Sufferers in Babylon: A Rastafarian Perspective on Class and Race in Reggae

In Ian Peddie (ed.), The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music and Social Class. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 443-464 (2020)


The chapter deals with the contrast between defining aspects of religious rigidity, a socio-historically derived counter-narrative, and anti-consumerism in Rastafarian philosophy and culture on one hand and the universal message and commercial success of the music on the other. After discussing the status of the genre as part of Jamaican national culture, the inherent socio-political claim of Reggae and Rastafarian culture are put in context with the conflicting claims of superiority and non-partiality that can frequently be found in the music. Along the lines of religious doctrines in Rastafarian culture and the attempted spiritual transcendence of racism the chapter closes with an exploration of the genre's signature tropes of social justice and anti-materialism, also considering the less strictly defined identity-constructions of recent artists linked to the Reggae Revival movement. "Martin A. M. Gansinger's study of Reggae and class employs Rastafarianism as a key ingredient of both concepts. Gansinger contends that Rastafarianism offers a "spirituality-based consciousness" that lends itself to an egalitarian-driven social consciousness. Reggae's strong social, political and culture capital as a philosophy of liberation owes much to Rastafarianism, which, for all its contradictions, embodied in categories such as the "righteous" and the "wicked", as well as its segregationalist and patriarchal past, offers a means through which the music advances a socially transformative spirituality that may play a part in the rediscovery of a truly social consciousness." (Ian Peddie, Introduction to The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music and Social Class)

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Martin A. M. Gansinger
Al-Akhawayn University

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