By Graybeal, Pam Mei Wai
Women & Environments International Magazine , No. 74/75
Do you sing along to music? Have you ever listened to a song so many times that you knew every word? Even if it has been years since you heard that song, you would probably recall most of the lyrics once the music began. Lyrics we hear repeatedly, like stories and other narratives, actively shape how we learn and remember new things. This gives lyrics an enormous power. With this power, songs about climate change as well as social and personal transformation take the complex subject out of the frequently alienating realms of science and law to help us integrate important information into our daily lives.
If you believe, as I do, in the power of stories to shape our realities, then the 'Rasta' or Rastafari concept of "wordsound-power" that stresses the power of the spoken word might be familiar to you. "Word-sound-power" is expressed amongst Rastafari in their "dreadtalk." In dreadtalk, parts of words are changed to reinforce meaning. For example, the "o" sound in "oppression," sounds like "up." Rasta instead use the word "downpression," which is more reflective of the meaning of the term.
The term "Babylon" is also frequently employed in dreadtalk. "Babylon" has many meanings, but often refers to oppressive racist and capitalist systems. It can be used to refer to multi-national corporations, international financial institutions, police, Western civilization, the military or a combination of all of these. Rasta does not promote violence, but reggae has common revolutionary themes of "chanting down" or "burning" Babylon.
To different extents, reggae music can represent Rastafari, which is variously defined as a philosophy, a religious movement, or "a particular way of being conscious of one's identity, lifestyle, and vision of the good" (Johnson-Hill, p.8). Reggae often employs word-sound-power particularly effectively by combining memorable beats with message-laden lyrics. Broadly encompassing ska, rocksteady, roots, dub, and dancehall styles, reggae appeals to a wide and heterogeneous audience on a global scale, making it an influential conveyor of cultural messages.
Many reggae songs directly espouse particular lifestyles and morals characterized by a stand against "downpression." References to the "boiling sea" and "melting rocks" reflect the common theme of Babylon "burning," a particularly relevant metaphor for the warming of the globe and increases in drought, desertification and fires. Because of the connectedness of humans and nature in Rasta, lyrics often stress that there is no escape from earthly consequences.
Downpressor man, where you gonna run to?
If you run to the sea, the sea will be boiling
If you run to the rocks, the rocks will be
And if you make your bed in hell, I will be
- Peter Tosh; Sinead O'Connor, "Downpressor Man"
In the song "Globe All Warming," reggae artist NiyoRah, from the US Virgin Islands, uses the threat of climate change to promote "livity," or healthy living, especially through a local organic diet. "Livity" can be expressed in everyday lifestyle decisions, especially related to consumption. Local food choices can, for example, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use of fossil fuels. Industrial food production is reliant upon petroleum products used in fertilizers, fuels for longdistance distribution, CO2 emissions from deforestation for grazing, as well as methane emissions from livestock.
Reggae, with its popular appeal, has a particular power to connect issues of climate change, extreme weather and industrial society, including oil-intensive farming.
Global warming - the cry is out
The earth is getting hotter without a doubt
Glaciers are melting in the north and south
Our lives are about to change
There is only one way to survive this
You gotta purify your body - get rid of
Check the kind of food you eat and the
type of drinks you consume. …