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Kwame Dawes and the Reggae Aesthetic: a cultural, social and political proposition

Written by John Robert Lee for Poetry International on Friday, June 24, 2016

When I began to read this book, it quickly became a page-turner. Others no doubt have written of this seminal, water-shed period of Caribbean life and experience, from the mid- sixties to the mid-eighties (in my reckoning), but for the first time I was studying a closely- observed record of the lives and times and music and ideas that had so moved me and all the companions and lovers and artists among whom I lived in those heady days. Marley and the Wailers, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff, Culture, Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, all of wonderful them, and all they carried in their wake, were the stars in our pantheon. The red, gold and green banners; the green leaf on the front of the tams; Rastafarian thought with its unique perspectives on our lives as Caribbean people, on the oft-derided Africa, on the sinister Babylon of class division, church-and-state repressions, racism, apartheid, in which we (so called Third-world peoples) lived decidedly uncertain lives; Rasta talk with its deliberate subversion of the official languages; Rasta life style with its health diets; and Rasta, with its logical conclusion of Black Power incarnated in its Black God Jah Rastafari…we were intoxicated by all this. So many of the upcoming generations for whom the class-ridden society could find no place, found an identity, self-esteem, historical groundation, in reggae and Rasta.

But not only was Kwame Dawes writing a fascinating social and cultural history,—a seminal work that sits alongside the earlier work of Kamau Brathwaite, Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon of Martinique, Gordon Rohlehr of Trinidad, the creolité propositions of Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphael Confiant of Aimé Césaire’s Martinique, and other thinkers throughout the pan-Caribbean area—but he was making a very bold assertion: that reggae and its spiritual heart of Rastafari, provided an aesthetic that could shape the arts and literature of the new Caribbean already taking shape around us. The Caribbean which is already here, at home and abroad. And he proposed that if you look at our art and literature, not only at the obvious musical achievement and its unique production apparatus, you can see the reggae aesthetic already in operation.

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This is a review of Natural Mysticism: Towards a new Reggae Aesthetic

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