Play Video to hear the sounds of Nyabinghi Music preformed by Ras Michael Jr.

Nyabinghi music is the most integral form of Rastafarian music. It is played at worship ceremonies called grounations, that include drumming, chanting and dancing, along with prayer and smoking of ritual ganja. The name Nyabinghi comes from an East African movement from the 1850s to the 1950s that was led by people who militarily opposed European imperialism. This form of nyabinghi was centered around Muhumusa, a healing woman from Uganda who organized resistance against German colonialists. The British in Africa later led efforts against Nyabinghi, classifying it as witchcraft through the Witchcraft Ordinance of 1912. In Jamaica, the concepts of Nyabinghi were appropriated for similar anti-colonial efforts, and it is often danced to invoke the power of Jah against an oppressor.

The drum is a symbol of the Africanness of Rastafari, and some mansions assert that Jah’s spirit of divine energy is present in the drum. African music survived slavery because many slaveowners encouraged it as a method of keeping morale high. Afro-Caribbean music arose with the influx of influences from the native peoples of Jamaica, as well as the European slaveowners.

Another style of Rastafarian music is called burru drumming, first played in the Parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, and then in West Kingston. Burru was later introduced to the burgeoning Rasta community in Kingston.

Maroons, or communities of escaped slaves, kept purer African musical traditions alive in the interior of Jamaica, and were also contributing founders of Rastafari.

Popularization and recording

The first recording of Rastafarian music was perhaps made by Count Ossie. This was followed in the 1950s by various recordings of burru, as well as music of other Jamaican religions such as Pocomania. In 1953, Ossie introduced akete drums to Rastafarian communities in West Kingston, using styles and rhythms adapted from burru. Ossie then recorded with the Fokes Brothers on “Oh Carolina”, a song produced by Prince Buster. “Oh Carolina” was the first popular song from Jamaica, and the same recording session produced the ska hits “They Got to Go” and “Thirty Pieces of Silver”. Ossie later became well known for other recordings (with his band, The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari) – especially 1974’s Grounation, featuring roots percussion and musical styles. Ossie also recorded albums that fell solidly into the jazz category, incorporating roots percussion and traditional Rasta influences into avant-garde jazz along the lines of Sun Ra or Archie Shepp, prior to his death in 1976.

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