Art, Music, Drama and Creativity

Rastafari have been very influential for the artistic and cultural works of Jamaica, including literature, poetry, painting, sculpture and carving, ceramics, theatre, dance, and music. Rastafari use art as a medium for social and spiritual messages, not simply decoration. It is a way to transform society. Rasta artists use found materials, such as boards, glass, and cardboard, in keeping with their veneration of nature and identification with the poor. They eschew expensive materials. Their works try to portray the daily experience of the poor. Art for the Rastafari is about the enrichment of life not just display. Since the 1970s, Rastafari imagery has become more commercialised as it has been spread alongside reggae music. The cultural impact of Rastafari, especially in Jamaica, has been much greater than the number of adherents would suggest. Music has a religious purpose, which Rastafari phrase as ‘churchical’. Traditional Rastafari music has its roots in 19th century gospel music and African drumming. Chanting and drumming feature heavily in meetings. Three types of drum are used: bass, a large drum; fundeh, a smaller upright drum; and peta (repeater) an even smaller drum. Count Ossie introduced ritual drumming in the early days of the movement; his rhythms were recorded from 1960. The drums each have a symbolic role: “The downbeat of the drummer symbolises the death of the oppressive society but it is answered by the akette drummers with a lighter upbeat, a resurrection of the society through the power of Ras Tafari” (Barrett 1977: 193). “The steady pulsing beat of the bass drum provides constant pressure which works to bring about the end of an oppressive Western system. The regular one-two heartbeat rhythm of the fundeh grounds and comforts. The repeater allows vent for protest as well as an avenue for the creative improvisation of the individual” (Christensen 2014: 66). The idea is to call to Africa through music. It is a music of invocation that aims to invoke the spirit and help it rise up over the oppressive system of Babylon. The Rastafari national anthem is taken from the anthem of the Garvey movement, “Ethiopia, Land of Our Fathers”, and is often a part of Rastafari ceremonies.

Rastafari music has had a considerable influence on mainstream music in America and Europe. Rastafari music first inspired the styles of ska and rocksteady. More significantly, reggae music is based closely on patterns of Rastafari ritual music. Reggae continues the Rastafari theme of making strong social and political commentary through music. One of the first reggae songs to become internationally successful was “Do the Reggae” by Toots and the Maytals in 1968. However, it was Bob Marley, a Rastafari, who was the most well-known performer of reggae music. His religious and political message through music was inspiring to people worldwide as well as Jamaicans beyond the Rastafari movement. Marley toured the world and spread reggae music and with it Rastafari beliefs, around which many of his songs are based.

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