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Nico Schüler

(Texas State University, San Marcos, TX United States of America)

On the Religious and Political Functions of Reggae and Reggaetón


Rastafarianism is an Afro-centric cultural consciousness movement and religion with political views that emerged in Jamaica in the 1920s, influenced by Judaism, Christianity, Ethiopianism, and Hinduism. It was popularized through Reggae music, especially that of Desmond Dekker (1941-2006) and Bob Marley (1945-1981) in the 1970s. Rastafarianism highly values the African heritage of black people and believes in repatriation to Ethiopia (“Zion”), which is the true home of black people. Most Rastafarian symbols are either of Biblical nature or related to Ethiopia; e.g. the dreadlocks and beards relate to the law of the Nazarites that forbade cutting hair. To reflect their beliefs and ways of life, Rastafarians changed some of the Jamaican-English language, which can be observed in Reggae and Reggaetón. Changing the “colonial” English language was an emancipatory tool to confront the oppressive, decadent Babylon. This paper will provide the political and religious background and highlight early through contemporary reggae and reggaetón artists, such as Janine “Jah9” Cunningham (born 1983).

Short biography

Nico Schüler, PhD, is the University Distinguished Professor of Music Theory and Musicology at Texas State University. His main research interests are African-American Popular Music, interdisciplinary aspects of 19th/20th/21st century (world) musics, methodology of music research, music theory pedagogy, and music historiography.