PenDragon - the official magazine of Lyford Cay International School PenDragon Vol 5, Spring 2019 - Page 14

Through the music of artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Reggae became the international voice of Jamaica and a visible representation of Jamaican pride. It also became a vehicle for social and political commentary, conveying harsh truths and advocating action. By Breia Brown, Grade 12 Student History of America and the Roots of Hip Hop America has its own legacy of slavery and colonialism. In addition, waves of migrants built an increasingly multicultural environment. The Civil Rights movement worked to remove barriers and the conditions of discrimination. From this centuries-long struggle sprung musical genres like Jazz and the Blues and the Black Arts Movement, reflecting the African-American community’s refusal to be marginalised. The roots of Hip Hop are in the 1970’s Bronx, mired in recession and high rates of crime and poverty. The genre grew to be a global phenomenon, more than just music but also a style of dress, a dialect and an entire subculture. Breia is a Bahamian student with a passion for music. She plays in the LCIS Steel Orchestra and loves Bob Marley. These interests inspired her to explore the intersection of music and history. This paper provides a condensed summary of the research and analysis she conducted for her Extended Essay. The Extended Essay is one of the key components of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Breia will attend Dalhousie University this fall to pursue a degree in Communications. The popular music genres Reggae and Hip Hop are modern forms of oral tradition that mirror the historical and social conditions from which they sprung. These genres provide a platform for voices that often go unheard in historical narratives. Reggae and Hip Hop offer voice and a sense of identity to individuals and communities whose struggles may otherwise go unnoticed. History of Jamaica and the Roots of Reggae During his second voyage to the “New World,” Christopher Columbus arrived in Jamaica in 1494 and met the Tainos, the first inhabitants of the island. Later, colonists brought enslaved Africans to the New World in one of the largest migrations in history. Slaves in Jamaica endured harsh conditions. While the Slave Trade Act (1807) outlawed the buying and selling of slaves in the British empire, the hardship of those already enslaved continued. It was not until the Abolition Act of 1833 that slavery itself ended. Slaves in Jamaica represented many African tribes and found a sense of unity in their shared hardship and common heritage. Music was one aspect of their culture not taken from them by force. Enslaved Africans sang of horrors, with lyrics that expressed their desire to return home. From this history emerged music in which the emotional effects of slavery can still be heard, both the pain and the dreams of a better life. Into the 20th century, Jamaica continued to struggle with the effects of slavery and colonialism and a society divided by race and class. Kingston-born Marcus Garvey was one source of musical inspiration, creating a “Back to Africa” movement. Garvey inspired a message of pride in African culture and faith in an African “Redeemer.” Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was crowned in 1930; this event was perceived as the fulfillment of Garvey’s prophecy and the Emperor became a symbol of salvation. Reggae music in the 1960s evolved from the local genres of Ska and Rocksteady. When Jamaica claimed independence in 1962, Rastafarianism gained acceptance and political parties used its symbols to capture “the voice of the people.” Reggae lyrics explored the experience of poverty, brutality and discrimination. Many Reggae artists practised Rastafarianism and Reggae music appeared in campaigns for candidates for opposing political parties. Reggae music became increasingly political, a platform against oppression and injustice. Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” (1973) advises that the promise of life after death should not make people passive in the face of current mistreatment. Marley’s “Burnin’ and Lootin’” (1973) expresses his perception of the police: “dressed in uniforms of brutality.” The song also describes “burning all illusion and pollution:” “illusion” was the pretense of equality among all races and classes and “pollution” was the toxicity forced upon those of African descent. Peter Tosh’s “Equal Rights” was for Jamaica, South Africa and any other country facing government oppression. The song was Tosh’s appeal to the oppressed to take back their power, “crying out for justice.” 14 Creative Commons 3.0 license. Photo credit: Paul Weinberg" DJ Kool Herc is considered the originator of Hip Hop, channelling his Jamaican roots and musical heritage into this new art form. Reggae music features ‘toasting’, the act of speaking over music. Toasting was imported as a feature of Hip Hop and the spoken lyrics rapped about the tensions of urban life. As Hip Hop grew more popular, it kept its gritty message and gained political relevance. The music offered a vision of unity and solidarity. Many of the earliest examples of Hip Hop adopted positive messages: the importance of education, the value of justice. A shift occurred in the early 1990s. From positive messages about the possibility of change, Hip-Hop lyrics turned to darker realities. Ice-T’s ‘Cop Killa’ (1992) was among the first Hip-Hop songs that stoked rather than merely reflected the anger and resentment of many African-American communities. N.W.A.’s “F*** the Police” (1988) was another anthem against police brutality and marks Hip-Hop’s embrace of a long history of music as resistance. Conclusion People around the world sing Reggae and Hip Hop songs and adopt slang words from the music, creating a popular subculture that defies race and nationality. The global popularity of these genres demonstrates that the message against oppression and equality endures. An enduring message delivered in an internationally popular way is a powerful form of political voice and protest. The popular appeal of Reggae and Hip Hop transformed these genres into weapons for change with significant political impact. Music is empowering; it gives a sense of community and belonging, letting people know that their voice is important. The evolution of Reggae and Hip Hop show that music continues to be a tool to unify and to challenge the system. 15 Photo credit: Ricky Flores, 1984