Chanting up Zion: Reggae as Productive Mechanism for Repatriated Rastafari in Ethiopia
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Since the 1960s, Rastafari from Jamaica and other countries have been “returning” to Ethiopia in the belief that it is their Promised Land, Zion. Based on extensive ethnographic research in Ethiopia between 2015 and 2017, this project examines the ways in which repatriated Rastafari use music to transform their Promised Land into a reality amidst various challenges. Since they are denied legal citizenship, Rastafari deploy reggae in creative and strategic ways to gain cultural citizenship and recognition in Ethiopia. This research examines how reggae music operates as a productive mechanism, that is, how human actors use music to produce social and tangible phenomena in the world. Combining theories on music’s productive capabilities with Rastafari ideologies on word-sound, this research further seeks to provide deeper insight into the ways Rastafari effect change through performative arts. I examine how Rastafari mobilize particular discourses that both challenge and reproduce hegemonic systems, creating space for themselves in Ethiopia through music. Rastafari use reggae in strategic ways to insert themselves into the contested national narratives of Ethiopia, and participate in the practice of space-making in Addis Ababa and Shashemene through sound projects. I argue that music activities form the basis of social interaction for the repatriated Rastafari community and in turn produce and reproduce this community. I also discuss the work of Ethiopian reggae musicians who engage in reggae production for different reasons, but whose actions shape the returnees’ realities as well. Reggae in Ethiopia therefore serves as a productive mechanism by facilitating the creation of social relationships, spaces that lead to visibility, ideologies that connect Rastafari with Ethiopia, income for returnees, and opportunities for development—important factors that make the Promised Land habitable.
- Music