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Jamaica Has Lost Its Cultural Edge

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Rasta in Jamaica, I hate to say, is looking increasingly archaic, decrepit, medieval and incongruous and out of touch with where people are today in the land of Bob Marley, writes Dotun after his visit to the Caribbean island.


HAVING BEEN jet-propelled from overseas back home to the UK and after touching down on an international runway, one of the first persons that I sat down and reasoned with upon my return was Peter Herbert OBE.

If you don’t know him, he’s the well-known QC and part-time judge who founded the Society Of Black Lawyers many years ago (he is now its current president) and who apparently received his gong from Her Majesty “for services to troublemaking” (his words, not mine).

Having said that, he spends much of his time overseas nowadays, in Kenya, where by all accounts he is running tings. I’m not surprised. Like I’ve always said, we have an immense amount of talent in this country and if Britain doesn’t want it, then it should be ‘back to Africa’ for us.

Whilst Herbert has been in the UK for Christmas and the new year, I’ve been in Jamaica, where I received a right old welcome to jam rock.

I was greeted by local journalists and politicians who had been awaiting my arrival since that article I wrote for this very newspaper about the United Nations’ acknowledgement of reggae as an intangible global cultural heritage.

To recap, I essentially said “one good thing about reggae is when it hits you, you feel no pain”.

That earned me a reprimand from the Jamaican Minister of Culture, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, who invited me to come to Jamaica – presumably to see for myself that another good thing about reggae is it brings the tourists’ dollars into our lickle island in the sun.

Anyway, they didn’t flog me – thankfully – when I arrived at Norman Manley International airport.

They don’t do that to troublemakers anymore in the land of wood and water. Not since the direct influence of empire.

Jamaica has changed. And it’s changed dramatically since I first went there 38 years ago. And I’m not sure that change has been for the good.

All those years ago, most of the yutes felt that rasta was the livity. I’m not sure if they still do.

At the beginning of 1981, something like one in every four or five young men and women on the streets was a dreadlocks (anecdotally, I know, but I saw this with mine own eyes). It’s not the same anymore.

Indeed, you barely see anybody under 50 sporting dreadlocks in Jamaica nowadays (anecdotally, I know, but I saw this with mine own eyes, too).

Rasta in Jamaica, I hate to say, is looking increasingly archaic, decrepit, medieval and incongruous and out of touch with where people are today in the land of Bob Marley.

In reality, of course, rasta – being a Jamaican original – will always be umbilically tied to the critical thinking of the island, it’s just simply that it no longer leads the conversation and many of its platitudes seem somewhat hollow in the echo of the influence of the big brother USA to the north.

Like I say, I hate to say it but to go to Jamaica 38 years on, it’s like the people there don’t love God no more.

I’m talking God in the kingly character of His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, High Elect of God, Ever-Livng God, Earth’s Rightful Ruler. Jah know.

I don’t even think that if Selassie touched down today at Norman Manley International there would be the same scenes of mayhem and euphoria to greet him at the airport as there were in 1966 when H.I.M. touched down in the Jamaican capital and thousands of rastas rushed the runway in ecstasy.

For one thing, most of Jamaica’s rastas today would be hobbling rather than rushing – on Zimmer frames. So why does this matter? Well, rasta was the intellectual, philosophical and cultural conscience of Jamaica. Like I said, it led the conversation for a generation.

And, of course, it was one of the island’s spiritual anchors. Perhaps it’s more dynamic. It didn’t just echo Garvey in interpreting the ‘Jamaican condition’ but it also offered cultural and intellectual ‘reasoning’ through discourse, literature and, of course, reggae music.

Rasta and reggae united were a force to contend with back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and still today, reggae artists pay lip service to rasta – but rarely do they live by it (or by bread alone, where jerk pork is on the menu).

Jamaica has lost its cultural edge. Africa, on the other hand, is picking it up. According to Peter Herbert, in Kenya and right across Africa, rasta is the new black (so to speak, or not as the case may be). The new African is a rasta. Rasta, the back-to-Africa philosophy of Jamaica, is coming home in other words, spiritually,culturally, philosophically and politically.


Don’t be surprised if the next ‘third world’ superstar (or, if you prefer, ‘the next Bob Marley’) emerges from this repatriation of African Jamaican spiritual philosophy to the continent of its inspiration.

Of course it will take a while for the African connection to gel and for rasta to embed itself into the DNA of the continent, not least because it is going to get a fight from the establishment (the same fight that the original dreads from creation got in Jamaica), with rasta being the antithesis of the neo-colonialism and corruption that has become acceptable by so many peoples of the continent as their wealth and dignity is filched by those who claim or assume power.

But when rasta dominates the African landscape to the same extent that it did once upon a time in the hills and valleys of Jamaica, Africa will be great again, no doubt.

Jamaica’s loss is Africa’s gain.


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