Rastafarian inmates are being handed Bob Marley CDs, drums and shakers after their religion was officially recognised by prison chiefs.
New rules mean Rastafarianism is an approved religion alongside Christianity, Islam and other major faiths.
The pack has been created to ensure Rastafarian prisoners can pray together in a ‘fulsome and harmonious way’, a faith advisor said. However, the religion’s followers have been told that one common element of their religious practice is barred: they cannot smoke cannabis in jail.
The change in policy came after an unnamed inmate appealed to Nigel Newcomen, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.
He ruled that the Prison Service was in breach of the Equality Act 2010, and said Rastafarianism, whose followers worship Haile Selassie, the former King of Ethiopia, as God and smoke cannabis as a ‘sacrament’, should be recognised.
Rastafarians are permitted four days ‘holiday’ off work in prison each year to celebrate festivals, and are given access to a ‘Rastafari Heritage Resource Pack’.
It includes a list of ‘allowed items’ provided by the National Rastafari Chaplaincy for weekly ‘Groundation’ (Holy Day) ceremonies. Among them are a CD or DVD of Rastafari drumming, music and chanting, including reggae tracks by Bob Marley, and percussion instruments.
In addition prisoners are given a small Rastafarian flag, a picture of Haile Selassie, a selection of his speeches and a copy of the King James Bible. However, cannabis remains banned.
A spokesman for The Rastafari Faith Advisors to the Prison Chaplaincy Service said: ‘This pack provides information, texts from His Majesty’s speeches... some of the best-loved reggae tracks, as well as information that sets Rastafari in the context of black history.
‘Every detail in the pack has been double-checked to ensure that no further blocks or barriers are placed to prevent Rastafarians from meeting and giving Ises [praise] together in a fulsome and harmonious way.’
The National Offender Management Service, which runs prisons in England and Wales, recognises 18 religions. They include Paganism and Zoroastrianism, an ancient Iranian religion.
At the time of the 2011 census, there were 7,906 Rastafarians in England and Wales - up from 5,000 in 2001 - making it the 14th largest recognised religion recorded by the survey.
REGGAE MUSIC may be experiencing negative fallout on the United Kingdom charts and on mainstream radio stations, but it seems the only people not bothered by the social exclusions are reggae stars.
Having previously spoken to veteran musicians Maxi Priest and Freddie McGregor, who both affirmed the notion that reggae music will continue to make strides, it was refreshing to catch up with a contemporary of the genre, Richie Spice.
Rising to prominence with his 2004 hit Earth a Run Red, the singer hails from an increasingly growing musical family, with brothers Pliers, Spanner Banner and Snatcha Lion being stars in their own right, all making a noteworthy and positive contribution to Jamaican music.
Sharing the sentiments of Maxi Priest and McGregor, Spice also believes reggae will always remain relevant on the international music scene, especially when the music has a positive message.
"My main focus is positivity; I always try to remain positive," the 42-year-old explained.
"Life is not perfect, but you have to be more focused. As musicians, what we have to do is play the music the right way. For me, the right way is to create proper lyrics with positive content so it can reach the masses of people."
Although a well-known Rastafarian and preacher of good vibes, Spice acknowledges that life isn't always a bed of roses. While he highlights the constructive aspects of life, the musician does not believe that the negative messages portrayed by some dancehall stars have detracted from the more uplifting music.
"Everything has its negative and positive story, but I think the positive is the right side. They [the dancehall stars] have their negative side to tell, but I try to focus on the other side. I'm an artiste who has been very fortunate and I always try to play music so people can relate to what I'm saying," said Spice.
While doing well on the Jamaican charts and touring the world, Spice sadly learned of the death of his mother, Violet Bonner, who died aged 74.
Coming from a close family of 11 siblings, the singer said the support of his family got him through the tough times.
"Thinking about it brings back so many sad memories. When we lost our mother, it was hard and a very sad moment. It wasn't easy, but I did what I had to do because I am a man and I have a family. I stayed focused and tried to overcome it."
The singer's latest album, Richie Spice Acoustic - Soothing Sounds is a testament to the real Richie Spice, he said.
After going through some troubling family times, Spice said he wanted to separate himself from his brothers and show his fans what he was really about.
"One thing that makes this album different is it's an album that has a lot of heart. I know that people will really accept this one; it has a different vibe. I use different instruments and people can hear the music more clearly; my vocals are more pronounced."
He added: "I was inspired by the fact that I always wanted to do something in my career by myself, and I wanted to show what was in my heart. I wanted people to understand what I stand for - which is positive music and lyrics. I like people to know that my music is a positive vibration, and when people listen to my music, they will realise the uplifting vibes I am trying to bring to the world."
Saturday marked the anniversary of Bob Marley’s passing away. Marley passed away on May 11th, 1981. There is a classic commercial for the Jamaican beer Red Stripe that ends with the memorable line: “Red Stripe and Reggae, helping our white friends dance for 70 years.”
Walk into most college scenes, and Reggae is as much a part of the American party scene as mainstream friendly hip-hop, equally devoid of any political content .
College kids+beer+reggae=instant party.
But if our familiarity with Reggae doesn’t extend past Bob Marley’s Legend albums (admittedly, one of the coolest albums ever), and we can only sing a few lines from “Buffalo Soldier” and humming along to “Let’s get together and feel all right”, we’re missing out on a whole world of Reggae worth exploring.
One could move on Peter Tosh. Echoing the way that many 60’s radicals, including the later Dr. King, became disenchanted with the empty rhetoric of “peace”, Tosh sings:
“Everyone is crying out for peace,
none is crying out for justice.
I don’t want no peace,
I need equal rights and justice.”
Tosh saw this reggae message as a global struggle against colonialism and imperialism:
Everyone is fighting for equal rights and justice
Palestinians are fighting for equal rights and justice
Down in Angola, equal rights and justice
Down in Botswana, equal rights and justice
Down in Zimbabwe, equal rights and justice
Down in Rhodesia, equal rights and justice
Peter Tosh correctly recognized that his own struggles were linked to the anti-colonial struggles of Palestinians and Africans.
But there is no reason to move past Bob Marley himself. Marley’s Rastafarianism was already wed to radical anti-colonial politics. In memory of Bob Marley, the prophet of linking together music, protest, revolution, love, and redemption, here is his radically powerful song, “war.” Marley’s song was almost a verbatim reiteration of the powerful speech given by Haile Selassie I before the League of Nations in 1963:
Bob Marley, “War”
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And abandoned -
Everywhere is war -
Me say war.
That until there no longer
First class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the color of a man’s skin
Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes -
Me say war.
That until the basic human rights
Are equally guaranteed to all,
Without regard to race -
Dis a war.
That until that day
The dream of lasting peace,
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued,
But never attained -
Now everywhere is war – war.
And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes
That hold our brothers in Angola,
Have been toppled,
Utterly destroyed -
Well, everywhere is war -
Me say war.
War in the east,
War in the west,
War up north,
War down south -
War – war -
Rumors of war.
And until that day,
The African continent
Will not know peace,
We Africans will fight – we find it necessary -
And we know we shall win
As we are confident
In the victory
Of good over evil -
Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil -
Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil -
Good over evil, yeah!
Let’s give Marley the last word here as well:
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds….
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Reggae is at its most revolutionary force when it is prophetic, emancipatory, raw, justice-oriented, anti-colonial, imbued with love and life-affirming.
And very much like Hip-Hop in this case, what a tragedy to see such powerful prophetic medium commercialized to enable awful, awful drunken dancing.
Happy Redemption, O Holy Bob.