We Will Rise Again
As Jamaica celebrates its 55th year of independence from British-colonial rule, the nation continues to make powerful strides forward in the areas of ganja legislation, reduced importation of foreign goods, and building an increasingly self-sustainable society.
There is a growing momentum to embrace both the ancestors who were the original nation builders and the young generation who are keeping the freedom torch held firmly high. As the story goes, in 1958 Jamaica and 10 other Caribbean countries formed the Federation of the West Indies. The concept of Caribbean unity was soon abandoned in 1961 when Jamaicans voted against the Federation, and on August 6, 1962, Jamaica was granted its independence from England.
Long before that the nation was called Xamaica, ‘land of wood and water’ – by the original inhabitants, the Arawaks, who migrated from South America and led quiet, unobtrusive lives until they were destroyed by the Spanish some years after Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494. The British invasion in 1655 saw brutal years of slavery and colonization, a conquest where the island was eventually converted from an agricultural economy into one of the world's largest plantation commercial crop regimes. There was a period when over 600,000 Africans, including ethnic Fante, Ashanti, Coromantee, Ibo, and Yoruba people, were shipped to the island, making Jamaica the predominant single importer of African slave laborers in all of British America. There were the Maroons, who fled the bonds of slavery to take on the British by waging a series of wars led by Nanny, their outsized heroine, who is said to have possessed the power of flight. There was the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion, where Baptist deacon Paul Bogle demanded fair treatment for all Jamaicans, and was subsequently hanged for it. And the Baptist War revolt, led by preacher Samuel Sharpe in 1931, considered to be the largest slave uprising in the British West Indies.
For this year’s Independence Day, I wanted share to an excerpt, a reasoning, from Kabaka Pyramid, one of the leading voices in the young reggae renaissance who talks about repatriation, self-sufficiency, and spiritual cultivation.
The interview is taken from the book I & I, which examines the Rastafari faith as it exists in contemporary Jamaica and how it’s expressed through Rasta elders, scholars, and a generation of young artists and activists. Rastafari is integral to Jamaican culture as it represents a unique way of life, a social movement, and a mind set. As Jamaica’s original freedom fighters, Rastas are at the core of Jamaican Independence and remain one of the nation’s most powerful indigenous traditions. I & I is collaboration between myself and photographer Alessandro Simonetti. Stay tuned for our forthcoming I & I Redux.
You are driving still, fading in and out of interludes from conversations over the course of the days behind you and the days still to come. You recall riding to Bull Bay with Kabaka Pyramid and his Bebble Rock crew, of listening to his album and the track “Well Done” that is a smart, sharp, socio-political manifesto against government policies and operatives. You saw him perform in New York City not long ago, toasting so fiercely on the mic it reminded you of something that Yaadcore said, “One stick a matches burn down Babylon. One stick a matches cause a real explosion.”
You arrive and take a walk by the sea while children shadow dance along the shore’s edge. Kabaka tells you that he was a hip- hop and dancehall artist before turning to Rasta, and is now firmly committed to his path. “I came to Rasta through Sizzla (Kalonji’s) music – it just saturate my mind. Directly, that is what got me into Rasta,” he says. As one of the rising young voices, you begin to understand the weight of his responsibility and mission, not just to create well-crafted songs, but to deliver a deeper message, a more considered social commentary, an authentic expression of troding the earth and cultivating the faith.
“We’re living in a time that’s dominated by capitalism and the effects of that…disparity between the rich and the poor, environmental issues, government corruption and just the general balance of the planet. So my music tends to counter that, you know, to remind people of the harmony that is there within the universe,” he explains. “We need fi talk about self-sufficiency and the necessity for green energy, individual spiritual cultivation as opposed to mass religion that’s governed by dogma and belief systems that don’t really value individual growth,” he continues. “One of my goals is to fuse ancient cultures with what’s happening now. So you take the aspects that are relevant and implement them. You talk about yoga, meditation, communicating with the ancestors, things that were lost through slavery and colonization and all a dem tings. So I just a try and bring it forward.” You pause by a fishing boat that has ‘Little London’ stenciled on its side as you watch the outlines of his band mates undulate beneath streams of sunlight in the near distance. “Bob Marley’s music had more impact around the globe than in Jamaica, in terms of the revolutionary nature of it. Maintaining that voice of truth, that spirit, is very important as an independent nation.”
“The message of Rasta, yes, worldwide love, and a love for all races, but still a pride in our Africanness, and an Afrocentric focus. Rasta has always been self-sufficient – try and create your own wealth, maintain your diet,” he says, adding that he’s been a Vegan for over a decade. “It’s also about the search for knowledge, for self-upliftment. Rasta changed my life completely – it got me to think about things in a deeper way, to consider my purpose and my consciousness. It got me to read. I never used to read before Rasta. I went to a good school but I failed Literature.” What are you reading now, you ask him. “I’m reading a book called ‘Temple of Man.’ But I just finished an interesting book on reincarnation called ‘Many Lives, Many Masters,’ which I think is a book everybody needs to read. I think the lack of understanding of reincarnation and the purpose of life is what’s causing a lot of the foolishness in society. When you think you only live once, you do anything to try and make it in that one life. So everything becomes a distraction from the true essence of living. People just don’t give a Ras about wha gwaan.”
“Within African civilizations and traditions, the king is an earthly representative of the godhead, that’s across most African traditions. It’s the same within Ethiopia. We in Jamaica were kind of forced into Christianity, through the Bible and through colonization. Colonization and slavery took place within the auspices of the Christianization of the world. And the purpose was to break down black civilization all over the planet, to destabilize and conquer it. The whole slave trade ting went on and after the colonizers won over these different territories, they decided to bring black people in to build them up, so Christianity kind of came with that. Marcus Garvey knew that there was a black king coming, that there was somebody that would a symbolize redemption for black people. Then, years later, His Majesty was coronated. He was coronated King of Kings and Lord of Lords in front of all of the nations, all of the leaders of the world at that time.”
You continue walking and talking, absorbing the silhouettes of surfers who look like idols drifting in from some rogue dimension, before eventually heading back to Billy Mystic’s Jamnesia surf camp where Kabaka and Billy hold an acoustic guitar session followed by a reasoning that continues well beyond sunset. Billy is a key voice in the young Rasta and reggae movement, and gave many of the artists some of their early opportunities to perform on stage at Jamnesia, back before voices like Chronixx and Protoje were household names. He is also the godfather of Jamaican surfing. He describes a time when he almost drowned with such centrifugal force it places you squarely in the moment, and ends his cautionary tale with the reminder that “Christ walked on the waves.” Moments later, he takes his board out and paddles over the sea, his physique transforming into the soul of a man inhabiting the skin of a lion. As sit watching reflectively it gives you the conviction that in Jamaica you are free.