Reggae artists such as Burning Spear made many songs to remember the slavery days and Marcus Garvey, a radical black activist from Jamaica who was an influential part of the Rastafarian movement. Garvey actually predicted the coming of a black prophet before Haile Selassie made his appearance, which made way for the Rastafarian movement. Not that Marley is not an amazing artist and a key figure in the movement, but the fact that many westerners see Marley as the essence of reggae music has shown that commercialization has exploited the music and message itself.
After his death new albums were released solely for commercial value. The song, “Iron, Lion, Zion”, was enhanced and changed so much in the studio that the song can hardly be recognized from its original recording. This modification was made solely to appeal to the western audience.
In this day and age you can go into almost any shop and see a Bob Marley tapestry, poster, t-shirt, hat, or other commercial apparel, often with a phrase “Rastafarian”, or “Legalize It” written in the border. It is my assumption that this message confuses the masses as to the origin of this music, image and culture. This commercial exploitation is what has transformed reggae from its original roots and undermines the true essence of Rastafari.
As before stated, the tension between “religious” and “political” Rastafarians should be examined when discussing the commercialization of reggae. Evidently, Rastafari was established as a religion and the politics associated with the Rasta movement only started during the “Rudeboy” era of 1964-1967. This shows that the true essence of Rastafari is a religious belief that entailed many moral obligations as well. The traditional, religious Rastafarians showed disdain towards the “commercialization and secularization” of the movement even before Marley signed to Island Records and internationalized the movement.
Movies like “The Harder They Come,” which starred another influential reggae singer, Jimmy Cliff, also commercialized reggae in a sense. However, it also taught many people about the hardships in Jamaica and struggles involving the Rastafarian faith. This kind of commercialization is beneficial to society because instead of changing the music and image, it embraces its roots.
The more politically oriented Rastafarians hoped to exploit reggae’s popularity to further their cause and gain mass awareness of problems facing Jamaica. If reggae could have been internationalized without changing its fundamental roots, the religious Rastafarians most likely would have had less of a problem with it. But for a music that was dubbed “the new voice of Rastafari” to some, the westernization of this music was appalling to those who believed in this religion from the start.
Not only was the music being commercialized, but the culture was as well. “The popularity of reggae spawned a number of pseudo-Rastafarian groups, who imitated the cultural trappings of Rastafarianism—the dreadlocks, the ganja smoking, and the lingo without embracing its religious and ideological tenets. In effect the commercialization of reggae music, in the view of more traditional Rastafarians at least, trivialized and degraded the movement.
Because the popularity of the music was associated with the movement, the movement itself seemed to become more of a cultural fad than a serious religious and political movement.” (King, 176-177) For the Rastafarian religion to become a “cultural fad” shows how the commercialization of reggae exploited the movement’s essence. Although political Rastafarians hoped to exploit the music’s popularity in order to spread a message, they did not want this movement being a “cultural fad”. In essence, Babylon took advantage of the Rasta movement.