Since time immemorial, music and religion have enjoyed strong ties. In fact, you will rarely find the latter without music. Even one of the world’s largest religions, such as Christianity, would not be what it is today, without music; it is no wonder you often hear gospel musicians. In the case of the Rastafari religion and reggae, the ties are even stronger and more profound. As you will see in this content, these two have, over time, flourished together, with reggae music playing the most significant role in the spread of the religion.
Haile Selassie’s Visit to Jamaica
Crowned Ethiopia’s king in 1930, Haile Selassie was generally regarded by Rastas as the Messiah, who would take them to Zion, the promised land, and even prominent figures like Leonard Howell and Marcus Garvey predicted it. In 1966, the emperor visited Jamaica, in what appeared to be a seismic event, among the Rastas in the country. The roads and airport around Kingston were packed to capacity, to welcome a man considered a god. Following his visit, Jamaican reggae musicians, most notably, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, developed very close links with the Rastas.
If there is one man who undoubtedly deserves credit for bringing Rastafari faith and reggae artists together, Count Ossie is one such a person. Of course, there are others who played a role (e.g. Laurel Aitken), but Count was the leading player, as many Jamaican artists first came to learn of Rastafari at his drumming workshops. The musicians would later spread the word in yards, compounds, and camps, across Kingston, Jamaica.
Like an ikea ektorp sofa cover that gives your furniture a brand new look, music makes religion seem fresh and enjoyable. The fever that followed Haile Selassie’s visit saw more and more Jamaican reggae artists swear their allegiance to the Rastafari religion, giving the this faith a completely new look. The success of Augustus Pablo, Burning Spear, U-Roy, Gregory Isaacs, Max Romeo, and hundreds of other musicians and groups, made sure that the religion and reggae were inextricably linked. This was a massive crossover.
Bob Marley and The Wailers were the most important exponents of the crossover. This group of singers became very popular, not just in Jamaica, but all over the world. This popularity is what took the Rasta faith to a whole new level. A key influence on Marley was Mortimer Planno, a Rasta legend, who was also part of the 1961 delegation, that was sent to Ethiopia to meet the emperor.
The popularity of Rastafari continued even after Bob Marley’s death in 1981, and the interplay between this religion and reggae is clearly depicted in roots, dancehall, and several other reggae sub-genres. The beliefs about Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, Zion, and Ethiopia are very present in this music. In recent years, the likes of Sizzla, Capleton, Luciano, and Barrington Levy have all declared their allegiance to the Rastafari cause.