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Masters of Roots and Culture at Reggae University

Masters of Roots and Culture at Reggae University

Masters of Roots and Culture at Reggae University

By on - Photos by Carlo Crippa / Rototom 2012 - Comment

The Congos and The Wailing Souls talk about Rastafari and Jamaican music at Rototom 2012.

On the fifth day of the ROTOTOM's Reggae University term, the elder statesmen of reggae - the Congos and Wailing Souls - took to the stage, as the youth of Raging Fyah from the previous day's session moved on. In some ways it was akin to the 'passing of the baton' at College, as the weighty topic of 'Rastafari, Jamaican Music and Cultural Affinity' was tackled.

The Congos and The Wailing Souls at Rototom 2012

Once more, this University session was very well attended, featuring special guests: movie maker Monica Haim and the musicians from the Congos (Cedric Myton, Congo Ashanti Roy, Kenroy Fyffe and Watty Burnett) and Wailing Souls (Winston 'Pipe' Matthews and Lloyd 'Bread' McDonald), together with the University's popular panel comprised of David Katz, Ellen Koehlings, Pete Lilly and Pier Tosi.

Prior to the arrival of the guests, there was a screening of official footage from the 1966 visit of Haile Selassie to Jamaica. Notably - as explained by Brother Jared in his introduction - Selassie was the first Head of State to visit Jamaica post-independence. Widely revered as the 'Black Christ' in Rastafarian circles, the film traces his journey from arrival at Kingston Airport, to the reception at the Prime Minister's residence, on to King's House, taking in both his Parliamentary address and conferral with a Doctorate of Law, before winding up the visit in Montego Bay via Spanish Town.

Thereafter, with Katz in the chair, the debating started. But not before Burnett played 'bad boy at school' with his intermittent interruptions and (welcome) microphone-voice play. Questioned about early Rasta days, 'Pipe' outlined Garvey's repatriation agenda and noted that Rastas were "people who did not trim", but "bring messages of peace, love and harmony". "We deal with good vibes" he explained, as "a true Rasta man doesn't do anything wrong".

This prompted Myton to explain that "music is a special part, a spiritual part of our culture", enabling Johnson to add that: "Rastafari is not a joke thing... Rasta is a way of life, it's not a barber shop business". Then Kenroy chipped in that: "this Rasta philos is coming from the heart... to me it's a very serious thing .. and Rasta is right around the world now".

The Congos and The Wailing Souls at Rototom 2012

Wailing Soul McDonald then recalled his childhood experience in Trenchtown. This "meant you can't get a job", forcing him and his brethren to be more creative. Hence music "kept us out of a lot of things .. the only way out". This was followed by a lengthy checklist of Trenchtown's alumni (incl. The Wailers, Joe Higgs and the Gaylads), where they would "imbibe the chalice" to "put you in touch with the father".

Having roundly criticised the 'disgusting' lyrics of some modern music, the guests proceeded to explain the complicated history of the 2 groups (incl. Burnett's late but consequential arrival on the Congos scene courtesy of Lee Scratch Perry's influence).

On prompt, Matthews and Fyffe led the audience on a merry tour of the musical evolution of reggae – spanning mento, calypso, ska etc. - whilst insisting that Rasta "was there all the time". Then, lest we forget, the latter reminded us that "Bob (Marley) was the man who spread reggae around the world". Myton then followed, expressing the view that the music "is the endorsement of the Rasta culture .. it's a corner post".

Having interpreted the Jamaican patois for his audience, Katz then turned talk to the legendary 'Heart of the Congos' album. All endorsed Lee Perry, as Johnson noted: "big him up the great work he did". This prompted the highlight of the proceedings as the Congos gave a welcome rendition of 'Fisherman'. Under Tosi's prompt Johnson then recalled that "we grew up with (Count) Ossie... and reggae music comes from the funde (and the heartbeat)", before Matthews warned his audience that "the drum is a serious thing", from the Maroons and the dead slaves: "you can still hear the drumming, it's Kumina".

Congo Ashanti Roy at Rototom 2012Linked to the aforementioned film, the guests were also asked about their memories of the 1966 visit. In response Fyffe suggested that it was "the first time real life come to JA" , whilst Matthews was impressed by the fact that Selassie's lion was on board for the visit! For Burnett it was his first time to savour the holy herb: "I was right there" (at the airport for Selassie's arrival) "thousands and thousands of people .. nobody get hurt .. rain was falling hard .. on the plane's arrival there was thunder and lightning and Rasta could smoke whenever and wherever" during His Imperial Majesty's visit.

Before closing the camp, the University gave a screening of Monica Haim's 'Awake Zion' film (60min, USA 2012), which is due for release this year. The film – which features her friends the Congos - explores the connections between Rastafari and Judaism. Haim is a Jewish American, whose film was a grad school thesis. She now lives in Israel, where she assures us that there's a thriving reggae and Rasta scene as depicted in the movie.

This day the University was blessed by the patronage of the masters. For that, much respect and thanksgiving!

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