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 movemen...
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...articipate 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.
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