Thursday, February 23, 2012

High Priest George Irons on Reggae Music, Bob Marley

Bob Marley had a birthday earlier this month, and with another documentary about his life coming in April and receiving a lot of attention, I thought it would be a good time to share some remarks on Marley's faith and musical career, courtesy of a highly regarded Rasta ancient, or elder who has been with the movement for many years.

In November 2011, I had the privilege of conducting a very brief interview with Ras George Irons, High Priest of the Nyahbinghi Order, at his home in rural Jamaica. As this was part of my research project, I tried to keep my questions focused on the topic of white participation in reggae music. It may have been because he was tired, because the Sabbath binghi was approaching, or because he considered his answers to be common sense, but some of his responses were very short - sometimes just a "Yes." As you'll notice, however, he perks up a bit when I mention Bob Marley, a source of pride for elders such as Priest George, who "taught Bob everything him knew about Rastafari," as he told me when I first met him.

Another interesting moment in this interview is near the end of the video. One of my questions was in regards to how authentic is a performance of reggae perceived to be when the performer does not bear the appearance of the oppressed Rastaman or African, whose collective experience of struggle is said to be the inspiration behind the music. Priest George, like someone else I interviewed on the same topic, responded in a way that addressed both my occupation as musician and my role in the conversation as researcher. I have written a bit more about this in my thesis, but for the sake of this blog post, I just want to draw attention to the priest's suggestion that music and research are ways in which non-black, non-Rasta individuals can "enter into the struggle."

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