Radical religious thought in Black popular music. Five Percenters and Bobo Shanti in Rap and Reggae

©2017 Textbook 169 Pages


This book is discussing patterns of radical religious thought in popular forms of Black music. The consistent influence of the Five Percent Nation on Rap music as one of the most esoteric groups among the manifold Black Muslim movements has already gained scholarly attention. However, it shares more than a strong pattern of reversed racism with the Bobo Shanti Order, the most rigid branch of the Rastafarian faith, globally popularized by Dancehall-Reggae artists like Sizzla or Capleton. Authentic devotion or calculated marketing?
Apart from providing a possible answer to this question, the historical shift of Bobo adherents from shunned extremists to firmly anchored personifications of authenticity in mainstream Rastafarian culture is being emphasized. A multi-layered comparative case study attempts to shed light on the re-contextualization of language as well as expressed dogmatic perceptions and symbolism, attitude towards other religious groups and aspects of ethnic discrimination. Further analysis includes the visibility of artists and their references to practical and moral issues directly derived from two obscure ideologies that managed to conquer airwaves and concert halls.


Table Of Contents

Gansinger, Martin A. M.: Radical religious thought in Black popular music.
Five Percenters and Bobo Shanti in Rap and Reggae, Hamburg, Anchor Academic
Publishing 2017
Buch-ISBN: 978-3-96067-198-5
PDF-eBook-ISBN: 978-3-96067-698-0
Druck/Herstellung: Anchor Academic Publishing, Hamburg, 2017
Covermotiv: © pixabay.de
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Printed in Germany

Dedicated to Loubna and Ahmed-Nouri

I would like to thank Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah for her support and
encouragement during the realization of this project, big up di Empress! Further thanks
go to Black Rasta and Big Youth in Kokrobite; Ras Kweku and DJ Isaac in Cape Coast;
Paul in Kumasi; Louis Wonder and Las Vegas at the Art Center as well as Abdou,
Tanko and Picolo in Accra; the Honorable Priest Ferdinand and the Honorable Priest
Henry in Koforidua/New Tafo; Prof. John Collins at the University of Ghana/Accra; my
office mate Dr. Ayman Kole for enduring weeks of repeated listening to `sweet'
Jamaican music.

Table of Content
Contextual Framework
Research Interest and Methodology
The influence of religion on Black popular music
from a historical perspective
From Bobo Hill to Billboard Charts:
Traces of Bobo Shanti identity and doctrine in Jamaican popular music
Expressed doctrine and ideology among Bobo Shanti artists:
Similarities and differences in regard to Five Percenter Rap
A) Re-interpretation of terminology and the establishment of
counterknowledge: Burning you with Words, Power and Sound
B) Dogmatic perceptions and symbolism: When the Two Sevens Clash
C) Attitude towards other religious groups and ethnic discrimination:
Fire Pon Rome
D) Visibility and declared affiliation of artists
E) Moral superiority, dietary approach and attitude towards drugs
F) Attitude towards gender and homosexuality
From Mecca to Zion, from Priest to God: Lost children and hybrid identities
Outlook and discussion: What's today's mathematics ­ fyah still ah bun?

About the author
Dr. Martin Abdel Matin Gansinger (born 1979 in Austria) studied Communication
Science and Political Science at the University of Vienna and passed both with
distinction. His Master's thesis discusses recursive patterns of cultural, social, and
political resistance in various forms of Black American musical expression and the
potential of Hip Hop as an alternative communication-structure for the compensation of
dysfunctional representation through mainstream-media. He furthermore analyzed the
conditions of communication and interaction in regard to the practice of collective
improvisation as a musical method and its correspondence to the concept of the Ideal
Speech Situation as introduced by Habermas ­ as well as its efficiency in the context of
Intercultural Communication ­ to attain a Doctor's degree in Communication Science.
Next to being an editor and journalist for jazzzeit magazine and Vienna-based radio
station orange 94.0 from 2005-2009 he has been working as a PR-coordinator for the
internationally awarded, independent label JazzWerkstatt Records. Martin Abdel Matin
Gansinger conducted several long-term field studies abroad, receiving financial funding
through the University of Vienna's research scholarship. He spent a year in Ghana in
coordination with the Vienna Institue for Development and Cooperation and Prof. John
Collins from the University of Ghana/Accra, researching Intercultural Communication
processes in the context of transfusional West African music styles ­ including an
extended stay at the local compound of the Jamaica-based Bobo Shanti Mansion, one of
the strictest subdivisions of the Rastafarian faith, and allowance to their communal
Nyahbinghi ceremonies. Further field research aiming at extemporaneous
communication techniques and its use in traditional knowledge systems has been done
in Fez/Morocco and the convent of the Naqshbandi Sufi order in Lefke/Cyprus where
he is working and residing since 2009. He is currently holding the position of an
Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Communication at Girne American University,
teaching Undergraduate-, Master-, and PhD-classes as well as appointed Head of
Department of Radio, TV & Cinema. In 2017, Martin A. M. Gansinger initiated
immediate. Currents in Communication, Culture and Philosophy.

Popular music has always drawn part of its attracting powers from referring to
religiously connotated sources, obscure movements or charismatic characters in content
and symbolism (Till, 2010). One only needs to think about The Beatles' association
with Indian gurus, Led Zeppelin's fascination with occultist Aleister Crowley, countless
Rock bands' claimed affiliation with the Church of Satan or Rap-millionaire Jay-Z's
lucrative play with Illuminati symbolism (Gosa, 2011, p. 8). Providing the listener with
seemingly meaningful context beyond the plain musical content seems to help to sell
that extra bunch of records.
While in a lot of cases, this displayed affiliation stays mainly on the surface of things
and seems to serve simple marketing agendas, some artists openly commit themselves ­
or even fully dedicate their artistic output ­ to the cause of certain quasi-religious
movements. If the Wu-Tang Clan as one of the most influential Rap groups of the 1990s
­ at the peak of their popularity, and probably the one of Hip Hop as a genre as well ­
decided to fill the seven minutes of the first track (Wu-Tang Clan, 1997a) on their
highly anticipated new album with a preacher-style sermon performed by Five Percenter
ideologist Popa Wu (Killmann, 2014), it can be considered a fundamental statement,
underlining the crucial commitment of the artists towards its primary ideological
What might be in coherence with the character of the Five Percent Nation as a
missionary movement ­ employing newspapers and websites or street academy
activities (Knight, 2013, p. 96) ­ comes across a lot more ambivalent in the case of
Reggae/Dancehall artists like Sizzla Kalonji, Capleton or Lutan Fyah ­ who openly
demonstrate their affiliation with the Bobo Shanti Order, a rather reclusive branch of the
Rastafarian faith, organized around strict communal services (Barnett, 2002, p. 58) and
quite clear in its rejective stance towards Reggae music (Kamimoto, 2015, p. 47).

However, one of the main questions that has to be asked is concerning the possible
reasons for the fact that two highly commercially successful, globally relevant and
influential musical styles of the last decades (Savishinsky, 1994a; Mitchell, 2001; Alim,
Ibrahim, & Pennycook, 2008) being tied to rather obscure mythologies of somehow
radical religious character that affiliated artists pledge open allegiance to. Are these
ideologies simply being instrumentalized by musicians looking for increased attention
by adding some outstanding attitude and identity on a competitive market ­ or are they
in turn being used and exploited for promotional purposes? In any case, it is nothing
else but astonishing that a considerable audience of listeners would happily vibe to
rather harsh and violent musical enforcements of Mosaic law, delivered by preachy,
self-styled prophets ­ or even more obscure, Islam-inspired Black supremacy
conceptions, circulating around the idea that the creation of the Caucasian race is
resulting from an evil experiment of a mad scientist (Smith, 1998, p. 539).

Contextual Framework
The inflationary use of the term `radical' by news media outlets within the last few
years ­ and its tendency of it being attached to Islamic routine and common practice
such as the wearing of headscarfs, prayer hats, beards, traditional clothes or the simple
act of prayer itself as indications for extremist thought and behavior ­ is asking for a
closer consideration about the connotation of the word in the context of this discussion.
Here, unlike the more hysterical and polarizing depictions in news media, the term is
used neither as a positive nor as a negative evaluation but simply refers to the relatively
strict adherence to rather restrictive concepts and beliefs. Therefore, it applies to the
strong emphasis of the Bobo Shanti Rasta Mansion on the Old Testament and a strict
schedule of commune-oriented practices such as the honoring of the Sabbath or regular
fasting ­ which clearly sets it apart from more moderate and less regulative Rastafarian
branches like the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Rubenstein & Suarez, 1994; Chevannes,
1994, p. 171).
In case of the Five Percent Nation ­ founded 1964 in Harlem ­ the radical aspect is
given by a crude creation mythology based on reversed racism that is somehow shared
with other Black nationalist movements (Isma'ilis, 2014; McCloud, 2014) such as the
Nation of Islam (Essien-Udom, 1962; Tinaz, 1996; Tinaz, 2000; Tinaz, 2001; Bowen,
2013) or the Nuwaubian Nation (Bailey, 2006; Palmer, 2010; Finley, Guillory, & Page,
Jr., 2014) but certainly sets it apart from orthodox Islam (Swedenburg, 1996, p. 2;
Knight, 2013, p. 91). One just needs to consider that the body of its founder ­ Clarence
13X Smith, a former member of the Nation of Islam, referred to by his followers as
Father Allah ­ was cremated after his assassination in 1969 (Knight, 2013), while
orthodox Islam strictly requires the corpse to be buried in the soil. Similarly, despite
considerable references to Biblical texts ­ especially the Psalms of David in the Old
Testament (Murrell, 2000) ­ and adherence to orthodox rites, Semaj (2013, p. 107)
pointed to the Rasta tradition of `let the dead bury their dead' and the absence of rites
of passage as (o)ne major sign in the stagnation of the Rasta culture (p. 106), with

funerals for dead Rastas being facilitated at the church of their parents or the one they
had abandoned when they answered the calling of Rastafari (p. 107). He furthermore
stressed the absence of either original or religious rituals for marriage, which is either by
common-law unions, the laws of the state (Babylon) or a series of casual, undefined
relationships (p. 106), as well as missing ceremonies for birth and the naming of children.
Although the Bobo Shanti Order ­ also known as Bobo Ashanti or the Ethiopian
African Black International Congress Church of Salvation (EABIC), founded 1958 in
Kingston by Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards, today referred to as King Emmanuel I
or Dada by his followers ­ is strongly based on religious concepts and traditions, the
Five Percent Nation as well as the Rastafari ideology as a whole tend to stick to a self-
definition that puts more emphasis on cultural or ethnical aspects and occasionally show
efforts to distance themselves from institutionalized religion (Washington, 2014, p. 86;
Gibbs, 2003, p. 91). Nevertheless, they might still be classified as quasi-religious
movements ­ with even less orthodox Rasta denominations than the Bobo Shanti being
based on strict adherence to varying divine conceptions (Hannah, 1981; Rubenstein &
Suarez, 1994; Barnett, 2005) or at least attributing a strong inherent spiritual aspect to
their lifestyle and belief system (Huhtala, 2015) by frequently using the term `faith' to
describe it (Taylor, 2005). As pointed out by Zips (2006, p. 135), (t)he Bobo Ashanti
state and church are not separated which is demonstrated by the double functions of the
political decision makers as priests of the Melchizedec Righteous Kingdom. On the
other hand, the Nation of Islam has been attested state-religious character by Essien-
Udom (1962) and the Five Percenters conception of each (Black) man being God was
defined as a highly innovative and idiosyncretic religious expression (Gibbs, 2003,
p. 91). In coherence with this individual approach of self-realization, his
acknowledgment of strong gnostic influences in Five Percenter teachings led Knight
(2013, p. 232) to categorize it as some sort of indigenous African American Sufism, in
accordance with O'Connor (1998). Nevertheless, Knight also suggested a relativation of
that very claim at the same time, noting that Clarence 13X Smith had clearly positioned
himself as anti-religion ­ as contrary to the conception of classical Sufism (Knight,
2013, p. 232):

It is easy to imagine parallels with medieval saints such as Ibn-al-
Arabi, who saw man as reflecting the divine, or al-Hallaj, who
famously called himself by one of Allah's 99 Names (al-Haqq, the
`Truth'). While not always off the mark, it's a naive assumption that
Five Percenters approach `God' with mysticism. Sufi themes of divine
union or Manifesting God's Attributes represent a closeness to the
mystery god whose existence is denied in the 120.
In this context it is necessary to note that the 120 at the end of the above quote refers to
the 120 degrees, the core teachings of the Five Percenters. Even though more based on
esoteric than exoteric principles (Gray, 2014), both groups classify as offsprings from a
broader religiously connotated ideology and while the Five Percent Nation tends to be
less regulated, more moderate and individually-oriented in reference to the Nation of
Islam as its core inspiration, it still classifies as being termed as radical and extremist in
more than one aspect. Media comparisons of Five Percenters to the Hitler Youth in the
1960s (Knight, 2013, p. 122) and an infamous appearance of the Wu-Tang Clan on the
Arsenio Hall Show in 1994 with Ol' Dirty Bastard ­ Five Percenter name Unique
Aason Allah (Knight, 2013, p. 184) ­ provocatively shouting `the Black Man is God!'
(2013, p. 182) in the face of a mainstream American audience might serve as evidence
for the widespread consideration of the group as radical in the public eye. The Bobo
Shanti on their behalf have been termed as Reggae Mullahs or Jamaican Taliban by
critics and other artists (Midnite, 2001; DancehalDopeBoi, 2013) who put the religion-
based, judgmental views and rigid lifestyle in context with the general attitude of
Islamic fundamentalists. Another case of portraying the Five Percent Nation as a sort of
hidden fifth column, comprised of radical and militant Islamists, could be observed at
the occasion of the attempt to link the Washington sniper-shootings of 2002 to the direct
influence of affiliated artists like Wu-Tang's Method Man or Killarmy (Swedenburg,
2002; Aidi, 2004; Knight, 2013, p. 185; Hassell, 2015). For the purpose of this
discussion the name Five Percent Nation will be used to address the group, since the
later on established and simultaneously employed Nation of the Gods and Earths does
not seem to be fully accepted in the somewhat fragmented movement (Knight, 2013,
p. 200).

In regard to a conceptual perspective, the following discussion draws heavily from a
comparative analysis of the Nation of Islam and the Rastafari philosophy (Barnett,
2006), which can be considered as the respective roots from which the Five Percenters
and the Bobo Shanti emerged. Soumahoro (2007) provided a less complex approach of
portraying shared elements of Rastafarianism and the Nation of Islam that demonstrates
their attempt to challenge Christianity as the theological reference system for the
identified oppressive power structures they claim to oppose. Due to a formative and
consistent impact on Hip Hop as the most influential cultural movement in terms of
music production, aesthetics, fashion, and rentability throughout the last decades, quite
considerable attention is given to the Five Percenters from a scholarly perspective.
Aptly placed in the Journal of Gang Research, Corbiscello's (1998) slightly judgmental
approach focused mainly on controversial aspects of crime- and race-related matters
throughout the history of the group, with brief captures of major personalities,
symbolism and doctrine. O'Connor (2006) provided an insightful account on
theological aspects of the Five Percenters and its status as a kind of alternative religion
emerging out of the Islamic African-American community but does not cover its ties to
Hip Hop in detail. Swedenburg (1996) authored one of the first attempts that presented
samples of doctrine reflected in lyrics of affiliated artists and explored the application of
Middle Eastern Islamic culture as an African-American tool for cultural resistance in
Islamic Rap. A similar angle has been chosen by Aidi (2004) and Alim (2006), who
portrayed different layers of Islamic influence on US-Hip Hop, from Sunni Islam to the
Nation of Islam and Five Percenters.
Miyakawa's (2005) extensive and detailed attempt to analyze the reflection of Five
Percenters in Hip Hop culture from a musicologist's point of view ­ aiming at traceable
references in lyrical content, rhythmical patterns, symbolism in artwork and even
hidden numerology in the order the tracks are assembled for an album ­ has been
criticized by Knight (2013, p. 227) for not considering a field research approach in order
to capture first-hand views of the movement. Assuming that they would not tolerate

whites among their ranks ­ as has been the case with the Nation of Islam (p. 229) ­,
Miyakawa did not consider a personal inquiry to approach the group directly. Knight's
own work benefited from extensive participant observation among the Five Percenters
but touches rather briefly on the various representations of the ideology in Hip Hop ­
although he provided considerable space to an extensive analysis of Rakim's (Rakim,
1997) Mystery (Who Is God?), which he termed a masterpiece of both hip-hop artistry
and NGE metaphysics (Knight, 2013, p. 180).
However, due to the fact that the wide-scale, direct and consistent influence of Five
Percenter ideology on Rap music and Hip Hop culture has already been sufficiently
illustrated by Miyakawa's work, the purpose of this discussion will mainly consist of
accentuating a similar stringent and cohesive influence of Bobo Shanti doctrine in the
area of Jamaican music, specifically Dancehall-Reggae. Chevannes (1977), Owens
(1977) and Niiah (2005) provided insightful reviews on literature that is based on more
general accounts of Rastafarian Studies. The latter suggested a divison between early
journalistic material throughout the 1930s, academic expositions (2005, p.12) since the
1950s (Simpson, 1955; Smith, Augier, & Nettleford, 1967; Kitzinger, 1969; Edmonds,
2002; Zips, 2006) ­ reflecting outsider North Atlantic impressions to the local
sensitivity (Niiah, 2005, p. 12) ­ and testimonial/autobiographical (p. 12.) material,
provided by members of the group itself (Dizzy, 1967; Hannah, 1981; Mack, 1999).
Pollard (1982) and Slade (2013) are among those who looked at the extended
framework of Dread Talk that is frequently being employed by Jamaican Reggae artists,
with the former investigating its social and historical context and the latter focusing on
morphological aspects and inherent conceptual meanings of cultural resistance. While
Simpson (1985) had looked at legal and political aspects in regard to the religious
dimension of the Rastafarian belief, Waters (1985) presented one of the first attempts to
link its theological core with the political message of Reggae music. An even more
helpful amount of literature ­ considering the specific scope of this discussion ­ has
been provided by Zips (2003; 2006; 2011; 2015), who offered numerous accounts based

on ethnographic research and transnational law in regard to claims of repatriation and
reparation, which he deemed strongly enforced and supported by the global visibility of
Dancehall-Reggae artists affiliated with the Bobo Shanti Rasta Mansion.
Substantial ethnographic information on dogmatic aspects, habitual behavior and
structural organization of the Bobo Shanti Order has been presented by Chevannes
(1994), White (2007; 2012) and Tanis (2010). Kamimoto (2015) furthermore addressed
the influence of Reggae music on the economic activities of the Order by focusing on
the shift of occupational patterns among the Bobo community in Bull Bay, Jamaica,
from traditional, handicraft-oriented means of income towards participation in activities
related to the music industry ­ as a direct consequence of the growing popularity of
Bobo Shanti artists. By clearly portraying the ongoing conflict between the sacred and
the secular, the traditional and the innovation, the righteous occupation and the fast
money, Kamimoto managed to demonstrate the ambivalent ­ but nevertheless
undisputable strong ­ impact of musicians affiliated with the Order on the rather
reclusive community. Together with Pereira (1998), who had already pointed out the
considerable religious connotations inherent to Roots Reggae that rather surprisingly
surfaced and flooded the more secular Dancehall genre from the mid-1990s on, the
aforementioned contributions helped to articulate the approach of this discussion, which
shall be layed out in detail throughout the following part.

Research Interest and Methodology
The main interest here will be to allow conclusions about whether or not the
representation of Bobo Shanti ideology in Jamaican Dancehall-Reggae is corresponding
with the attested influence of the Five Percent Nation on US-Hip Hop in degree and
directional patterns. It is intended to shed light on the question of how Bobo Shanti
artists incorporate considerable elements of religious identity in their creative output as
well as pointing out similarities and differences between Five Percenter conceptions as
presented in US-Hip Hop and Bobo Shanti doctrine in Jamaican Dancehall-Reggae.
However, it is important to note that Five Percenter officials willingly cooperate with
affiliated artists to spread the message and publicly appear in videos (Knight, 2013,
p. 179), while in the case of the Bobo Shanti it appears to be more of a one-directional
flow, in which artists praise and promote the doctrine without official involvement of
the Order and explicit approval of its representatives (Kamimoto, 2015). As a central
time frame for the discussion, the two decades around the millenial turn have been
decided upon, due to the unquestionable peak of popularity and influence of central
artists affiliated with the two ideologies around that time. Whether or not there might be
a common pattern, indicating a correspondance with generally increased interest in
religion and spirituality in the wave of endtime scenarios around the Y2K hype being
reflected in popular culture (Schaefer, 2004; Bendle, 2005) is a question that exceeds
the limits of this discussion, however. Furthermore, more recent examples will be taken
into consideration in order to discuss patterns of continuity and change.
The methodological approach of the following discussion is mainly based on a
descriptive case study (Simons, 1980; Yin, 1984; Stake, 1995), with the core substance
being Jamaican Dancehall-Reggae performed by artists affiliated with the Bobo Shanti
Rasta Order. Following the theoretical conception of Yin (1984), multiple sources of
evidence ­ from lyrical and visual primary sources to ethnographic evidence collected
in a field research situation ­ will be considered to increase internal validity. As for
external validity, next to the consideration of existing literature as secondary sources of

evidence, the design of a cross-case study has been chosen, in which the core substance
content will be contrasted with findings concerning the influence of Five Percenter
ideology on US-Hip Hop. Miyakawa's approach to analyze how lyrics reveal the inner
workings of the Five Percenter theology (2005, p. 41) and her conception of artists as
authoratative teachers that offer personal testimonials by quoting, paraphrasing and
interpreting the movements doctrine (p. 42) can be applied in a similar way to the Bobo
Shanti Rasta Mansion and its affiliated artists.
Therefore, not unlike Miyakawa's work , next to building on existing literature, a multi-
layered analysis using Fairclough's model of Critical Discourse Analysis (1992) ­
considering textual, discoursive, and social practices ­ has been taken into
consideration. Hence, non-verbal communication such as dress code and overall
appearance, semiotic conceptions and considerations, as well as demonstrated
coherence between expressed views and attitudes in song titles and lyrical content are
expected to provide information about corresponding patterns of ideological influence
and basic doctrine. The references taken into consideration will solely be limited to
indications that carry religious connotations related to the Bobo Shanti doctrine,
therefore more general expressions dealing with common patterns of the Rastafarian
agenda ­ such as repatriation or socio-political criticism ­ will not be considered.
Findings will be contrasted with corresponding samples of Five Percenter artists in
order to define potential differences and similarities. In reference to the expressed
confrontational stance of Rastafari- and Black Power-movements alike, Singh (2004)
identified the use of religion, dress, hair, drugs and music as central elements in their
pursuence of an ideal concept of reality in which social change and social action were
manifested in more symbolic rather than concrete forms (p. 32). Partly based on these
criterias, the following factors have been determined to operationalize the subject
matter, identify patterns of influence and provide defined categories for discussion:

A) Re-interpretation of terminology and the establishment of counterknowledge:
inclusion of coded language derived from ideological vocabulary and concepts
B) Dogmatic perceptions and symbolism:
references to basic concepts of the respective religious doctrine in verbal and
visual representations
C) Attitude towards other religious groups and ethnic discrimination:
consideration of exclusive and inclusive tendencies in regard to orthodox
religion and comparable competitive branches as well as issues of ethnicity and
racism reflecting characteristic practices among the respective group
D) Visibility and declared affiliation of artists:
demonstrative gestures of allegiance in the form of dress code, habitual behavior
or verbal declaration, juxtaposed with data that sheds light on the actual
consideration of artists among the respective group
E) Moral superiority, dietary approach and attitude towards drugs:
verbal claims of moral superiority based on the respective group's regulations in
regard to diet and drugs
F) Attitude towards gender and homosexuality:
correspondance between doctrinal perceptions of gender issues and expressed
views in conduct and articulation
Due to their distinctive consistency and visibility in terms of Bobo-affiliation ­ as well
as being among the most popular and critically acclaimed artists associated with the
Order ­ the cited references will to a large degree be comprised of examples from the
creative output of Sizzla, Capleton and Lutan Fyah (recipient of the International
Reggae and World Music Award for Spiritual Service Through Music in 2009 ­
Roberts, 2011) . The corresponding patterns they are compared to mainly stem from the

Rap groups Brand Nubian ­ a virtual missionary wing for the Nation of the Gods and
Earths (Knight, 2013, p. 179) ­ and Wu-Tang Clan as some of the most active and
visible musical ambassadors of the Five Percent Nation, heavily referenced by
Miyakawa (2005) as well.
While the strictly defined and canonized Five Percenter lessons ­ being documented and
memorized word for word in the 120, as mentioned earlier ­ provided a precise frame of
reference for the directly quoted or paraphrased mentionings found in the output of
affiliated artists, the situation is somewhat different in the context of the Bobo Shanti
teachings, that are more corresponding to informal initiations, aquired during a personal
training period. Further difficulties occur from the fact that Bobo doctrine presents itself
more intermingled with general Rastafarian philosophy ­ in terms of sharing the same
vocabulary, concepts and behavioral patterns ­ than the more distinctive and defined
Five Percenters, who clearly set themselves apart from orthodox Islam as well as other
Black Muslim movements. However, Bobos would stand out more in regard to personal
appearance, which is asking for a multidimensional approach focusing on more than just
the examination of lyrical content. To fill this gap, the discussion incorporates existing
literature to juxtapose the selected samples as well as data collected in the course of an
ethnographic field research conducted at the Bobo Shanti settlement in
Koforidua/Ghana in 2007, adding information generated from primary sources.
The nine-months field study project in Ghana has been developed and conducted in
accordance with the Vienna Institute for Development and Cooperation and was partly
financed with research grants provided by the Department for Research Services and
International Relations of The University of Vienna. After getting stopped at the gate
house of the Bobo compound in Koforidua, the first point that the Honorable Priest
Dennis Mills ­ who made a rather surprising appearance in torn boxer shorts and a worn
out Mickey Mouse T-shirt after being interrupted in his sleep by the guardian in charge
and therefore presenting a quite sharp contrast to the dignified robes and attire he
usually can be seen with on pictures (Zips & Kämpfer, 2001; Zips, 2005) ­ tried to get

across in a rather aggravated manner was the fact that life in his entrusted community is
far from a reggae and reefer-type beach party. Based on strict religious commitment,
residents would be expected to agree with regular fasts at least twice a week, a vegan
diet, separated genders, scheduled labor duties and participate in daily communal
worship ceremonies. In addition, the Honorable Priest Dennis Mills made it clear that
the Bobos in Koforidua are extremely concerned about being infiltrated by CIA agents
and therefore ask visitors to hand over cameras and phones to the guardian at the
entrance gate house, alongside any kind of official documents that are not permitted on
the compound due to the community's severe rejection of any type of governmental link
to imperialistic, neo-colonial rule.
Due to the rather strict settings on the compound and somehow sceptical attitude of the
residing population, an adjustable mix of explorative, qualitative methodological
instruments has been applied to collect data. In accordance with suggestions by
Atteslander (1995) and Girtler (1984), an explorative, non-structured, active and open
qualitative participant observation (Howell, 1973) on an `observer-as-participant' level
of involvement has been chosen to provide flexibility in the field and reduce the risk of
ethnocentristically flawed structural frames ­ combined with non-structured narrative
interviews. As a matter of fact, the conditions for the study quite improved after
mentioning the name of anthropologist Werner Zips, who immediatly got identified as
the Austrian professor, due to his previous visits on the compound ­ which enabled the
establishment of a more beneficial research atmosphere and rather cooperative attitutes.
However, the role of the researcher has somehow been pre-defined by the Order's
general perception that every non-member basically belongs to the lost children, that
have to be introduced to the teachings of Rastafari and King Emmanuel I ­ meaning that
they are basically willing to pass on informations as part of a moderate missionary
effort, once the trainee has accepted to submit to the rules of the community and
participates in the prescribed services. Due to the fact that the results mainly serve to
counterbalance the findings of the identified and analyzed discoursive elements, the
typical method of thick description will not be applied in this case study. The findings

will rather be contrasted with the discussion of the defined categories by using thematic
analysis that allows the organizing of data according to the respective aspects at hand.
During the period of the stay, the compound ­ which is located in close proximity to a
nearby settlement of villagers ­ was populated by the Honorable Priests Henry,
Ferdinand and Dennis Mills, all of them expatriates from Jamaica sent to Ghana in
accordance to the repatriation politics of the Bobo Shanti. Further inhabitants included
two Priests in training that displayed the typical behavior of young adepts in spiritual or
religious circles by being rather closed and seemingly seeking to chastise themselves, as
well as a female member of the Order, kept away from male company during the rather
generous amount of twenty-one days a month she is considered impure. Social life in
the compound circulates around a big wooden building in its center, referred to as the
Holy Tabernacle, where the communal sacred services are held. Priests in training and
visitors alike are obliged to start the day at sunrise by turning towards the East, wave the
characteristic black, red, and green colored Bobo flags and chant the Biblical verses of
the Psalms of David. Trainees furthermore engage in organizational obligations around
the compound, that also grows its own fruits and vegetables. Priests are granted a more
laid-back lifestyle and are usually focusing on individual meditations over Biblical
texts, instructional reasonings or short visits to the nearby settlement. On Saturday ­ the
day of the Sabbath ­ everybody is supposed to abstain from any activity but worship.
Communal services in the Holy Tabernacle are scheduled on Friday at 6 p.m. ­ the
beginning of the Sabbath ­ as well as Saturday noon and evening and inolve the
chanting of Psalms and Nyahbinghi drumming.

The influence of religion on Black popular music from a
historical perspective
There is a long relationship between music and religious concerns,
the former often serving as a vehicle for the articulation of the latter.
What is more, one need not sing explicitely about heaven and hell in
order for one's music to wrestle with deeply religious themes.
(Pinn, 2007, p. 289)
As pointed out in the introductory lines ­ and in coherence with scholars in Religious
and Cultural Studies ­ the study of music offers an opportunity to follow the `flow' of
the religious within cultural production (Pinn, 2007, p. 293) and therefore provides a
promising possibility to better recognize and analyze both religiosity (themes, practices,
etc.) and an important cultural ethos marking our new century (p. 293). Religion and
spirituality have always played a certain role in the history of Black musical expressions
in the USA (Lovell, 1972; Lincoln, 1974; Spencer, 1991; Spencer, 1995; Floyd, 1996;
Harris, 1999; Reed, 2003). The integral function of music as one element among others
­ dance, vocal articulation, elements of theatralic performances, audience participation
­ in a bigger, communal cultural experience within the African tradition (Wilson, 1974;
Maultsby, 2000) might serve as a possible explanation for that. Once on American soil,
their specific status as forced immigrants, systemetically alienated from their original
culture and identity, made enslaved Africans willingly embrace Christian religion and
its promise of an afterlife salvation ­ as documented in the enthusiastic engagement of
Blacks in the performance of church hymns and Gospel music (Williams-Jones, 1975;
Boyer, 1979).
Nevertheless, between the lines, the ecstatically invocated hereafter could also be
interpreted as the very earthly stretch of land north of the border, where slavery has
been abolished and those who made it through the underground railroad would find
their salvation in the form of freedom, as illustrated by Werner (2006). He furthermore
developed a classification system, that divides the various forms of Black musical

expression in the USA as being inspired either by a Gospel impulse, a Blues impulse or
a Jazz impulse ­ referring to either optimistic integrationist ideology, rather pessimistic
descriptions of the experienced reality of segregation or a creative approach, seeking to
question the status quo and developing techniques to transform it into something better.
As a consequence, it seems only logical that the Blues has been condemned by Gospel
singers as the devil's music (Burnett, 2015; Kornegay, 2013) and later served as an
inspiration for more politically oriented criticism, as can be found in Hip Hop, for
instance. As pointed out by Aidi (2004, p. 108):
(J)ust as racial segregation and Jim Crow laws had its impact on
early Jazz and the polished, consens-oriented Soul and Rhythm &
Blues of the late 1960s and early 1970s was a product of the civil
rights movement, the neoliberalism, urban blight and nihilism, which
gave rise to the underclass and produced rap, also gave birth to
Islamic hip hop.
However, from the 1940s on, the Jazz scene turned into a promising hunting ground for
various sects based on concepts and beliefs influenced by Islam (Monson, 2000; Turner,
2003; Stowe, 2010). Due to the considerable influence of the missionary ­ and non-
orthodox ­ Ahmadiyyah movement (O'Connor, 1998; Bayoumi, 2001; Bowen, 2013)
and its influence on musicians until the 1960s (Fanusie, 2007; McCloud, 2014), a lot of
artists such as Ahmad Jamal, Yusef Lateef, Idries Muhammad and others had adopted
Muslim names, sometimes simply to pass as North Africans and avoid racist treatment
(Chase, 2010), often inspired by the state-religious claims of the lost-found Nation of
Islam (Essien-Udom, 1962; Curtis, 2002; Curtis, 2006; Bowen, 2013). Far from Sunni
Islam ­ which is often referred to as al-Islam in the Black community, in order to
distinguish it from the various non-orthodox Muslim-inspired movements ­ the Nation
of Islam gained international recognition in the early 1960s under Minister Malcolm X
and Cassious Clay/Muhammad Ali as one of its most prominent members. Although
Warith Deen Muhammad ­ the son of founder Elijah Muhammad ­ attempted to
position the movement more close to orthodox Islam during the 1970s, its origins are
deeply rooted in the teachings of Noble Drew Ali and his Moorish Science Temple, that
also managed to exert a considerable influence on the Jazz scene at some point. As

pointed out by Bayoumi and DeCaro (1999), in the 1960s, jazz became a bridge for
Noble Drew Ali's Moorish Science doctrines to reach white hipsters at NYU and
Columbia, who then formed their own Moorish Orthodox Church (Knight, 2013,
p. 228). In correspondance with many younger members of Western societies who were
urged to abandon their parents' values and religion (Poutiainen & Rantakallio, 2016,
p. 195), a considerable amount of Jazz musicians drew their inspiration from Asian
religions and philosophy, cosmology, Islam, and Christianity (p. 195), which is
especially true for the Free Jazz/Avantgarde movement (Berkman, 2007; Brown, 2010).
Despite striking differences in terms of musical content and direction, similar to jazz
avant-gardists of the 1960s, contemporary Muslim hip-hop artists discuss their
relationship to religion through their musical output (Poutiainen & Rantakallio, 2016,
p. 195).
The influence of religion and spirituality on Rap music and Hip Hop culture has been
discussed in general (Pinn, 2003; Sanneh & Priest, 1997; Pinn, 2007; Sorett, 2009;
Miller, Pinn, & Freeman, 2015) as well as specifically for Islam (Swedenburg, 2001;
Floyd-Thomas, 2003; Aidi, 2004; Alim, 2006; Khabeer, 2007; Miah & Kalra, 2008;
McMurray, 2007; Aidi, 2013; Washington, 2014). Not even considering the vast
amount of artists that are said to be affiliated with the more obscure Nation of Islam
(Decker, 1993) and the Five Percent Nation (Ahmed, 2012), Bracey's (2007) claim that
Hip Hop has the potential to spread Islamic thought in much the same way that Reggae
spread Rastafarianism (p. 458) does not seem surprising. The weight of these words
gets underlined by the following statement of Savishinsky (1994a, p. 260) ­ although it
might need to be updated in favor of Hip Hop and the Five Percent Nation soon:
What is perhaps most interesting and unique about Rastafari is that it
may represent the only contemporary socio-religious movement whose
diffusion is directly linked to various mediums of transnational
popular culture, most notably reggae music.

The perspective that Reggae music has been the main vehicle to spread the rather
obscure Rastafarian conception all over the globe has been argued by scholars
throughout the last decades (Savishinsky, 1994a; Pereira, 1998; Walker, 2005; Davis,
2006; Niiah, 2011; Kamimoto, 2015). Therefore, in the following section, the
incorporation of Bobo Shanti doctrine as a subdivision of the Rastafarian faith into what
used to be secular, Reggae-inspired Jamaican Dancehall music shall be discussed more

From Bobo Hill to Billboard Charts: Traces of Bobo Shanti
identity and doctrine in Jamaican popular music
Similar to the notion of Hip Hop and Rap as an alternative media structure (Gansinger,
2008) or the black CNN ­ as suggested by Chuck D. of Public Enemy (Gold, 1989,
p. 16) ­, Reggae has been referred to as the newspaper of Jamaica (Blatter, 2008, p. 21)
for the outspoken social and political commentary of the music in the 1970s that
articulated urgent issues related to the still evident structures of colonization in
Jamaican society (Miller, 1993) to an audience suffering from high illiteracy rates. Due
to a period characterized by economical problems, political tensions (Harrison, 1990)
and intensified violence (Harrison, 1988), (i)n the mid 1980s and through the early
`90s, Jamaican music saw a decline in Rastafarian-inspired protest music and an
increase in slack music, or songs featuring lyrics of graphic sexuality, gangster life,
gunplay, and violence (Blatter, 2008, p. 24).
As pointed out by Wexler (1994), the internationally successful song Murderer (Buju
Banton, 1995) by new-born Rasta artist Buju Banton ­ in which the former Dancehall
artist known for typically slack lyrics (Stanley, 2005) strongly condemns gun-inflicted
violence by referring to Biblical punishment for violation of the First Commandment ­
can be seen as a turning point towards a spiritual revival in Jamaican music and society
that many people embraced out of disappointment for the inability of politicians to
come up with solutions for existing problems. The anti-violence vibe quickly got picked
up and commercialized by other artists (Pereira, 1998, p. 34), a broader opposition to
slack and violent content ­ such as the decision by various members of the Jamaican
Federation of Musicians to refuse to provide musical backing for singers of slackness
and violence, or a renewed policy of filtering of much of this music by certain of the
radio stations and a corresponding promotion of `spiritual' music (p. 34) ­ started to
form. Therefore, the conditions of the industry in general started to turn into being
beneficial for a re-orientation of attitude and lyrical approach. Similarly, the rhetoric of
the Five Percenters started to emerge in Hip Hop during the late 1980s, after a decade of

social cuts, crack and violence in the urban areas and little perspectives to fix issues on
a political level.
Despite the big number of Dancehall artists discovering their Rasta identity and a wave
of Bobo artists such as Capleton, Junior Reid, Anthony B., Sizzla, Jah Mason,
Turbulence or Lutan Fyah on the forefront of a morally and religiously charged,
internationally commercially successful movement in Jamaican music, it was not the
first time that the characteristic tightly wrapped turbans were spotted. One of the first
artists to introduce the Bobo dress code in Jamaican popular music has been the Roots
Reggae band The Abbyssinians. By wearing the characteristic turban to cover their
locks in combination with ceremonial Bobo robes, certain members of The Abbyssinans
could be clearly distinguished from other artists by appearance.
However, the lyrical content of the group does not include any direct references to the
Order on the other hand. Repatriation hymns such as Satta Massagana (The
Abbyssinians, 1976) were touching on issues that are by far not exclusive for Bobos and
easily fit in with other topics on the noble agenda of the 1970s Conscious Reggae
movement that included freedom, equality, justice and liberation for the oppressed,
human rights, peace, education or ecological responsibilities.
Despite that, the small island in the Caribbean did not get spared from the overall
materialistic ideology of the 1980s, that led to the emerge of the more wordly and
aggressive Raggamuffin and Dancehall styles, originated by artists like Count
Matchouki, Lord Comic, and King Stitt and mainly popularized by U-Roy in the late
1960s (Hope, 2006, p. 11). Heavily influenced by global popular culture narratives such
as Western-, Gangster-, or Samurai-movies (Zips, 2011, p. 143), the movement
embraced the re-negotiation of moral values in the rise of capitalism-coined
individualism and accentuated the image of the personalized outlaw or bad guy in

Jamaican music ­ as represented by artists like Yellowman, Elephant Man, Ninja Man
or Shabba Ranks (Hope, 2006). As pointed out by Hope (2009, p. 404):
(D)ancehall music and culture's movement to the forefront of
Jamaican popular music and culture in the early 1980s was perceived
by many reggae-purists as the death knell to the Rastafari-infused
"conscious reggae" that dominated the cultural landscape of the
preceding musical era, a kind of Dark Ages.
However, towards the mid-1990s, several successful Dancehall artists such as the
aforementioned Buju Banton ­ already notorious for his homophobic song Boom Bye
Bye (Buju Banton, 1992) ­ converted to the Rastafarian faith. The Bobo Shanti
affiliated Capleton emerged from the secular realms of Dancehall as `The Fireman',
inflamed with the ethos of Rastafari and touting an incendiary brand of dancehall lyrics
that was peppered with the teachings and ideas of his Rastafari worldview (Hope, 2009,
p. 405). The following years saw a wave of devoted Bobo Shanti artists such as
Anthony B., Sizzla, Jah Mason, Junior Reid, Turbulence, Prophet Benjamin or Lutan
Fyah, who would wear the characteristic turbans and joined the firestarter on his
mission to challenge the capitalist views of the dominating Dancehall scene. Often
labeled as Fire Reggae (Zips, 2011, p. 151), the newly emerged Rasta deejays (singers)
resurrected the outdated Rasta ethos in the more aggressive and contemporary relevant
Dancehall sound as the most popular expression of Jamaican music at that time.
In a sharp contrast to the violent, sexualized representations of Dancehall artists like
Beenie Man, Vybz Kartell or Bounty Killer, (t)hey introduced various Rastafari
elements to dancehall, including dress, prayer, a clear moral message, and percussion
sounds (Kamimoto, 2015, p. 43), passing as an updated version of typical Rastafarian
artists like Fantan Mojah or Mr. Perfect, who would restrict themselves to a
contemporary version of Conscious Roots Reggae and consequently abstain from the
secular Dancehall style (Hope, 2009, p. 410). As noted by Hope (p. 405), in Jamaica,
the ideological/musical transition of a hardcore dancehall artiste to Rastafari is

underscored as a glorious promotion, that would often be interpreted as a sign that
Jamaica would soon experience a corresponding ideological rebirth and a much-
needed social renewal (2009, p. 407). Therefore, the arrival of the Bobos on the
Dancehall scene in the mid-1990s was perceived as the re-turn of Bob Marley and the
death knell for "dutty dancehall" with its explicit and extreme discourses filled with
unclothed, erotic female bodies, errect phalluses and unsheathered lyrical guns (ibid.).
While establishing links with Dancehall as the currently most relevant manifestation of
Jamaican popular music, the obvious cross-fertilization with hardcore patriarchal
dancehall culture and patriarchal, incendiary, revolutionary Rastafari in the music of
this genre of artistes is epitomized in their "bunning" (burning) of the usual deviants
(Hope, 2009, p. 406) ­ as illustrated in Anthony B.'s Fire Pon Rome (Anthony B.,
1996). Although the burning down of Babylon has always been part of the Rasta
rhetoric, the pure militancy (Zips, 2003) of Bobo artists marks a clear evolutionary step
in terms of diction and vigorousity compared to the leading Conscious Reggae artists of
the 1970s and hints to a direct influence of the Order's radical doctrine and rhetoric, to
which it bears clear resemblance to (Chevannes, 1994).
Termed as hybrid dancehall rasta (Hope, 2006, p. 14), artists would shock and astonish
Conscious Reggae and secular Dancehall audiences alike by blending the specific, as
spiritual, pristine and pure (Hope, 2009, p. 410) perceived codes of Rastafari
philosophy with notions of sexualized, heterosexual male identity (p. 410) ­ as
illustrated in Sizzla's Pump Up (Sizzla, 2001). This initiated an ongoing identity
negotiation between the conflicting requirements and expectations of the clean and
humble Rasta lifestyle and the highly competitive, material-centered Dancehall scene
(Hope, 2012). Pereira (1998, p. 34) argued that sex may as well simply be considered as
a physical, non-conflicting manifestation of a higher spiritual concept of love in the
general Rasta philosophy:

It is neither that these singers are being inconsistent nor are they
being opportunist. Indeed, their reconciliation of sex with spirituality
is consistent with a value system that does not dichotomize carnality
and spirituality.
Nevertheless, hardly conform to the more strict and orthodox Bobo Shanti doctrine they
claim to follow, Rasta deejays like Sizzla gave way to current phenomenons such as
Gangsta Ras, that have been characterized by Zips (2011, p. 136) as "clashes" of
divergent habitus formations, a de-essentialization of identity (p. 152), matching the
preconceived emancipatory quality of hybridization against the "conservative" or
presumably reactionary tendencies of "pure authenticity" (p. 136). Termed by Hope
(2009, p. 420) as an assimilation for survival or adaption in the face of growing
pressures on the psyche of men and women who seek validity in the halls of Jamaica
and furthermore characterized as a musical and cultural replica of the conflicted
negotiations of self and identity in a materialistic world (ibid.), the displayed slackness
of Sizzla as well as the righteousness of Gangsta Ras both indicate the historical
movements in the definitions of the Rastafari self (...) within the capitalist-mediated
spaces of 21st century Jamaica (Hope, 2009, p. 412). This point of view is reflected in
Marshall's (2006) remark in regard to Hip-Hop's embrace by young Jamaicans (p. 65)
as being
(...) consistent with a broader cultural pattern across the Caribbean,
whereby American popular culture (...) has come to dominate the
imaginations of young people yearning for the freedom and wealth
denied to them in post- and neo-colonial circumstances and
symbolized by the sensual sounds and images of Afro-Americans
flaunting their power to consume (ibid.).
Referring to the spread of Rastafari from Jamaica's lower-class to its middle-class and
beyond, Marshall (2006, p. 68) stressed its consistent and successful adaptation to
historical developments and social challenges ­ from the death of Emperor Haile
Selassie in the 1970s to the embrace of music and technology as well as the ideology's
ability to change and adjust in order to facilitate the spread of Rastafarian critiques and

perspectives (p. 68) and putting it in context with the successful re-interpretations of the
Bible that the Rasta faith is build upon (p. 64). Pereira (1998) observed a trend to more
spiritual lyrics on one hand and a strong socio-political emphasis on the other among
Conscious Reggae artists that also had an influence on the Dancehall performers, in
noting that (t)he violence for its own sake in many of the gun lyrics now shifts
increasingly towards class confrontation in the mid-nineties. Here, the consciousness of
self in class and race terms merges with religious influences within a discourse of
righteousness versus iniquity (p. 35).
A turn of events, that must have been quite a surprise for those who had expected the
development of a broader social theory, evolving out of the religious concept of
Rastafari, articulated and motivated by Afrocentric persons, who, though inspired by
Rasta, do not necessarily share the Rasta religion (Semaj, 2013, p. 107). This socio-
political orientation, pursued through knowledge of history, politics, economics,
branding, marketing, media, and education, seasoned with the spirit of Rastafari
(p. 107) could not withstand the cleansing fire started by the triumphant arrival of the
Bobo Dancehall-Rastas in the 1990s. Lamenting over the perceived decrease as a
cultural force within the last thirty years, Semaj (p. 108) poses the following question:
Could this be the reason why the consistent greeting and refrain of the
Rastaman in the first thirty years of `peace and love' has transitioned
to `blessed', and now given way to the confrontational `fyah bun' of
the last ten years?
Considering his hopes for an emerging Rasta-based social theory, that would serve to
make the Rastafarian religion obsolete at worst or a quaint novelty at best, now that the
society has been able to successfully extract the essentially useful core of the
Rastafarian faith (Semaj, 2013, p. 96), one can very well relate to his sentiments when a
considerable number of archaic preachers took the stage in storm during the 1990s.
Nevertheless, the relevance and impact of Bobo Shanti doctrine spread by the Fyah
Reggae artists on Jamaican music and the development of how Rastafarian culture is

being perceived on an international level goes undisputed. As a matter of fact, their
mystical references to the cosmic fire for the wicked deeds of Babylon and its
contemporary institutions (Zips, 2006, p. 157) might even serve as a bridge for social
activists, who make use of this symbolism:
Since these agencies are seen as identical with the `evil forces behind
globalization', the Black Bobo Ashanti movements are miraculously at
one with the predominantly white anti-globalization movement that
reinterprets or reinvents the `Fire Bun' Nyahbinghi chants into
revolutionary set-scenes for the dramatic struggle against the super
powers ruling and allegedly destroying the world (Zips, 2006, p. 158).
Zips furthermore considers the internationally acknowledged artists as powerful
advocats of the Bobo's claim for a right to repatriation, which is based on the
transnational human right to repossess their homeland (Zips, 2006, p. 157):
Reggae music produced by dancehall artists identifying with the Bobo
Ashanti, such as Sizzla, Capleton, Anthony B., Jah Cure, or
Turbulence, take these legal claims to another level, namely, the
global communication network of music. Legal claims for repatriation
and reparation are then supported by loud (musical) calls for `more
fire' which are easily misunderstood as support for violent action
against the injustices caused by a unilateral conception of economist
He furthermore argues that, by employing the fyah-vocabulary, they actually rally for
moral repentance, legal acknowledgment for the injustice commited and economic
restitutions (Zips, 2006, p. 133):
Seen from their perspective the word `fire' is entirely a non-violent
means to enlighten civil society consciousness in Babylon, as it
currently manifests itself in the Vatican, the Pentagon, Buckingham
Palace and all institutions and human actors who gained and are still
gaining from the historical and continual capture of people of African
origin in the Western hemisphere (ibid.).

Expressed doctrine and ideology among Bobo Shanti artists:
Similarities and differences in regard to Five Percenter Rap
A) Re-interpretation of terminology and the establishment of counterknowledge:
Burning you with Words, Power and Sound
Word, sound and power is Jah way
Blessings haffi shower when we hear Jah name
Word, Sound And Power (Lutan Fyah, 2008a)
By comparing the religious doctrine and terminology of Five Percenters and Bobo
Shanti, several similarities can be discovered. Both groups came up with original terms
for talks, discussions or teachings as central elements for the dissemination of their
traditions and doctrines, for instance ­ which are referred to as reasoning among Rasta
circles and building in Five Percenter terminology. One might as well attest some
similarity in the way that Five Percenters refer to putting facts on the table in a
discussion as dropping bombs and the use of the Bobo's frequently invoked fire bu(r)n!
as a means to express their rejection of information stemming from the imperial powers
as lies. That would also imply the superior perceived religious doctrine of the Rastas
based on the Old Testament as compared to the King James version of John Paul inna
di Vatican, which is symbolically set on fire regularly by adding the aforementioned
rhetorical term in Bobo ceremonies or performances of Bobo-related artists. Capleton
a.k.a `The Fireman', who originated the music that later on got labeled as Fire Reggae
(Zips, 2011, p. 151) by frequent mentioning of the term argued that the expression ­
alongside the equally popular judgment! ­ is as well prominently featured in the Old
Testament and standard repertoire of a typical Sunday sermon in any Jamaican church
(Cooper, 2005, p. 9).

In a similar way, Bobos tend to avoid the term Africa ­ which is deemed a manipulative
name, introduced by white colonial powers to separate them from a glorious past as
Ethiopian kings or even Black Israelites, the original inhabitants of the Biblical
Jerusalem (Dorman, 2016) ­ to define their origin. Black Muslim movements such as
the Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islam and also the Five Percenters (Knight,
2013, p. 241) have applied a very much related empowering strategy ­ with the latter
group insisting on being Original Asiatic Black Man or hailing an even more glorious
past as nothing else than Gods of the Universe (Curtis & Sigler, 2009). While in Bible-
based Rasta terminology, Africa is referred to as Zion ­ the Promised Land ­ and the
corrupted colonial system as Babylon or Rome in return, Father Allah's re-defining and
symbolical charging of space by turning Manhattan and Harlem into Mecca, Brooklyn
into Medina, New Jersey into New Jerusalem or Queens into The Desert (Knight, 2013,
p. 63) is clearly grounded on socio-historical influence of Islamic origin.
Obviously, this consistent re-interpretation of words does not stem from random
occurrence but is systemetically applied out of a strong awareness for the manifold
meanings and implications enclosed in words as symbols and tools for the continuation
or either questioning of power structures and distributions. Rastas strongly believe in
the relevance of words, power and sounds (Blatter, 2008, p. 19), which is frequently and
prominently referred to by Reggae-artists, from recent performers like Sugar Roy &
Conrad Crystal (2014) or the iconic Bobo deejay Sizzla Kalonji on his more than
seventy full-length releases (Sizzla, 1997b; 2002a; 2007a).
Full time Babylon realise
Sizzla is di element of surprise
And wicked heart, I must put you down
Burning you with words, power and sound
No Other Like Jah (Sizzla, 1997b)

That idea traces back to ancient African concepts such as Nommo, referring to the
power of the spoken word and the positive or negative forces it can bring into existence
(Hamlet, 1998; Yancy, 2004; Walker & Kuykendall, 2005). Or as Leach (1966, p. 407),
commenting on traditional ritualistic settings has put it: ...it is not the case that words
are one thing and the rite another. The uttering of the words itself is a ritual. With
signifyin' (Smitherman, 1997, p. 14; Mitchell-Kernan, 1999; Khan, 2012) ­ the
executive technique for identity negotiation within black life (Smith, 2007, p. 204) ­ a
similar African trope lies at the core of the Five Percenters' trickful way of droppin'
science, that has been described as an expansive form of alternative language for
critically tracking one's own identity against that of others within a shared milieu
(p. 204). On a structural level, the building in Five Percenter ciphers ­ initiated with the
obligatory question `What's today's mathematics?', that is inviting participating Gods
to freely share their associations in regard to the respective date and the Supreme
Mathematics ­ hints towards a common collective dimension and shared elements of
encouraged individuality with the reasoning ritual as practiced in Rasta circles
(Edmonds, 1998, p. 356).
Thus, the re-contextualization of words as part of a detailed semiotic analysis ­
described by Price (2003, p. 18) as redefining words so that their sound aligns with its
meaning ­ can be attested a central meaning in both groups. Hence, Rastas would re-
shape words in a way that are considered to represent their actual meaning more clear ­
as opposed to the attempted disguising of the powers that be. Oppressors would turn
into down-pressers for instance, and understanding would re-manifest as over-standing
(Slade, 2013, p. 2; Sullivan, 2007; Bell, 2011). Pollard (1982) pointed out how the
Rastafarian way of life affects the choice of term assigned to articles (p. 36) by
concluding that a man who can label `meat' DEADahs, is hardly a man, who eats it
(ibid.). He furthermore defined word, sound and power as the command of language
over consciousness, and ultimately action (1982, p. 24) and furthermore stressed the
functional use of the forceful creative turn of words against English, the language used
by the oppressor to `increase confusion' (p. 19). Zips (2006, p. 132) ­ in referring to the


Type of Edition
ISBN (Softcover)
File size
13.5 MB
Publication date
2017 (December)
Religious radicalism Music Sociology Rastafarian Studies Cultural Studies Black Muslim movement Five Percent Nation Rastafarian culture Black music Dancehall Hip Hop Case study

Title: Radical religious thought in Black popular music. Five Percenters and Bobo Shanti in Rap and Reggae
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169 pages