Unless one has been residing in a remote ice cave in Reykjavik Iceland over the past few decades; it’s hard to deny the reality that reggae music, Rastafari’s contemporary expression, has promoted Ethiopia/Africa more than ANY other medium. Bekka! The one drop infectious rhythm of reggae has clear indigenous African influence and is easy to move to, hence loved by most. Add lyrics of love, redemption, repatriation and other Pan African framed themes, the genre becomes a powerful tool, especially in perilous times. Old schoolers (like yours truly) learnt from and still listen to Marley, Tosh, Burning Spear and Culture amongst the long list of classics. Addis Abeba was even put on the musical map in 1996 by Culture’s lead singer Joseph Hill chanting,
“There is a land; far, far away
It’s called Addis Ababa
Chant with I and say
There is a land; far, far away
It’s called Addis Ababa
Wonders of the world
The great River Nile
Is found there in Africa
The great treasure of Axum
Axum of Zion
It’s found there in Africa.”
Millennials and Generation Z also consist of a talented crop of musicians furthering the lyrical legacy connecting Africans at home and abroad. A few better known in Africa include Koffee, Chronixx and Proteje. Oje Ken Ollivierre, is the 1981 Jamaican born artist, known as Proteje. He is a second-generation singer from Jamaican mom and reggae songstress, Lorna Bennett, and calypso singing dad, Mike Ollivierre, from St. Vincent and Grenadines. Proteje’s influences are wide and his collection include myriad songs on love, social matters and spiritual inspiration such as “Hail Ras Tafari”.
“Every morning I rise
Peace to my mind when I hail Ras Tafari
Knowing His eyes are on I
Jah be my guide, I reside with the Most High
Even inna drought I nuh cry
These are the times when I hail Ras Tafari
Knowing that Jah will provide for I.”
His musical messages flooded Addis Abeba this weekend as reggae connoisseurs of all walks of life welcomed him home for the second time. Brother Malaphi, a US born Pan African engineer and repatriate to Kenya, flew from Mombasa to Addis for the performance which also featured Kenyan artists Arrow Bwoy and DJ ZJ Heno. Engineer and cultural promoter Malaphi expressed the need to engage reggae artists while they are on the continent, sharing opportunities for residence, investment and more. Best known in Kenya and Tanzania for his promotion of the arts and cultural tours for African Diaspora communities, Malaphi has brought several groups to Ethiopia over the past several years.
Music and the arts, in general, continue to be an important platform for linking Africans wherever they may be. Right here in Addis Abeba, aka the diplomatic capital of Africa, the setting is right and ready for attracting major cultural events. Performance venues, 5 Star Hotels, tour vehicles, acceptable audio/visual/stage systems and more essentials of the entertainment industry infrastructure are available. To be clear, this does not disregard the suffering still going on in the north due to the tplf belligerence. Addis, being the economic and political engine of Ethiopia, does need to focus on the progress and development required for rebuilding battle torn lives and regions for some time. Culture can play an important role.
Addis, the seat of the African Union, should have no issue with consistent cultural representation from the other 54 Africa Union member states and the Sixth Region. Though Pan African centered events pop up from time to time, some are hoping the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in May 2023, will usher in staple events attracting local, continental and international visitors alike, regularly. The city now boasts myriad spaces of entertainment and education and reggae musicians are ready, willing and able to play a role, this includes local talent like Static Levi and Israel Tefera. Reggae artists have understated power and privilege amongst the masses to influence positive change, especially amongst youth. A song can fast become an anthem and call to action for peace, joy, love, unity and a plethora of good causes. So as a new generation of youth emerge from an era of pandemic, conflict, media attacks and more; public and private sector can realize expedited progress through music. That said, investment in spaces to cultivate, promote and support artists is a great start. Ethiopia, the source of inspiration for the Jamaican born genre, may develop homegrown talent and then stake a claim in the future of reggae, attracting visitors worldwide.
By the way, Reykjavik Iceland also has a reggae scene.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.