‘Ai-ray; Jah Rastafarai…………….
Remember when chants like this dominated the Nigerian Music Industry? Spotting lengthy dreadlocks and attire significant of the ‘Reggae’ movement – Red, Gold, Black & Green. (An indication of an active participation in the struggle for emancipation from mental slavery); words made popular by the legendary Robert ‘Nesta’ Marley.
A time when most music entrants preferred the ‘Reggae’ genre and the fashion senses adopted connoted a unison with those laid down by their mentors such as Peter Tosh, U-Roy, Desmond Dekker, Black Uhuru etc. The ‘Reggae’ music genre was certainly the mainstay at the time as it was representative of the struggles experienced by the ‘Black Man’ in numerous corners of the globe, which prompted various acts to embrace self imposed pseudonyms such as ‘Prisoner of Conscience’, ‘Soul Rebel’ etc.
The movement spawned several successful acts in the genre on the home front such as Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono, The Mandators, Orits Wiliki, Peterside Ottong, Evi-Edna Ogholi, Andy Shurman & a host of others. Their instant rise to stardom and somewhat commercial successes sparked off a flurry of entrants looking to compete within the same industry.
However, sustainability proved to be a major threat as most of these names either relocated overseas in search of ‘greener pastures’ or fizzled out; due to the overwhelming increase in more commercial music genres, mainly HIP HOP. The gradual decline and almost non – existent nature of the genre within the current structure of the Nigerian Music Industry has propelled us to ask the inevitable question; WHERE ARE THE PROPHETS? (As popularised by Peterside Ottong)
In answering this question, a comprehension of the genre’s etymology would prove adequate. The 1967 edition of the Dictionary of Jamaican English lists reggae as “a recently estab. sp. for rege“, as in rege-rege, a word that can mean either “rags, ragged clothing” or “a quarrel, a row”. Although strongly influenced by traditional African, American jazz and old-time rhythm and blues, reggae owes its direct origins to the progressive development of ska and rocksteady in 1960s Jamaica. An important factor in this development was the influence of Rastafari, with Rasta drummers like Count Ossie contributing to seminal recordings, bringing the influence of these rhythmic patterns into the music.
The Wailers, a band started by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer in 1963, is perhaps the most recognized band that made the transition through all three stages of early Jamaican popular music: ska, rocksteady and reggae. Other significant reggae pioneers include Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and Ken Boothe.
The “early reggae” era can be looked as starting in roughly 1968. The influence of funk music from American record labels such as Stax began to permeate the music style of studio musicians and the slowing in tempo that occurred with the development of ‘rocksteady’ had allowed musicians more space to experiment with different rhythmic patterns.
‘Roots Reggae’ on the other hand, usually refers to the most recognizable kind of reggae, popularized internationally by artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, which dominated Jamaican recordings from around 1972 into the early 1980s. While there are distinct musical characteristics to this era of reggae music, the term “roots” often implies more the message of the music than specifically its musical style. This subgenre was totally embraced by the wave of ‘Reggae’ artistes that flooded the Nigerian music scene in the 80s. Roots reggae, in this descriptive sense, can be typified by lyrics grounded in the Rastafarian movement’s “Back to Africa” message, equation of colonialism and slavery with the Biblical captivity in Babylon, and, of course, the belief in one living God, Jah, manifested as Ethiopia‘s Emperor Haile Selassie. Recurrent lyrical themes include poverty and resistance to economic and racial oppression as well as more poetic meditations on spiritual or topical themes.
Other subgenres include Dub, Rockers & Lovers Rock, with newer styles including Hip hop & Rap, Dancehall, Reggaeton, Ragamuffin & Reggae fusion. ‘Reggae Music’ (if at all represented in today’s Nigerian music scene) can be seen primarily in dancehall & hip hop. The reason for this remains a mystery. It’s true that the commercial viability of genres such as ‘Naija’ Hip Hop & Dance have attained astronomical heights at present, but could it be concluded that ‘Reggae’ music cannot be seen as commercially sustainable too?
Reggae in Africa was much boosted by the visit of Bob Marley to Zimbabwe on its Independence Day 18 April 1980. Nigerian reggae had developed in the 1970s with artists such as Majek Fashek proving popular. In South Africa, reggae music has played a unifying role amongst cultural groups in Cape Town. During the years of Apartheid, the music bonded people from all demographic groups. Lucky Dube recorded 25 albums, fusing reggae with Mbaqanga. The Marcus Garvey Rasta camp in Phillipi is regarded by many to be the reggae and Rastafarian center of Cape Town. Reggae bands play regularly at community centres such as the Zolani center in Nyanga.
As the ‘Roots Reggae’ subgenre is symbolic with struggles against economic oppression, poverty and the likes, one would expect a significant number of ‘freedom fighters’ in the subgenre, echoing continuous chants with reference to the state of the Nigeria today; failing governments and huge public outcries as innocent lives are brutally slain day by day.
The resurgence of such a movement is indeed required to provide a balance in music diversity in the Nigerian terrains, and whether it falls on deaf ears or at the feet of those willing to pick up & carry the mantle; the question will constantly be asked; WHERE ARE THE PROPHETS?
By Sly Ojigbede; On Air Personality/Morning Show Host/Rap & Hip Hop Classics; CLASSIC FM 97.3 Twitter @Slydunbarus