
In his music, Marley describes the future destruction of Babylon. In "Rasta Man Chant" (Burnin'), Marley sings: "Said, I hear the words of the Higher Man say/Babylon you throne gone down, gone down." Another example is "Natural Mystic" (Exodus) which is a curse to Babylon: "Woe to the downpressor/They eat the bread of sorrow/Woe to the downpressor/They eat the bread of sad tomorrow."
In many of his songs, Marley employs religious imagery to describe the fall of Babylon. In "Jump Nyabinghi" (Confrontation), Marley proclaims: "It gives great joy to see sweet togetherness/ remind I of the days in Jericho/When we trodding down Jericho walls/ ... We keep on Trodding until Babylon falls." In "Rastaman Live Up!" (Confrontation) Marley sings: "Saw it in the beginning/So shall it be in this time/And they fallen in confusion/Well a just a step from Babel tower."
An essential difference between JAH and BABYLON is based on the orientation of the metaphor. Lakoff and Johnson say that the metaphor "up" is good while "down" is bad (14-21). JAH is described as UP--the uplifting savior who will repatriate his followers to Mount Zion. Babylon is described as the "downpressor"--the system that keep people oppressed and enslaved. The second difference is that JAH is described positively in human or godlike terms. BABYLON is depicted negatively in human terms (slave driver), or as an animal: vampire, bull and wolf.
The use of JAH and BABYLON also constitute religious metaphors. Marley's metaphors allow followers to conceptualize the universe as a religious struggle between the forces of good and evil. Through the Godlike powers of Jah, Rastafarians hope for a better world through the destruction of their enemy, Babylon.
Another dominant metaphor cluster surrounds the concepts of oppression and freedom. The cluster, featuring OPPRESSION, contains several vehicles: "poverty," "children crying," "segregation," "suffering," "down on the rock," "sub-human bondage," "Permanent screw," "barriers," "boundaries," "chains," "concrete jungle," "illiteracy," "wailing," "heartaches," "lonely teardrop," "captivity," "Three o'clock roadblock," and "seas of injustice." These vehicles suggest that Marley not only addresses the poverty experienced in the Jamaican shanty towns but poverty experienced in the third world. Marley attempts to identify with those individuals who suffer oppression and poverty in the world of Babylon.
In the Wailers' songs, Marley discusses third-world problems like hunger, illiteracy and housing. "Them Belly Full" (But We Hungry) (Natty Dread) examines the consequences of hunger: "Them belly full/But we hungry/An hungry mob is a angry mob/A rain a fall but the dutty tough/A pot a cook but the food no 'nough." In "Slave Driver" (Catch a Fire), Marley sings: "Today they say we have freedom/Only to be chained in poverty/Oh, good God I think it's illiteracy/It's only machine that make money." In "Talkin' Blues" (Natty Dread): "The hard ground was my bed last night/And the rock was my pillow, too."
Marley observes that much of this oppression is focused on children and women. In many of his songs, children and women are described as weeping or wailing. In "Hallelujah Time" (Burnin'), The Wailers' percussionist, Bunny Wailer, sings: "Hear the children crying/But I know they're not crying in vain." In "No Woman, No Cry" (Natty Dread) Marley comments on the status of women trapped in poverty and reassures them: "Oh, little darling/Don't shed those tears/...everything is going to be alright." Finally, in "Johnny Was" (Rastaman Vibration): "Woman hold her head and cry/Cause her son has been shot down in the street/And died/From a stray bullet."
The opposing metaphor of OPPRESSION is FREEDOM. That metaphor contains several vehicles: "bird," "Mount Zion," "fly away," "equal opportunities," "exodus," "redemption," "lively up yourself" and "music." Those vehicles suggest that freedom can be obtained through repatriation or through the power of music.
Marley describes freedom as the ability to remove oneself from the presence of Babylon. Freedom is often represented by the metaphor of a bird. In "Rasta Man Chant" (Burnin'), Marley proclaims: "I say fly away to Zion/Fly away home/One bright morning/When my work is over/Man will fly away home." In "Exodus" (Exodus), Marley makes a direct statement about the exodus to Zion: "Open your eyes and look within/Are you happy with the life you're living/We know where we are going/We know where we are from/We're leaving Babylon/We're going to our Father's land/Exodus!"
Marley describes the repatriation of Rastafari only in vague terms. Is leaving Babylon a physical exodus or merely mental liberation from oppression? Is Zion in Africa? Or is Zion merely the unification of non-Babylon followers?
While repatriation is a familiar theme in Marley's lyrics, music also plays a powerful role in the concept of freedom. On one level, music has the power to dull pain. The opening lines to "Trenchtown Rock" (Live!) are: "One good thing about the music/When it hits/Ya feel no pain." In "Them Belly Full" (Natty Dread): "We're going to dance to Jah music--dance/...Forget your sickness and dance/Forget your weakness and dance." Finally, in "Three Little Bird" (Exodus), Marley wakes up to birds singing "a melody so sweet" with the message that "everything is going to be alright."
In other songs, music can be used as means of freeing the oppressed. One example is "Trench Town" (Confrontation): "We free the people/With music, sweet music/Can we free the people with music/Can we free our people/With music, with music." Therefore, reggae music is described as having the power to free the oppressed people from the pain of their captivity.
The essential difference between OPPRESSION and FREEDOM is based on the orientation of the metaphor. A down metaphor of oppression implies low-status individuals who are chained to the poverty and the suffering of the concrete jungle. An up metaphor of freedom implies high status individuals who have the power of a bird to remove themselves from the surroundings of the downpressor.
3. WAR
Another prominent metaphor is WAR. The cluster spotlights vehicles like: "riots," "demonstrations," "killing," "struggle," "revolution," "battle," "courage," "raging," "looting," "burnin'" "ambush," "fallen fighters," "freedom fighters," and "shot down."
Marley equates war with human rights by commenting on the struggle for human rights in Jamaica. In many songs, Marley advocates fighting for equality in the face of poverty in the shanty town. In "Burnin' and Lootin'" (Burnin'), there is a battle call to "burning all pollution tonight/Burning all illusions tonight."
In other songs, human rights are discussed in relation to the political violence that surrounded the 1976 and 1980 elections in Jamaica. In the unreleased song "Slogans," Marley details the horror and political violence on the Kingston streets: "I see demonstrates, segregation, riots/False prophets, dictators, traitors/I see boundaries and barriers/Can't take your slogans no more" (Davis, Bob Marley... 307).
Marley also discusses the struggle for human rights in Africa. In "Zimbabwe" (Survival) he exclaims that "Every man got a right/To decide his own destiny/And in his judgment/There is no partiality/So arm in arm, with arms/We will fight this little struggle." Perhaps the most direct statement on human rights in Africa is the song "War" (Rastaman Vibration)--lyrics selected from a speech by Haile Selassie in 1968. In that song, Marley sings: "And until the ignoble and unhappy/Regime that now hold our brothers/In Angola, in Mozambique, South Africa/In sub-human bondage, have been/Toppled utterly destroyed/Until that day the African continent/Will not know peace/We Africans will fight, if necessary/And know we shall win/As we are confident in the victory of good over evil/Of good over evil."
Often, however, Marley addresses the subject of human rights on an individual level. An example is "Get Up, Stand Up" (Burnin'): "Get up, stand up (yeah, yeah)/Stand up for your rights (oh)/... don't give up the fight (Life is your right)...Get up, stand up (people struggling on)/Don't give up the fight (yeah)."
Another cluster, featuring UNITY, highlights several vehicles: "one love," "one people," "feel alright," "flock together," "birds of a feather," and "come together." In "One Love/People Get Ready" (Exodus), Marley sings: "One love, one heart/Let's get together/and feel all right." In "Survival" (Survival): "We've got to survive/But to live as one equal in the eye of the Almighty." In "One Foundation" (Catch a Fire), the Wailers' guitarist, Peter Tosh, acknowledges that unity will occur only if racism and discrimination are eradicated: "Got to put aside them segregation/Got to put aside them organisation/We got to put aside them denomination/Or there will be no love at all/There will be no love at all." Unity implies that humans must eliminate the barricades of racism and discrimination and unite as one people through the power of love.
The OPPRESSION/FREEDOM and WAR clusters constitute Marley's use of social condition metaphors. Through metaphor, Marley describes the devastating conditions of poverty and oppression in Babylon. Combined with the JAH and BABYLON metaphors, Marley explains the suffering and oppression in the world. Babylon is responsible for third-world hunger, illiteracy and inadequate housing. In a world filled with misery and violence, Marley's metaphoric description of the Rastafarianism goal of freedom from Babylon illuminates a powerful force of redemption.
While Jah is the principal guiding light of this redemption, the WAR metaphor implies that the Rastafari believe that human rights will only be achieved through protest, dissent and conflict. Thus, a straight admonition to God will not solve the problems of the third world. Furthermore, the FREEDOM metaphor represents the Rastafarian solution of a mental or physical repatriation. In the heaven of Zion, humankind will UNIFY through the power of love.
Now that the discursive metaphors in Marley's music have been identified and discussed, it is appropriate to briefly outline the nondiscursive musical dimensions of reggae. While the following section is not a complex treatment of reggae's intricate musical structure, it attempts to summarize some of the observations by reggae scholars and commentators.
The lyrics in reggae music are full of powerful metaphors which argue for change in society. Those lyrics are set to music which enhances the arguments contained in the lyrics. Reggae music is a merging of mento, ska, blue beat and rocksteady as well as some elements of southern rhythm and blues, soul music, rock and roll, Trinidadian calypso and African polyrhythms.
A reggae musical arrangement usually includes percussion, bass, guitar, keyboards and horns. The two most prominent instruments are the bass guitar and drums. According to Jones, in a reggae arrangement, the bass takes on a rhythmic, almost a "drum-like, function" that speaks and pauses "for effect" (Jones 24).
The "saying" and "pausing" function of the bass called "riddims" have an intimate, conversational quality.
The bass "says" a phrase, then pauses for a "breath" like a person speaking. The pause "frames" the phrase, and gives the mind of the listener time to absorb it. After a string of notes, the listener becomes accustomed to the presence of the bass in his ears and body. (Ehrlich 53)
The bass guitar resonates in the face, the abdominal cavity and the pelvic area (Ehrlich 52-55). In fact, the bass riddim, low in pitch and under the arrangement, moves past the intellect and "communicate[s] directly with the heart by actually massaging it in rhythm" (Ehrlich 53). Proclaimed throughout the world as "music of the heart," the tempo of reggae (72-90 beats per minute) is similar to the pulse of the human heart. The bass guitar emphasizes the relationship between the trap drum and the percussion instruments (Ehrlich 52-55).
Reggae drumming has different styles and rhythmic variations. Usually contained to a 4/4 time, four main beats to the bar of 4/4, one predominant style of drumming is the "flying cymbal." In this unique reggae drumming sound, the right hand plays on half-open hi-hat accompanied by "sustained afterbeats" (Ehrlich 52-55). The second drumming style, according to Ehrlich is called the "military style," characterized by a military-sounding snare sound.
While the reggae drummer is mainly a time-keeper, the dominant role of the bass frees the drummer to explore the rhythmic possibilities of rim shots and cymbal accents seldom witnessed in either rocksteady or ska. According to Ehrlich, while the bass drum can be felt in the chest cavity, the hi-hat, snare drum, and cymbals are restricted to the face region (52-55).
The Rastafarian percussion use of burra has been extremely influential. Burra is distinctly African in origin. This percussion is played on three large double-membrane drums usually made of rum kegs and goatskin. The largest drum, the bass, lays out the rhythm; the second drum, the repeater, plays the melody; the last drum, the funde, provides the syncopation.
Besides the bass and drums, other instruments make up the arrangement. The rhythm guitar is played in loose, loping strums, releasing a scratching staccato sound. The reggae rhythm guitar, borrowed from American R&B, is usually recorded at level comparable to the vocals affecting mainly the face region (Ehrlich 52-55).
Finally, keyboard, piano and horns add to the complexity and sophisticated interplay of the instruments. The role of the keyboard connects the bass guitar and the bass drum, forming an ensemble. The keyboard "shuffle" is the most "subliminal" in the arrangement, often communicating a warm, pleasant-sounding feeling (Ehrlich 52-55).
As a total ensemble, reggae music encourages the listener to dance. The physical power of reggae's bass is a key source of happiness in the dance. The reggae dancer, in experiencing the refraction and reintroduction of the rhythmic structure, shuffles meditatively to the beat. Davis and Simon define reggae as "outlaw music, primitive and tribal. Reggae is hypnotic, trance music" (1). Gibson describes reggae music as "assaulting the primitive brain stem where emotions originate" (37).
Because of the persuasive power of reggae lyrics, both the word and music are equal partners in the presentation of the message. Jones puts it simply: "Reggae's unique effectiveness, however, lies in the dynamic interplay between both these, verbal and non-verbal, modes of communication and their distinctive fusion into an organic musical whole (25)." That whole forms a powerful persuasive tool for artists like Marley and the Wailers to get their message to society.
Marley's use of both religious and social condition metaphors is effective in recruiting supporters of Rastafari because the songs offer potential followers an external enemy, strategies for action and a solution for oppression. The metaphors establish the dualism between conflicting forces engaged in a religious war: the downpressor, Babylon, and oppressed, Rastafari. By establishing this dichotomy, Rastafarianism shows that Babylon has been responsible for the suffering in the world. Through the use of war metaphors, Rastafarian ideology demands human rights. Through the power of Jah and dissent by the Rastafari, freedom is obtained through a spiritual/physical repatriation. With the destruction of Babylon, humankind will attain unity in Zion. In a sense, Marley has offered a picture of the past, has answered the question: "Why are we oppressed?" and has offered strategies and a solution to end oppression in the world. In other words, Marley presents a coherent story of the past, present and future.
The second key to Marley's success is due to the advantageous qualities of protest song. As discussed earlier, protest songs are most effective when there is a high degree of ambiguity and when the songs appeal to a listener's experience and social settings. Marley was able to identify with a wide range of people because of the ambiguous nature of his lyrics. For instance, Marley depicted both Jah/Rastafari and Babylon as being independent from a strict class/color interpretation. The Rastafari God, therefore, is not characterized as "Black" or the emperor of Ethiopia, but the creator of the universe who seeks to eliminate oppression from the world.
The Rastafari themselves are also portrayed in an ambiguous manner. Marley's depiction of the Rastafari is not restricted to one who is "Black," "Jamaican" or "African" but any individual who identifies with suffering and seeks the unity of humankind. Babylon is also portrayed in vague terms. Babylon is not portrayed as part of the "White" or "western" world, but as an evil and destructive force that seeks to enslave the Rastafari.
Marley's ambiguous metaphors effectively redefined "Black" to "those who despise oppression" and from the belief in a "Black God" to the "creator of the universe." Babylon is redefined from "western" or "White" to "the oppressor."
This ambiguity is also realized in the social condition metaphors. For instance, who is to be returned to the promised land? Africans? Rastas? Second, where is Mount Zion? Is Zion in Africa? Ethiopia? Is Africa a specific location or a concept of unity and peace? It seems that Zion can be interpreted as the promised land where all cultures can rejoice in the unity of love. Finally, is repatriation physical or spiritual? Will Rastas be physically transported to the promised land? Or does this liberation occur after Babylon has been defeated?
The ambiguous social condition metaphors help redefine some of the more controversial Rastafarian tenets: Mount Zion as heaven on earth and a physical exodus to Africa. These ideas are reinterpreted not as a physical reality but a transcendental/spiritual one.
Marley also uses the ambiguous conditions of the protest song to obscure historical facts. Marley's lyrics do not contain a serious interpretation of Ethiopianism or a biographical account of Jamaican leaders like Michael Manley. History is condensed into easily understood terms like "Jah," "repatriation," "Africa," "oppression" and "freedom." These words are often repeated in refrains and chorus to gain maximum persuasive effect.
A disregard for specific details and events may obscure some of the contradictions and "negative" ideas of the movement. Symbols and practices of dreadlocks (hair that is neither combed nor cut), ganja or communal living are obscured in the movement's positive claims on human rights and unity.
In addition to the ambiguous nature of the lyrics, Marley, through themes of poverty, oppression, hunger, was able to appeal to the listener's experiences and social settings. Third-world sufferers could identify with those hardships and find solace in the Rastafari world that attempts to act for the betterment of human rights.
As stated earlier, music does not demand literacy to elicit meaning in order to argue for change. In literate cultures, however, the written word of the public speech or the book demands literacy because it is essentially permanent, abstract and logical in nature.
Oral cultures do not have the permanency of the written word. Sound has a perishable and evanescent quality; once sound materializes it quickly vanishes (Ong 32). A song cannot be brought back and checked or given studious considerations.
Since oral cultures rely on memory, knowledge must be recollected (and recreated) through poetic devices such as repetition, redundancy, antithesis and other mnemonic devices. Either in recurring musical themes or the repetition of lyrics in chorus, music's redundancy allows people in oral cultures to remember the messages of the song.
In reggae music, the redundancy of Caribbean musical elements, religious stories or tales of social oppression may be familiar aspects of the listener's present situation. Through these themes, the listener can place his/her interpretation on the music, reflecting her/his experiences of oppression or hunger. The identification between artist and auditor serves as a powerful tool for the latter to reevaluate their social situation or find comfort in the realization that they can express frustration and catharsis with their musical ally.
Reggae also achieves identification through redundancy not only in oral cultures but literate cultures that do not identify with themes of oppression and poverty. As an amalgam of various musical genres, fans of rhythm and blues, soul, calypso, Latin and African music can readily associate with the melodic and rhythmic structure of reggae. One of the reasons the Wailers achieved worldwide success was the band's direction toward a more "international" sound, augmenting rock guitars and softer ballads in order to gain the widest audience appeal.
Ironically, reggae music (especially the Wailers) received little air play on Jamaican radio stations. To combat this problem, sound systems were widely used to bring the message of reggae to people who did not have access to technology. Sound systems are especially important in third-world countries where communication systems are inadequate. As Davis commented: "Communications in Jamaica are rudimentary and a large portion of the Jamaican folk are illiterate, so the sound systems are a vital medium for the dissemination of news and gossip" ("Talking Drum... 34).
A powerful measure of reggae's potency is its predisposition toward dance. Whether it be in the streets of Kingston or in a dance hall in Great Britain, reggae brings people together to share the intimate ritual of dance. Through this physical activity, the dancer often becomes intoxicated in the celebration of sound and movement, disregarding predicaments and contradictions of the outside world. Dance is a vehicle for catharsis from the external world. In the words of Marley: "Forget your worries and dance" (Natty Dread).
The effectiveness of reggae music is centered in the incongruity experienced from the lyrical and musical messages. While lyrical themes may elicit themes of social rage, the musical qualities invoke a hypnotic sensation of tranquility. Although reggae is an integration of complex rhythms, central importance is placed on the bass guitar that speaks directly to the human heart.
Reggae music has many universal qualities. It is part of oral culture, therefore works effectively in cultures where illiteracy rates are high. Delivered through the sound system, reggae music brings information to people who do not have access to technology. In addition, reggae music acts as an agent of socialization by allowing the voices of the poor to be heard without restrictions from church and state. Reggae music speaks on several levels: social rage on the cognitive level, fun and excitement on the physical level, and spiritual contemplation on the emotional level. More importantly, reggae music allows those who identify with the messages of the suffering and oppression to gain catharsis through dance. The listener is attracted to the pleasing, relaxing sounds of the music while simultaneously persuaded to the lyrical message.
When Marley died in 1981, he was considered by many to be a Christ-like figure. He championed human rights throughout the world and attempted to comfort the sufferers of the third world. In the end, Marley reconceptualized the notion of Rastafari from "criminals" and "drug addicts" to a movement which sought human rights, freedom and unity.
This study offers observations on the power of protest music and proposes avenues for future research while at the same time confirming some of the findings of past research on protest music. Indeed, Marley's music was effective in gaining adherents to the movement because of the ambiguous nature of the lyrics and the fact that the songs appealed to the listener's experience and social settings. The songs identified an antagonist, outlined the movement's ideology, created anxiety about the future and tried to recruit people to the movement.
Moreover, reggae performs important persuasive functions that most protest songs fail to achieve. For instance, Marley's use of both religious and social condition metaphors is often optimistic, positive and movement-centered. In addition, Marley's use of the "war" metaphor indicates that he issues threats and prescribes violent acts to end oppression in the world. In addition, both the religious and social condition metaphors urge audiences to remain committed to the cause and assure ultimate victory. In addition, reggae music is concerned not only with the present circumstances but with the past and future. In other words, Marley was able to use reggae music to perform important persuasion functions: recruitment, legitimation and commitment.
Finally, this study calls into question the claim that protest songs are too negative and ambiguous to be effective in recruiting members outside the movement. As stated earlier, through both the ambiguous nature of the lyrics and the appeal to the listener's social setting and experiences, Marley was able to recruit both movement sympathizers like British West Indians and potential legitimizers like the former People's National Party Prime Minister, Michael Manley.
Reggae's power as protest music reflects not only the lyrics of oppression and redemption, but the aesthetic qualities of its third-world sound. Consequently, more research is needed in the area of measuring the effectiveness of protest music on both the lyrical and musical levels. Most of the existing research is concerned with the function, rhetorical limitations and effectiveness of protest music from a lyrical standpoint.
Rein and Springer argue that by ignoring musical dimensions, researchers "disregard much of its meaning and impact" of the music (252). They propose that early efforts regarding popular music focused primarily on the lyrical content resulting in a one-dimensional perspective. By expanding the "traditional filter" (Rein and Springer 254) of lyrical aspiration, researchers may discover the communication power of music in transcending boundaries or creating social entities such as subcultures and folk traditions (Chaffee 413).
In addition, critics must be able to go beyond a descriptive discussion of the music. Critics must be able to use the specialized skills of an ethnomusicologist to analyze various musical structures. In his analysis of Dixieland jazz, Holmberg argues that a "close scrutiny of the music of a single song can help us understand how it achieves its persuasive impact" (74). Holmberg analyzes the song's melodic structure, chord progression, rhythm and the nature of the instrumental source.
Finally, scholars should examine the concept of sound in metaphor. A review of the existing research shows an exclusive preoccupation with discursive communication. An analysis focusing on the musical variables of melodic structure, chord progression and rhythm could produce the interpretation needed for identifying and sorting of metaphors. For example, it has been suggested that most African-American based music has two conflicting metaphors: wailing and tranquility. Studies of a variety of musical forms may show the universality of metaphors. In any case, Bob Marley's rhetoric of redemption demonstrates the power of reggae music as a "metaphor" for human rights, freedom and unity.
Added material
Stephen King, Division of Language and Literature, Delta State University, Cleveland, MS 38733.
Richard Jensen, School of Communication, University of Nevada--Las Vegas.


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