"I-And-I Vibration": Word, Sound, and Power in Rastafari Music and Reasoning
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Type of Work102 p.
ProgramMA in Cultural Sustainability
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For Rastafarians, reasoning is a sacred form of dialogue, an exchange of ideas or “sounds” on matters of faith, identity, or collective goals. The Rastafari movement emerged from the black liberation struggle in Jamaica during the 20th century, expressing its ideals and desire for repatriation through a unique set of practices: the worship of Haile Selassie I, crowned emperor of Ethiopia in 1930; a style of drumming and chanting known as Nyahbinghi, which blends various African and Jamaican influences with Christian hymnody; the display of red, gold, and green, the colors of the Ethiopian flag; an Africa-inspired hairstyle known as dreadlocks; and the process of reasoning, a conversation in which everyone has an equally important role in the development of Rastafari ideology and livity (lifestyle). Also inspired by the movement, reggae music has been instrumental in spreading the message of Rastafari around the world. Central to these Rastafarian musical and verbal performance genres is the concept of word-sound power, the idea that the vibrations of speech and music impact the world, both physically and socially. For this reason, the Rastafari manipulate word-sounds to reflect the goals of the movement. The foundational example of this practice is InI (I-and-I), which replaces “we” or “us,” expressing the philosophy that all individuals share a common essence with Jah, or God. Drawing from the author’s ethnographic work in Philadelphia and Jamaica, as well as his several years of participation in Philadelphia’s reggae scene, this analysis considers three dimensions of expressive sound in Rastafari: its challenges to social hierarchies and notions of difference; its power as a means of creating and connecting with nature; and its potential for sustaining Rastafari identity and cultural life. This third component brings the analysis into dialogue with the field of cultural sustainability by considering how the performative aspects of ethnography might disrupt or enhance constructions of cultural and physical difference.