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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.

Customer Reviews

Real Nyabinghi Music

I recently had the privilege of spending some time with Bongo Shephan (2nd from the left, standing, on the album cover), and on my first day in Jamaica, we sat in my rental car and listened to this CD. His only copy was scratched up, so it skipped several times, but I listened to enough of it to appreciate its authentic representation of what sounds arise at a binghi. We had just come from a Sabbath binghi at Scotts Pass Nyabinghi Tabernacle, where Shephan is a priest, now 72 years old. This recording is a great sampling of the beauty of the music and philosophy of Rastafari, and it is a shame that it has not received more recognition as such.
I find it even more sad that the elders who appear on this recording have not received any of the proceeds from it, according to Bongo Shephan. The fact that his only copy is now almost unlistenable is unfortunate; however, Shephan is a true Rastaman who lives in a gully with no electricity or running water, and is content with what Jah provide. Like several of the Nyabinghi elders, he is currently having some difficulty finding funds to deal with his medical concerns. Wouldn't it be nice if the proceeds from such recordings could be used to help the aged Rastafari bredren and sistren to live out their last years in relative comfort?

I'ses for i'ver

Food for the soul and I n I give endless I'ses to the mist high JAH RASTAFARI for these recordings. If it is true that these elders saw no proceeds from this album then that is truly unfortunate and judgement will come to pass on those downpressers responsible. Selah


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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