It may be true that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but in our commercialized society imitation can turn into exploitation. Out of the hundreds of people who wear a Bob Marley T-shirt, how many of them actually know what Marley stood for? How many people today know what actually is associated with Rastafari traditions and the meaning behind herb? My assumption is that most people do not.
The commercialization of Rastafarian culture and reggae music has gone too far. There is a lack of understanding in western society about Rastafari, which is often associated with “chilling” and “smoking ganja”. There is too much depth and passion behind this religion to exploit it, and making money off Rasta culture is incongruous with the roots of Rastafari and does it a tremendous disservice. As Jacob Miller sings, “There is too much commercialization of Rastafari”.
From 1950-1971, Jamaica’s popular music became identified with the Rastafarian movement. This movement did not only focus on the issue of giving voice and power to Jamaica’s poor black communities, but also spread the religion of Rastafari, which preached the worship of Haile Selassie I as JAH. Most Rastafarians believe that Selassie is in some ways a reincarnation of Jesus and the Rastafari are the true Israelites.
This religion was the first that worshipped a black man as their god, and became widely followed by the lower class, black community of Kingston. The Rastafarian religion entails its own dialect (patois or Iyriac), diet (Ital) and ways of life such as the use of ganja as a sacrament and the growing of dreadlocks that are followed by most Rastafarians, although there are many different sects and interpretations within the religion.
The Rasta culture also reinforces the idea of Afro centrism, which is the concept of a return of all blacks to the holy land of Africa, and shows disdain towards the modern world, or “Babylon”. Music has played an integral role in Rastafari as well. The most basic form of Rasta music is Nyabinghi folk, which consists of drumming, chanting and dancing and is played at worship ceremonies accompanied by the ritual smoking of ganja.
Another kind of music called Reggae also became associated with the Rastafarian religion. Reggae was born amidst the lower class blacks in Trenchtown, Kingston’s main ghetto, although the actual name “reggae” did not come into existence until Toots and the Maytals made a song called “Do the Reggay”. Reggae music became largely associated with the Rasta movement because of the lyrics that were mostly concerned with social injustice and inequity in Jamaica, as well as praising JAH and showing disdain towards the complacency of human misconduct in the hands of JAH.
(Ayelle, 92) The repetitive drum and bass rhythms associated with reggae was also essential for the Rastafarian culture because it allowed for the chanting and steady beat that was resonant in the traditional Nyabinghi music. Obviously, reggae became and international phenomena. Reggae stars such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff are known worldwide and have appeared in movies and toured with western rock bands such as The Rolling Stones (Tosh).
Some orthodox Rastafarians disdain reggae as a form of commercial music to “sell out to Babylon”, while others considered it “the new voice of JAH”. Reggae was obviously commercialized since its roots from Nyabinghi folk, but did it go too far? Obviously it is not a bad thing to spread the message of JAH and expand the rebellious message of reggae to the international scale, but has it gotten to a point of exploitation? Modern reggae music has generally veered from its Afro-Caribbean roots.