“RASTAFARI & THE ARTS” – Book Review

rastafari & the artsRASTAFARI AND THE ARTS is without reservation, the most thorough look at RASTAFARI of all the books I have read so far – and I have read many. As a writer myself of one of these many books – albeit the first one written by a practicing member of the faith – and as a RASTA for over 40 years, I feel eminently qualified to make such a sweeping commendation. It is truthfully a real pleasure to read, full of information that is both delightful and welcome because it touches areas of Rastafari often unrevealed by other studies of the topic.

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.


jah loveEARLY INTEREST IN MUSIC
       He admits early that his curiosity about and interest in Rastafari began with music, and this is where he book gives the most attention. In fact, he devotes an Appendix to “Dr. M’s Rasta Riddims Playlist” a list of 250 songs that he offers to students to get to know Rastafari better and to introduce listeners to several dimensions of Rastafari religious life. Emphasizing how Rastafari arts are ‘the primary mechanism for the faith’s transmission”, he looks at the arts both from insiders and outsiders views, including films and artworks made about Rastafari by non-members inspired by Rastafari.

BORTHER MANMiddleton sees literary art as an informative source for learning about Rastafari and he comments on the books of Roger Mais (“Brother Man”) and Orlando Patterson (“Children of Sisyphus”) set in the early years of the Rastafari movement, comparing them with present-day works such as my own novel “Joseph – A Rasta Reggae Fable” (including a Q&A with me about my literary inspiration through my Rastafari spirituality) and the works of Jean Gouldbourne, Masani Montague and N.D. Williams.

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.

awake zionFILMS ON RASTA       The chapter on film references some well known documentaries about Rastafari such as Oliver Hill’s “Coping With Babylon”, Monica Haim’s ‘Awake Zion” exploring Rastafari’s Jewish links, the recent “Marley” documentary, and James Ewart’s “Ras Tafari”, a collection of interviews with well-known Rastas (incuding myself). Middleton also comments on Bianca Nyavingi Brynda’s “Roots Daughters” that explores the feminine side of Rastafari’s history and introduces readers to “The Emperor’s Birthday” a 1992 documentary of a Rastafari pilgrimage to Ethiopia to celebrate the special occasion, that gives an inside view of Sheshemane and its residents.

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.

faculty_lg_middletonRASTAFARI AND THE ARTS is a varied buffet of information brought together by a master story-teller with a fountain of research and and deep heartfelt appreciation for the topic. It is not Middleton’s first writing on Rastafari, as he has published numerous international articles and academic papers on the religion and how it’s cultural expressions have strengthened its acceptance and growth. The book is a textured addition to the library of academic studies on Rastafari, with a fresh perspective that is both an asset and a new direction. Praise and RASpect are due to the author.

RASTAFARI & THE ARTS – Published: Routledge, New York  2015

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What’s Going On?

WHAT’S GOING ON? Richie Havens soul-stirring rendition of “What’s Going On?” – a late-1960s song echoing the cry for Black human rights that evolved out of the US Civil Rights movement , a song that bookmarked a time of social and humanitarian consciousness among thinking people around the world. A FB Friend sent a link to the song with a LIVE-ication to the hundreds of young Nigerian girls kidnapped by Muslim fanatics and still not yet found.

protest1

Weeping Nigerian mothers demonstrate in Abuja.

This shocking event and the continuing national, international and racial pain it is causing, has made me take a serious look at my Motherland AFRICA, the country to which I wish to return one day and live. In every corner of the Continent I look, there are conflicts so brutal and so serious and so seemingly without solutions, that I have to pause for a moment and say: Hey AFRICA – WHAT’S GOING ON?????

Take for instance, the NIGERIAN STUDENTS story.  ASSOCIATED PRESS tells us: “The number of kidnapped schoolgirls missing in Nigeria has been revised to 276, up by more than 30 from a previous estimate, the police said late Thursday, adding that the actual number abducted by Islamic extremists on April 14 was more than 300.

The police commissioner of Borno State, Tanko Lawan, said the number of students who had escaped also had risen, to 53. Commissioner Lawan said that the figures kept increasing because students from other schools were gathered into one school for final exams last month after all schools in Borno State were shut because of attacks by Islamic extremists, complicating the compilation of an accurate list of those who were abducted. Hundreds of women protested in at least three cities this week to express their outrage that the girls had not been found.”

A big part of the problem in Nigeria began when the British Colonial government of former times decided to join the Muslim North and the Christian South — two different states ethnically and culturally —  into one nation for their convenient administration. Then again, the oil wealth is not evenly distributed, so Boko Haram is not the only problem President Goodluck (?) Jonathan has to solve, to prove his parents named him well. KERRY

SUDAN – ANOTHER MAJOR AFRICAN PROBLEM        Nigeria is not the only state with major ethnic troubles. In SUDAN, the independence of the newly-created South Sudan nation did not solve the decades-long Sudan problem, and the South’s oil reserves were certain to cause envy and lead to conflicts. Secretary of State John Kerry is on the ground, trying to make Peace.

“Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that he had secured a commitment from Salva Kiir, South Sudan’s president, to open talks with his rebel opponent as early as next week. The talks, which would take place in Addis Ababa under the auspices of Ethiopia’s prime minister, represent the Obama administration’s latest bid to halt the fighting that has killed thousands of people, displaced more than a million and is ripping apart a nation whose independence was championed by the United States.

Mr. Kerry said that Riek Machar, the rebel leader, had previously signaled to Ethiopia’s prime minister that he was also prepared to attend. In a call Friday night, Mr. Kerry also urged Mr. Machar to participate in the meeting, The talks would focus on implementing the cease-fire that was agreed to by the two sides in January but was widely ignored, as well as on the formation of a possible transitional government. Given the bitter violence, the disruption of aid deliveries and fear of widespread famine, it is far from clear that the diplomatic push will be sufficient to reverse South Sudan’s downward spiral.“If both sides do not take steps in order to reduce or end the violence, they literally put their entire country in danger,” Mr. Kerry said. “And they will completely destroy what they are fighting to inherit.”

‘… WHAT THEY ARE FIGHTING TO INHERIT.” Ah yes. It’s all about the wealth. ETHIOPIAN STUDENTS

BIG PROBLEMS IN ETHIOPIA      As Kerry heads to Addis Ababa to hold talks on Sudan, ETHIOPIA has its own problems, and this looks even more serious.

At least nine students have died during days of protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia state, the government has said. However, a witness told the BBC that 47 were killed by the security forces. She said the protests in Ambo, 125km (80 miles) west of Addis Ababa began last Friday over plans to expand the capital into Oromia state. The government did not say how most of the deaths had been caused but the Ambo resident said she had seen the army firing live ammunition.

The student protestors are from Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group, the Oromo, numbering around 27 million people. Oromia is the country’s largest region, completely surrounding the capital Addis Ababa, although the city is itself part of the Amhara region. The protesters believe they face losing their regional and cultural identity if plans to extend Addis Ababa’s administrative control into parts of Oromia get the go-ahead. Some have also raised fears of the potential for land grabs.

The so called “master-plan” for Addis Ababa is currently out for public consultation and the government says people are being given opportunities to raise their concerns. Officials say the plan has been well publicised and will bring city services to poor rural areas. The protestors claim they merely wanted to raise questions about the plan – but were answered with violence and intimidation. africa

AFRICA ON MY MIND       As I read all these stories, I worry seriously about Africa. These situations are raging all over the Continent. Kenya is unsafe, the Congo may never be fully healed after Belgium’s rape. From Egypt to Lybia, Northern Africa is in disarray and under military control by unpopular leaders. The deadly Ebola Virus has re-appeared in the West and is spreading fast. And we have not yet found KONY!!! rebel-salute-650px

I ask myself whether I&I in the Diaspora are able to do anything to change any of these situations, or the MANY other problems all over the Continent caused by ethnic and tribal wars. I realize it’s only possible if a whole-scale migration and repatriation of our African-loving Western tribes determined to seriously find ways to inspire and lead a Continent-wide change from the violent wars that seek solutions in impossible ways? As RASTA, this is what we claim as our commitment, goal, destiny!

RASTA AS LEADERS?       Can RASTA settlers – and those native Africans who are following the RASTA pathway – live a lifestyle of social harmony in such perfection as to inspire and teach others to follow? It is clear RASTA is going to have to do that, set the example, inspire and lead the way forward. It is RASTA that has the vision of a reborn, rejuvenated AFRICA. That RASTA VISION has been inspiring hundreds and thousands of people around the world who love AFRICA. RASTA did it with RASTA music – reggae.

As RASTA did it for the world, so RASTA can do it for AFRICA. We must work harder and find many more ways to show AFRICA that VISION, find many more ideas to bring forward that VISION FOR AFRICA that was inspired in RASTA by I&I devotion to H.I.M, Emperor Haile Selassie I, the Divine Man and Example. This is the Testament, the Promise, the Goal!!!

RASTAFARI TV coming on stream soon with multiple access options. I look forward to the launch of this excellent new international media which can be put to use for this important purpose.  May many more branches spring from I&I RASTA Roots!

rastafari tv

 RASTA PEACE & LOVE!

REFERENCES – READ MORE: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/02/kidnapped-nigeria-school-girls-boko-haram-education NYTIMES: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/03/world/africa/kerry-in-south-sudan-to-seek-an-end-to-fighting.html BBC WORLD NEWS: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27251331 SEE ALSO: http://somalilandpress.com/ethiopia-40-oromo-students-killed-protests-kerry-visits-50492