Author Darren J. Middleton, a Professor of Religion in The John V. Rich Honours College of Texas Christian University, has produced a book that ploughs new ground in the academic fields of Rastafari by looking at the movement through its artistic creative expressions and in particular, an eclectic choice of RASTA artists through whom he manages to present a deeper and intellectually richer harvest of facts, opinions and scrutiny of the world’s newest religion.
However, it has been a little difficult for me to write a review of the book simply because I am featured in it and readers of my review may consider my praise of the book self-serving. While it’s an honour to be gathered and praised in such esteemed company, to give the book and those Professor Middleton has selected to illustrate it full credit, my inclusion would have resulted in an extremely critical assessment of the book if I was not completely happy with its contents. So while it is an unusual practice for someone mentioned in a book to write a review, an independent read of its contents will certainly find it worthy of my praise. I can only ask to be forgiven, therefore, for any pride I may exhibit in reporting on the other artists with whom I keep company in this excellent book.
Prof. Middleton’s opening statement confirms that “… Rasta and its adherents have transitioned from outcasts to culture bearers… and Rastafari represents one of the twenty-first century’s most vibrant durable and pervasive religions…” His book is for undergraduate students, he explains, those with little awareness of Rastafari beyond the stereotypes of Marley and ganja, and he hopes to break down these stereotypes by illustrating the movement’s artistic diversity not just in music but in literature film and art. It’s an excellent objective which he accomplishes well.
Middleton gives due homage and praise to the founding stars of reggae, but ventures off the beaten path with interviews with almost-unknown-but-deserves-to-be-known singer Asante Amen, and India’s premier sound system Reggae Rajahs. He specially devotes space in the music arts for poetry, singling out Black British poet Benjamin Zephiniah with both an introduction to and explanation of his poetic works and history, and also a lengthy interview with him.
Professor Middleton gives a look at the spread of Rastafari to Africa to fulfill Garvey’s repatriation dream in a chapter featuring interviews with Ghana’s Blakk Rasta musician and radio presenter, then takes a look at Rastafari’s spread to Japan – just one non-Black country where Rastafari has taken root. The spread has not been without its negatives and one which Middleton deplores is the commodification of the movement in hundreds of products that exploit Rastafari’s colours, icons and philosophy purely for material purpose. The irony is not lost on how Babylon seems to be winning the commercial game as usual.
RASTAFARI & THE ARTS – Published: Routledge, New York 2015