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Natural Mysticism

Towards a new Reggae Aesthetic

Essay by Kwame Dawes


1997 Peepal Tree Press 978-1900715225 English

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Natural Mysticism is also a work of acute cultural analysis. Dawes argues that in the rise of roots reggae in the 1970s, Jamaica produced a form which was both wholly of the region and universal in its concerns. He contrasts this with the mainstream of Caribbean literature which, whilst anticolonial in sentiment was frequently conservative and colonial in form. Dawes finds in reggae's international appeal more than just an encouraging example. In the work of artists such as Don Drummond, Bob Marley, Winston Rodney and Lee 'Scratch' Perry, he finds a complex aesthetic whose inner structure points in a genuinely contemporary and postcolonial direction. He identifies this aesthetic as being both original and eclectic, as feeling free to borrow, but transforming what it takes in a subversive way. He sees it as embracing both the traditional and the postmodern, the former in the complex subordination of the lyric, melodic and rhythmic elements to the collective whole, and the latter in the dubmaster's deconstructive play with presences and absences. Above all, he shows that it is an aesthetic which unites body, emotions and intellect and brings into a single focus the political, the spiritual and the erotic.


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