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Reggae, Rastafari, and the Rhetoric of Social Control

Reggae, Rastafari, and the Rhetoric of Social Control

Stephen A. King
Barry T. Bays
P. Renée Foster
Copyright Date: 2002
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  • Book Info
    Reggae, Rastafari, and the Rhetoric of Social Control
    Book Description:

    Who changed Bob Marley's famous peace-and-love anthem into "Come to Jamaica and feel all right"?

    When did the Rastafarian fighting white colonial power become the smiling Rastaman spreading beach towels for American tourists?

    Drawing on research in social movement theory and protest music,Reggae, Rastafari, and the Rhetoric of Social Controltraces the history and rise of reggae and the story of how an island nation commandeered the music to fashion an image and entice tourists.

    Visitors to Jamaica are often unaware that reggae was a revolutionary music rooted in the suffering of Jamaica's poor. Rastafarians were once a target of police harassment and public condemnation. Now the music is a marketing tool, and the Rastafarians are no longer a "violent counterculture" but an important symbol of Jamaica's new cultural heritage.

    This book attempts to explain how the Jamaican establishment's strategies of social control influenced the evolutionary direction of both the music and the Rastafarian movement.

    From 1959 to 1971, Jamaica's popular music became identified with the Rastafarians, a social movement that gave voice to the country's poor black communities. In response to this challenge, the Jamaican government banned politically controversial reggae songs from the airwaves and jailed or deported Rastafarian leaders.

    Yet when reggae became internationally popular in the 1970s, divisions among Rastafarians grew wider, spawning a number of pseudo-Rastafarians who embraced only the external symbolism of this worldwide religion. Exploiting this opportunity, Jamaica's new Prime Minister, Michael Manley, brought Rastafarian political imagery and themes into the mainstream. Eventually, reggae and Rastafari evolved into Jamaica's chief cultural commodities and tourist attractions.

    Stephen A. King is associate professor of speech communication at Delta State University. His work has been published in theHoward Journal of Communications,Popular Music and Society, andThe Journal of Popular Culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-038-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxvi)

    From the shantytowns of Kingston, Jamaica, to the cobblestone streets of Great Britain, reggae music has been a powerful and liberating voice for the poor and oppressed. In the last thirty years, reggae stars Bob Marley, Burning Spear, and Alpha Blondy have sung “redemption” songs—messages of human rights and universal love—in a “Babylonian” world of civil unrest, political instability, and economic collapse. Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1979 single, “Zimbabwe,” was a national anthem for the Pan-African freedom fighters during the Rhodesian civil war (Fergusson 56). Marley’s influence was so great that Zimbabwe’s national flag is now based...

  5. PART ONE (1959–1971)

      (pp. 3-25)

      By the late 1950s, a newfound optimism permeated Jamaica’s warm tropical breezes. In a country with a history of slavery, institutionalized racism, class disparity, and economic dependence, this optimism appeared justified, at least at first glance. Despite its troubled past, Jamaica over the next few years would gain its national independence and experience an economic boom lasting until the late 1960s. The leaders of one of Jamaica’s leading political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), were excited by the prospect of independence. Yet they also realized the island was experiencing a host of sociopolitical problems, from overcrowding to crime. While...

      (pp. 26-44)

      In the mid-1960s, Jamaica’s tenuous national unity began to crumble into political instability and social chaos. The island continued to suffer from economic dependence on foreign countries, trade imbalances, rising unemployment, land displacement, and shortages of housing and food. The economic boom of the 1960s continued to benefit Jamaica’s elite, as the wealthy classes drove shiny new imported American cars and protected their homes from crime with electric fences and snarling attack dogs. In stark contrast, the poor survived in West Kingston’s “blazing” war zone of cardboard shacks, human waste, and steel-gray cement factories (Patterson,Children17–27).

      As Jamaica’s...

      (pp. 45-65)

      As a young independent nation, Jamaica was growing up fast. The optimistic cry of “Forward March” heard following independence was replaced with the panicked cry of the Ethiopians’ 1968 song, “Everything Crash.” After the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) retained political power in the 1967 elections, many Jamaicans feared a deepening economic crisis and five more years of ruthless, autocratic leadership. As the JLP increased Jamaica’s economic dependence on foreign countries and unemployment skyrocketed, Rastafarians, radical academics, and the militant poor became a more unified force of resistance. Many of these protest groups funneled their despair through the short-lived, but explosive,...

    • Chapter Four THE JAMAICA LABOUR PARTY’S “POLICY OF THE BEAST” The Rhetoric of Social Control Strategies
      (pp. 66-86)

      Since the 1930s, the Rastafarian movement has been in conflict with Jamaica’s colonialist web of economic exploitation and racial stratification. While the Rastafarian religion traditionally has emphasized repatriation back to Africa, the movement also has agitated for a number of political reforms in Jamaica. This politicization of Rastafari may be traced to Haile Selassie’s 1966 dictum, “liberation before repatriation,” yet the Jamaican government perceived the movement as a threat long before Selassie’s visit to Jamaica. Determined to maintain a neo-colonial social structure even after independence, and committed to a capitalist economic program dependent on political stability, Jamaica’s ruling class had...

  6. PART TWO (1972–1980)

    • Chapter Five INTERNATIONAL REGGAE Popularization and Polarization of Rastafari
      (pp. 89-104)

      After a decade of struggle against an increasingly repressive Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Jamaica’s poor and dissident groups embraced the candidacy of People’s National Party (PNP) leader Michael Manley, the son of former Prime Minister Norman Manley, for prime minister in 1972. During the national election campaign, Manley attempted to appeal to the Rastafarians and Jamaica’s Black Power movement. Manley even adopted the biblical name “Joshua” and promised the Jamaican people deliverance from oppression. Two years after winning the election, Manley formally declared Jamaica a “democratic socialist” country. Democratic socialism promised a redistribution of wealth in Jamaica and independence from...

      (pp. 105-120)

      During the 1960s, the Jamaican establishment denounced the Rastafarian movement as a scourge of frenzied drug abusers. A decade later, Jamaica’s new prime minister, Michael Manley, expressed sympathy for the Rastafarian movement, while Jamaica’s dominant classes increasingly embraced the movement as a cultural asset. A curious, often perplexed international media spotlighted this “new” religious “cult,” while a new generation of academic scholars approached the Rastafarians more sympathetically.¹ Observing these changes, religious studies scholar Neville Callam concluded in 1980 that for the first time in Jamaica’s history Rastafari had become “part of the taken-for-granted landscape” (43). Sociologist Klaus de Albuquerque believed...

    (pp. 121-134)

    During the 1970s, the Jamaican establishment and its surrogates employed an adjustment tactic, co-optation, to transform reggae music and the Rastafarians into what some have considered a “cultural fad.” In recent years, Rastafarian images and reggae music have become increasingly important in the promotion of Jamaica’s tourist industry. Many Caribbean and Pacific Basin islands have restructured their economics away from relying on agricultural exports (de Albuquerque and McElroy 619). As a result, many of these countries, including Jamaica, have turned to tourism as the primary foreign-exchange earner. With raked sandy white beaches and brilliant, crystal blue waters, Jamaica is a...

    (pp. 135-144)

    The Rastafarian movement is no longer considered a threat to Jamaica’s domestic tranquility or national security. Instead, it has been co-opted into a symbol of Jamaica’s cultural heritage and transformed into a tourist attraction. How this came about has implications for understanding social movements and music as a medium of protest. Although unique in some ways, the history of the Rastafarian movement has implications for all social movements that rely on music as a means of expression.

    While the Rastafarians exhibited some of the traditional characteristics of a social movement, the unique characteristics of this movement raise interesting questions about...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 145-149)
    (pp. 150-162)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 163-173)