Reggae music and Rastafarian culture have too much depth for the majority of the western world to lack understanding of the actual religion and movement behind this extraordinary music. Although good things have come out of the commercialization and westernization of Reggae and Rasta culture, it has exploited the essential values involved with this fascinating and powerful religion.
In order to answer the question of whether Rasta culture has been exploited by the commercialization of reggae, we need to understand how reggae became an international phenomenon in the first place. By the late 1950?s, a newfound optimism spread through Jamaica, giving birth to a new musical form known as ska. Ska was a mixture of the Jamaican musical form known as Mento, American Jazz, and Rhythm and Blues. On the surface ska sounded happy, but there were underlying messages in ska that were deceptive of the government.
(King, 32) Ska music was much associated with the Rastafarian religion musically and lyrically. Lyrically, ska promoted Rastafarian ideology through faint themes of repatriation and the introduction of the term Mount Zion, the Rastafarian?s heaven in Africa. Instrumentally, ska featured Rastafarian drumming, and even instrumental songs bore titles such as Another Moses, and Babylon Gone, highlighting the movement's belief in the divinity of the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and the hope for the deliverance from oppression, or Babylon.
(King, 33) When ska music rose to fruition in Jamaica, it allowed Rastafarians to explore a new mode of political expression. In the mid 1960?s, Jamaica?s economic prosperity began to give way to ?political instability and chaos? (King, 71). This economic degradation gave birth to Rocksteady music and the ?Rude Boy? movement that was an integral part of Jamaican society from 1965-1967. Rocksteady musicians expressed the problems with Jamaican life more clearly in their music.
Patrick Hilton states that Rocksteady musicians, sang songs that were expressive of the people's suffering, their everyday life, and their attitude towards the society in which they lived. The Rude Boys movement was associated with Rastafarian culture because many of the Rude Boys adopted this culture, but true Rastafarians did not fully embrace the movement because they were still convinced that religion would be their salvation from oppression.
However, this movement did cause a doctrinal change that allowed for Rastafarians to be more politically active in Jamaica. When reggae rose to fruition in 1968, it caused a wholesale embrace of Rastafarian faith and allowed for more radical political themes to make their way into Jamaica's music. Although some Rastafarian groups such as the Twelve Tribes of Israel embraced reggae as a new voice of Rastafarianism, the traditional tendency toward political withdrawal and spiritual meditation was challenged by calls to fight for human rights in Jamaica.
(King 104) This controversy led to a tension between religious and political Rastafarians, which should be examined when assessing the commercialization of reggae and Rasta culture. Reggae music gained significant popularity in Jamaica, even though some reggae songs were banned from the radio by the government because of their radical political agenda.