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Absence of a political enquiry into the Rastafari of the Caribbean has always been an uncomfortable gap in the record of the Caribbean revolution. Now Horace Campbell has bade a big step towards the filling of that gap. This is not to suggest that Caribbean writers and thinkers (we should not confuse the two groups) have not done much investigation of the Rastafari way of life with all the clarity and depth which their areas of investigation permitted them; some have also ventured into the political dominion.
Cambell has many of the qualifications for the task he has undertaken. He has been struggling for some years to apply the scientific theory of society to the reality of African and Caribbean politics, and in the process has avoided the creation of false gods.
The development of reggae music and its circulation was part of a deliberate effort by the Rastafarians to present their message to the wider Jamaican community and to the black world. The transition from rock steady to reggae was, like the transition from ska to rock steady, an imperceptible process which was both a response to and a reflection of the changing social conditions of the society. Where rock steady had the legacy of singing the sex and romance songs of Jackie Opel and Lord Creator, reggae laid emphasis on Africa, black deliverance and redemption.
This emphasis in the lyrics was combined with a bass line and drumming which harked back to the conditions of slavery. Count Ossie's ensemble, the Mystic Revelations of Rastafari, was at one end of a thrust of Rasta chants, while the bass guitar of Aston Barret and Robbie Shakespeare was at the other end of an evolving sound.
It was in this period of the development of reggae that the masses reasserted the strong influence of cultural values in the development of the confidence of the society. Reggae opened possibilities at the cultural, political and technological level, and was an inexhaustible source of courage and moral support, such that reggae artists were able to enter the international arenas and force onto the world an expression of oppressed peoples which had been considered culturally and artistically inferior.
Numerous studies have documented the struggles of reggae artists in the Jamaican society, but in the course of the struggle they were able to draw inspiration from the people and in turn stirred the physical and psychic energies of the people, which enabled them to withstand the pressures of poverty, unemployment, gun men and ganja enforcers.
By the end of the sixties, the influence of the Rastafarian movement on the development of the popular culture was evident by the fact that most serious reggae artists adhered to some of the principles of the Rastafari movement. Apart from the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, which had always been prominent in the expression of their beliefs, 'Soul Rebels' such as Bob Marley and Toots and the Maytals (who sang "Do the Reggae") were wearing their hair in locksand were not ashamed to shake their locks at their concerts.
Bob Marley and the Wailers, Dennies Brown, Burning Spear, Dillinger, Culture Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, the Mighty Diamonds, Third World, Bob Andy, and many other cultural leaders embraced Rastafari, and through their songs helped many other Jamaicans to discover their roots and the richness of their history. These artists, who were spearheading the development of a popular culture, were uncompromising in their identification with Africa, such that in 1969 both the ruling party and the opposition leader made pilgrimages to Africa and Ethiopia in an effort to keep abreast of this new pace.
These political leaders could go to Africa but they could not solve the underlying economic crisis, and the reggae artists did not wince in their critique of the capitalist system and its slavery antecedent. Bob Nady spoke of the hardships of the society by singing that:
"This couldn't be my home,
It must be somewhere else,
Can't get no clothes to wear,
Can't get no food to eat,
Can't get a job to get bread,
That's why I've got to go back home."
Bob Marley, who had the experience of a migrant worker both inside and outside Jamaica, told the people not to be ashamed of their roots; and the Wailers continuously wailed about the conditions of their neighborhood - Trenchtown - while admonishing the youths not to be drawn into the competitiveness and viciousness of the society. One of the songs, "Man to Man," which was later introduced as "Who the Cap Fits", warned:
"Man to man is so unjust,
You don't know who to trust,
Your worse enemy could be your best friend,
Your best friend your worst enemy,
Some will sit and drink with you,
Then behind dem soo soo pon you,
Only your best friend know your secret,
And only he can reveal it.
Who the cap fits, let him wear it."
This song protest against the competition within the society, using the lines which were part of the folk culture for decades, at the same time breaking the tradition of dependence in music where Jamaican artists had simply put popular American songs to the reggae beat.