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Reggae’s Rise Was High

 

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The entire Jamaican musical movement involved a lot of different factions. From the most sophisticated businessmen and politicians to tough-minded crooks. Drawing on both tradition and new ideas, these characters and their ideas filled a creative caldron that was truly historic. To any outside observer, like myself, there is no doubt that Jamaica delivered a mixed bag of art and business that was – and remains today - unlike any other. The biggest footprint just might have been a man most of us don’t know. He put the spirit of JAH into the art.

Of all the factors that created the island’s colorful art, the Rastafarian influence is surely the pièce de résistance. It is all at once Caribbean, African, religious and rebellious. The lion, the colors and dreads are seen worldwide as uniquely Jamaican. To this day the Rasta movement is a voice for the repressed.It delivers an evangelical message that is finding new fans year after year.Good art is timeless.

During the early days of the Rasta movement many businesses as well as the general population refrained from any kind of interaction with the practitioners of religion. Even Marcus Garvey thought of is as a fringe movement, with its Ganja sacrament and dreadlocks. However, slowly over time it did gain credibility, even relevance.And ultimately politicians like PM Manley declared that Reggae and the Rastas were truly a national Jamaican treasure.

A big voice in all this was a gentle giant of a man named Mortimor Planno. He was the spiritual teacher for the likes of Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Burning Spear. His interpretations of the teachings of the early leaders like Garvey and Howell became a major factor in giving many Jamaicans, in particular the artists of the time, the strength to speak out. No more rude boys without a cause, but rather an important message that carried the weight of JAH.That dignity found its way to the music.

One of the most famous Mortimor Planno stories was also his crowning moment. On King Haile Selassie’s first visit to Jamaica he was shocked when he landed in Kingston to see a reported 200,000 Jamaicans surrounding the airport. Not sure what was happening or what the Rastafarian thing was all about Selassie would not leave the Royal plane. With Selassie opting to remain in his plane on the runway for hours trying to understand the phenomenon, Jamaican officials called on Planno to speak with the king. Imagine summoning a poor man and preacher to speak with a king!But Planno’s words, his explanations of Rasta and the new Jamaica, were enough to calm the king, who exited the plane and embraced the country. This story has many versions but one thing is sure: it was Planno, an early Rasta teacher, who greeted King Haile Selassie.

King Haile Selassie was crowned at 25, becoming Ras (meaning Prince) Taferi, and heir to the Throne of Ethiopia.When Empress Zawditu died, Ras Tafari inherited the Throne in 1930. He took his baptismal name, Haile Selassie Hayle Salasse: Instrument of the Might of the Trinity, and was crowned by different nations, the 225th Solomonic ruler of a 3,000 year old dynasty.He was considered a direct decedent of the Israelite King Solomon & Queen Makeda of Sheba or Shoa.

Bob Marley considered this man his spiritual guide and early teacher. We all know how many famous Reggae artists claim to follow the Rastafarian way. If any one person can be called the guiding light for Reggae’s religious connection it’s this simple man.By the sharing of wisdom his voice is heard in every true Reggae song.


 

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