|Chant Down Babylon: the Rastafarian Movement and Its Theodicy for the Suffering
By Emily Blatter
From the Author: I first fell in love with reggae music when I was a sophomore at Goucher. I was initially drawn to reggae for its smooth lullaby beats that resonate in the chest and make it so one cannot help but sway back and forth to the rhythm. Coincidentally, as I delved deeper into reggae, I also began to take Peace Studies classes where I became aware of the dynamics of race and privilege. It was then that I realized that there is more to reggae than its cheerful melodies and simple bass lines may suggest. I was able to persuade my Peace Studies professor Doctor Jennifer Bess to sponsor an independent study on reggae music and the Rastafarian religion. For an entire semester, I devoted myself to researching the topic. I read books and countless academic articles; interviewed a Jamaican Rasta who owns his own restaurant and reggae music venue in Baltimore; and, of course, I listened to reggae constantly while continually searching for new musicians.
Through my independent study, I learned that true, Rastafarian-inspired reggae is, at its core, an act of rebellion. Reggae lyrics oppose the status quo in an impoverished country where the descendents of slaves remain shackled by poverty and joblessness and suffer from the violent drug trade that results. Reggae artists offer scathing social critiques and articulate an alternative vision for society while simultaneously encouraging listeners to keep dancing to the soothing rhythms. Indeed, for black Jamaicans, happiness itself is an act of rebellion—a defiant refusal to allow the oppressor to control one's mind. Therein lies the genius of reggae: reggae exposes the existence of racism, poverty and violence to the Jamaican people while simultaneously refusing to allow such social evils to destroy their happiness.
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