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Rastafari Elders

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Album Review

This album's cover photo is enough to give anyone pause: six elderly, heavily dreadlocked men and one woman are lined up, sitting and standing, in a recording studio. One of the men is staring fiercely past the camera as he sings, and holds up an admonishing finger at the end of his outstretched arm. These are the Rastafari Elders of the Nyabinghi Order, and the first thing you have to understand is that they are not a reggae band. They are a group of reclusive, ascetic Rastafarians who made, with some reluctance, what amounts to a missionary journey from the hills of Jamaica to the United States in order to make a recording of their chanting and drumming. Those who have never heard this type of music before will likely be surprised. Melodically and harmonically, it has far more in common with early American shape-note singing than it does with modern black gospel music. Rhythmically, it clearly bears some relation to reggae, but the connection is indirect; the drums throb gently under the singers' voices, which rise and fall slowly in waves of rich harmony. The songs are interspersed with brief sermons from various members of the group, which will be next to indecipherable to anyone not well acquainted with Jamaican patois and the peculiar syntax and vocabulary of Rasta rhetoric. This is music that is serious in a rather special way, and the CD is one of the most unique and lovely you're likely ever to hear.


Genre: Reggae

Years Active: '90s

Doctor Dread, head of DC's RAS Records, brought a touring group of Rastafarian men and women into the studio in 1990 (people with names like Ras Headful and Bongo Shep) and came out with one of the only recordings ever of a legitimate "grounation." This Rastafarian religious gathering is replete with preaching, testimony, and timeless music, the...
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Rastafari Elders, The Rastafari Elders
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