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...The roles of the musician and the djeli* are closely aligned in traditional West African cultures. The djeli has the responsibility of being the narrator of his people’s history and preserving the beliefs and ancient wisdom of the ancestors. Djelis are the sacred custodians of the culture. Similarly, musicians play a central role in transferring the ideas of African culture to the people, and djelis are more often than not musicians of some sort as well. The djeli-musician provides entertaining, labor-assisting, and transcendental vibrations and insights of the greatest importance that weave communities together socially as well as philosophically. Thus, music and song in African traditions are a central medium in the transferring of information, the historical marking of events, the conveying of traditions, as well as providing the ambience needed for sacred ceremonies and healing rituals. Songs in African tradition have also been noted for their use "to taunt enemies or rivals, and to chastise those whose actions were deemed unacceptable."
Some thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, music would also serve as the medium through which Africans retained the spiritual part of our beings. The cultural traditions in music were retained despite the harsh and brutal circumstances of Africans being kidnapped, forced into exile, and reduced to an enslaved status beginning in the 16th century on the West and Central African coastline. Music has maintained a special value in African culture and life prior to, during, and after the enslavement of Africans in the Western Hemisphere. Although it is likely that every culture’s music has function, the assertion seems clear that music in the African world is connected to spirituality, ritual, history, tradition and therefore with the details of daily life and living...

The development of the European enslavement system created an altogether new context out of which the djeli and musician were forced to operate. The role and insights of the African djeli were to be synthesized within the artistry of the musician during the Western Hemisphere enslavement. Yet, the cultural constrictions of the European enslavement system had a definite effect on the nature of African cultural expression.
On the Caribbean island of Jamaica, the first enslaved Africans were brought from West Africa by the Spanish as early as 1509. The consciousness of enslaved African people was sure to be indelibly impacted by the atrocities of European enslavement. Undeniably, the European enslavement of Africans was a severely tragic period that lasted for nearly four hundred years in the evolution of African people of the Western Hemisphere’s forced African diaspora. The “accidental” finding of the Americas by Europeans would have genocidal results for the indigenous Arawak populations of the Caribbean. By 1655, when the British preempted the Spaniards’ conquest over Jamaica, the Arawak people had already been completely eradicated by the Spaniards. As early as 1517, after viewing the brutal atrocities against the Arawak people, Bartholomew de las Casas, the first Roman Catholic priest to be ordained in the Western Hemisphere, suggested the enslavement of Africans to save the indigenous populations. This suggestion would mean irreversible damage for the hundreds of millions of Africans who became victims of European governance during slavery, colonialism, and the present era of neo-colonialism that continues to plague the Black and indigenous populations in the West today...

Early in the enslavement of Africans, European enslavers recognized the power and potential of African music in mobilizing the spirit of Africans toward liberation. Thus, “colonial authorities sometimes banned drums and drumming, but could never completely silence them." Alleyne, a scholar on Jamaican culture, further notes:
[a] symbiotic interaction developed between culture and resistance. The will to resist required the preservation of some functional distinctiveness in culture, upon which the success of the resistance depended; and the success of the resistance in turn contributed to the preservation of an African-type base culture. The Maroon communities of Jamaica and other parts of the New World are the most striking example [sic] of this symbiosis.

During slavery, the Jamaican Maroons used the drum for sacred ritual as well as a tool for communication. Considering that in West African Akan spirituality the liturgy was partly embodied in the language of the drums, it is therefore not surprising that “most of the Maroon leaders, especially those of Jamaica, were of the Akan-speaking group."
Identifying the principles of maroonage--the political, cultural, and physical resistance of a people to the imprisonment of their soul-—is essential to recognizing the inner core cultural history of Jamaica, as well as the entirety of the African experience in the Caribbean and the “Americas.” It was largely through the medium of music that the spirit of maroonage and the resistance of the enslaved African were expressed, despite the physical constrictions. Indeed, it could be argued that, for the African, when music is used to articulate messages that interpret and critique the social and political realities of the subjugated and exploited African world, its import, value, and function become most clear and vital. And it is this tradition of protest and resistance that came to epitomize, for a time, the genre of music known as reggae.
Reggae, at the height of its cultural significance in the 1970s, was concerned with expressing the spiritual insight and social-political perspective and pathos of the displaced African masses suffering, struggling, and yet surviving in a European-dominated world system. This system was chastised by the artists for its racism, classism, moral and ethical wickedness, and outright downpression of indigenous populations the world over...

Jamaica's 1978 One Love Peace Concert represents a definitive example of the political vibrancy that characterized reggae music in its 1970s and early 1980s golden era. The concert and the popular reggae of that time have a clearly different musical quality and cultural significance than the reggae that predominates and, to a large degree, defines both Western and Jamaican markets today. In fact, many new and young listeners to reggae in this new millennium have no idea of the Black/Pan-African cultural relevance that defined reggae when it made its genesis in the 1970s. The One Love was like no other in that it was organized by two rival political gang leaders whose forces had been battling one another in the poorest areas of West Kingston, Jamaica. The fighting was being waged on behalf of the forces of the United States (US) supported, capitalist-oriented Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) versus the democratic-socialist government of the People's National Party (PNP). The two parties, led by Edward Seaga (JLP) and Michael Manley (PNP), represented Jamaica's opposition and ruling parties respectively.
The Saturday, April 22nd, 1978, concert was organized in connection with the Twelve Tribes of Israel Rastafari group, and in commemoration of the twelfth anniversary of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I's April 1966 visit to Jamaica. Selassie I's visit was important to both Jamaica's Rastafari and its Pan-Africanists because Ethiopia had the honor and distinction of being the only African nation to retain its sovereignty on the entire continent. Defeating Italian colonizing forces at the Battle of Adowa in 1896, Ethiopia maintained its liberty in the midst of an African continent that had been ravaged by the Arab and European enslavement systems, and the subsequent European colonizing of Africa that began at the 1884-85 Berlin Conference in Germany.
Although peace did not prevail for long after the One Love, the concert is noteworthy because of the message in that night’s music. The music was predominated by committed political positions taken by reggae's top artists for ethical themes influenced heavily by the Rastafari cultural movement and its Pan-African posture. The most climactic statements made at the Peace Concert were by Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, who were billed on a program that included such reggae greats as Jacob Miller, Culture, The Meditations, The Mighty Diamonds, Dennis Brown, Big Youth, and Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus among others. Notably absent from the show was Bunny Wailer, a prominent founder of the original Wailers, who, like many others in Jamaica, doubted the possibility of the show bringing peace to the politically motivated violence raging on the island. Still, an analysis of the concert effectively reveals the cultural-political height that reggae achieved in the 1970s...

Interestingly, many reports of the One Love provide only brief mention of Tosh's thirty-minute highly critical lecture on Jamaican politics. These reports reduce Tosh's statements to chastisement of the two party leaders for their waffling over the issue of ganja (marijuana) legalization. Although the legalization of ganja was clearly an important issue for Tosh, his statements at the Peace Concert also addressed other issues that he felt were critical to a more just society. In the confrontational style that characterized the personality of his music, Tosh set the stage with his criticism on the hypocrisy of government, as well as the racist nature of Jamaican history and society. Tosh's speech that evening represents an important, yet often overlooked moment in the struggle against African downpression in Jamaica. His comments deserve more attention because they represent his keen perception and ability to expose the "double-standard" that makes Jamaican, as well as Western history and culture a giant paradox for the African.
Tosh's words expressed the Rastafari’s epistemological overstanding of the dynamics involved in truly establishing peace in Jamaica. Delivered extemporaneously in his traditional Rasta-Jamaican language, by way of introduction Tosh begins:
This concert here, well them say it's a peace concert…And I wonder if many people realize what the word peace mean, eh?…Peace is the diploma you get in the cemetery, seen? On top of your grave that is marked “here lies the body of John Strokes, rest in peace,” seen?

Tosh displayed insight on how the deceptive use of terms like “peace and love,” representative values intrinsic in Rastafari ideals, were also subject to the access of politrickal usage. Hence, calling to “peace and love” are often the downpressors’ strategy to deceptively keep the minds of the downpressed off of the innate human objective of freedom and justice. Addressing this dilemma, Tosh’s 1977 song “Equal Rights” is an apparent precursor to US Black political activist Al Sharpton’s popular slogan, “No justice, no peace!” In a manner reminiscent of the most potent voice of 1960s Black protest, Malcolm X, Tosh’s teaching at the One Love was to both the politrickal elite and the masses as he attempted to transform the Peace Concert into an Equal Rights Concert.
And learn this man… Me glad all the prime minister is here and the minister of opposition and members of parliament. We can’t make the little pirate them come here and rob up the resources of the country you know. Seen? Because that is what them been doing long, long, blood-bath time and have poor people in ya a blood clat box shit out of hog mouth. Yu no see it? Dem deh ting ha fe done!

Tosh’s brazen speech did not avoid his favorite pastime. Boldly lighting a spliff on stage, Tosh was inspired to lecture the Prime Minister, officials from both political parties, and the police on the benefits of more socially rational agronomy policies for the Jamaican people. Tosh states:
Jamaica is one of the richest West Indies country in the world. Learn that. Jamaica can feed the world with food. I see thousands of acres of land lying down out there. We could a plant herb and make shipments of herb a go whey go make cure glaucoma. Go seen. So we don’t want dem deh business dere, we want equal rights, and what?

Tosh’s blazing monolog also addressed the colonial legacy of Columbus and other European pirate-imperialists, police brutality, poverty, hunger, malnutrition and the criminal's injustice “shitstem’s” biases against the poor. Not only can his pessimism concerning the prospects for peace be seen, but also when his comments are considered at length, the quality of his historical perspective and spiritual orientation can be observed within the audacious nature of his oration.
This colonial shitstem ya a rule the underprivileged. I am one of dem who happen to be in the underprivileged sector. You no seen? Hassled by police brutality. Times and times again ha fe run up and down fe what? Fe just have a lickle spliff inna me pocket, or have a round a herb, or a go buy a draw… Yeah we talk the truth. 'Cause dem ting deh is whey we go through a blood bath already… Seen?! And dem ting deh; learn this man, those things is just things where Columbus and those guys who was the lawmakers in those times set up to keep the underprivileged, underprivileged, seen?…
Me want lickle oil fe cook all me food, me cyan get dem ting dere. I and I have to set up this country here and eliminate all those shitstem that Black poor people don't live in confusion. Cause hungry people are angry people. I am not a politician but I suffer the consequences, seen?…
So right now if the government just come together and say right now if we want build this country and build the people dem, because right now you can't build the country and don't build the people. People suffering from malnutrition and all them things there…And it’s just a shitstem that lay down to belickle the poor. You no seen? It's only the poor go to jail. Every time me go inna jail it's pure poor people I see in there. Ta ras clat [Jamaican expletive]. Go to courthouse, it's full of poor people. You no seen?

Tosh was to pay an awful price for the frankness of his speech, which he made on behalf of Jamaica’s poor and suffering African masses who applauded his statements from their seats. Weeks after the concert, he suffered a severe, life-threatening beating by police apparently as punishment for his remarks made at the concert...

For Bob Marley, the One Love Peace Concert marked his return to Jamaica after a two-year self-imposed exile in London. The JLP's reputation had been significantly tarnished two years earlier when it became implicated as responsible for a failed 1976 assassination attempt on Marley two days before he was to headline the Smile Jamaica Concert sponsored by then Prime Minister Michael Manley and his party, the PNP. Marley played the Smile Jamaica show prior to his exile and displayed more personal courage in returning home and performing before 30,000 at Jamaica's 1978 Peace Concert.
Although less confrontational than Tosh's, Marley's performance that night was just as politically charged and historically meaningful. The drama of the evening climaxed when he summoned the two leaders of the rival political parties to publicly embrace hands with his own--a gesture that many had hoped would put an end to the politically motivated violence that resulted in over 700 people being killed during the 1976 election campaigns, and were adding to the despair that political rivalries, severe poverty, unemployment, and inflation had left with the African masses on the overwhelmingly African island. Marley set the stage for the political peace gesture while performing "War"; the song, based on Haile Selassie's 1963 United Nations speech, speaks of the resolve of Africans to fight against racism and downpression. Marley stood before his fellow Jamaicans in Kingston's national stadium and sang a special request for "all to come here, to send a message of prayer."
From "War," Marley and his band, the Wailers featuring the back-up I-three singers, took the evening to its zenith with the popular song, "Jamming." Demonstrating some of the shortcomings of reggae research, one Marley biographer even missed the facts of the show and originally suggested mistakenly, "[t]he climax of the show was ‘One Love,’ when Bob asked Michael Manley and Edward Seaga to join him on stage and clasp hands." This political gesture did mark the show's climax, however it was the song "Jamming" that Marley was singing at this moment. Thus, the biographer not only misses an opportunity to accurately record this very significant moment in the history of Jamaica, but to also recognize the meaning of Marley's lyrics in "Jamming," which he dismissed as "inconsequential, the Wailers going slightly disco." It is this type of mis-interpretation that is central to reggae’s present-day misappropriation as a party music instead of a conscience raising art form as intended when the music reached its artistic heights during its 1970s golden era. Furthermore, it is this type of mis-interpretation of Marley’s song that has led to the use of "Jamming" in Budweiser beer commercials, where the song is interpreted as a verb meaning "to party" rather than one meaning to engage in struggle for righteousness.
"Jamming" seemed most appropriate and of immediate import and consequence for the climax of the One Love Peace Concert because in "Jamming" Marley called for an uncompromising and unrelenting progress for justice in Jamaica that has seemingly been missed by some music critics. Marley sings: “No bullets can stop us now/We need no beg, no we won’t bow/Neither can be bought nor sold/You ought defend the right/Jah Jah children must unite/True life is worth much more than gold/We’re jammin’.” Marley used the song's musical refrain to summon to the stage Jamaica's two political leaders. Since Marley would often cite the popular adage that "Rasta don't deal with politics," it was only natural for him to transform what was essentially a political moment into his own spiritual context. Clasping the hands of Manley (PNP) and Seaga (JLP) above his own, he ended the symbolic peace statement with the prayer, "Peace, prosperity be with us all, Jah Rastafari, Selassie I."
Marley’s art director, Neville Garrick, provided a candid and insightful Biblical analogy to interpret the clearly historic moment. Garrick comments:
So when Bob really take Michael Manley and Seaga hand and join dem together, there's a dread in the middle now which a come in like Christ ‘pon the cross between the two thieves. And [Bob] say One Love, it's for really show the people a Jamaica and the world that okay, you a fight say you defend Manley and you a fight say you defend Seaga, alright the two of them here now. One Love, see the two of them, and [he] hold them hand there together now so one [must] not kill one another over them two men…That is what Bob was doing.

But even Marley had reservations about the prospects of the concert bringing peace to Jamaica's political predicament. His focus was more cultural and social as reflected in a statement he made before the show:
I neither go right nor left. I go straight ahead, seen? I can't unite the JLP or the PNP because these are two organizations set up to fight against each other. That is called politics and I'm not into those things. We are talking about Rasta. We black people have a root. We are uniting regardless of what you are defending. We are talking about our real heritage. We are talking about the real self...

Although many reggae artists over the years have attempted to define reggae's meaning in song, few have been as clear as Bunny Wailer who effectively describes reggae music in "Roots, Radics, Rockers, Reggae" where he sings: “Reggae music is the music that spreads the message/Tells of history, the truth, and the right/Leading the cause of the innocent ones/To comfort the afflicted and to keep them from wrong.” As reggae emerged in the 1970s, history and culture became of primary thematic importance to the meaning of the music at the same moment that the influence of Rastafari worldview made its most powerful imprint on the music.
The Rastafari worldview centers around the glorification of former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I as the Bible's Messiah who has ushered in the beginnings of a new spiritual world order that will redeem the African consciousness towards the fulfillment of the vision prophesied by Marcus Garvey of a worldwide African spiritual and cultural redemption. This perspective stems from a group of Garvey supporters in Jamaica who observed the 1930 Ethiopian coronation of Ras Tafari Makonnen and recognized it as a prophetic fulfillment of the Bible and Garvey's vision.
History and culture are two themes applied interchangeably and termed "roots," "roots and culture," and "rockers" within reggae language. Other themes in Roots-Reggae include perspectives on race, politics, economics and cultural values grounded in an African-centered Judao-Christian theology and spiritual orientation that reinforce African history and culture as valid and sensible frames of reference for interpreting reality in Jamaica, despite the island's experience as a former British colony. In its 1970s’ heights, roots-reggae provided a vital medium for the disenfranchised to engage in crucial reasonings with the African world as well as the European power structure, termed Babylon in Rastafari language. Roots-reggae's lyrical intent challenged the power structure on issues concerning the historical, political, economic, social, and cultural life of Africans in Jamaica and the rest of the world...
However, the 1980s and early 1990s would bring significant changes to reggae in ways very similar to the dismantling of Black America’s rhythm and blues/soul tradition in the 1970s. Reggae would devolve into a greatly compromised music with only glimpses of its classical roots form best characterized by its social and politically incisive lyrics. By 1985, reggae's new popular form would be re-defined--with some notable exceptions--as a commercialized genre unconcerned with the historical, cultural, and political messages that once defined its meaning. A music genre that was once defined by its commitment to articulating the realities of the world from the perspective of the exploited African masses degenerated into a music promoting internecine violence, materialism, vanity, and sexism. This latter type of content, labeled slackness in the language of reggae culture, is ironically the accepted commercial standard for reggae today with popular artists like Beenie Man, Shaggy, Lady Saw and Sean Paul all apparent in leading the current reggae massive to hedonism.
Was it a natural progression for a music tradition to grow from such a cultural and politically relevant origin to its present state where socially irresponsible music and artists define the genre in the commercial market today? The analysis in this book suggests that reggae, like other powerful expressions of Black culture, has been subjected to a subtle cultural-political war waged by those authorities that attempt to maintain the status quo in the European dominated capitalist world. Reggae as a politically galvanizing tool suffered a transfiguring demise engineered by converging Western political and cultural forces that began its attempt to manipulate the genre almost from its inception...