The following is a mix of some of the earliest recordings with themes relating to aspects of Rastafari, touching on some mento rhythms, moving on into the ska era, and on out into the early reggae and proto-roots sounds...played broadly in order of oldest first...not complete of course, just some choice moments.
Rastafari culture has always had a somewhat tense relationship with the popular recording industry of Jamaica, and there are still orthodox Rastas today who feel the two should never mix, but inevitably they did, and in my opinion the world is a richer place for it. What's more the persecution of Rastafarians made the expression of Rasta thinking on record a dangerous activity, that only becomes more explicit in gradual steps over the years. The tracks featured here run against the norms of popular Jamaican music at the time.
Track-by-track run down: beginning from the beginning with what is widely described as the first record with a Rasta ideology, 1955 style, dreaming of repatriation, Lord Lebby's Etheopia.
Next up more pre-independence vibes way back in 1958 from Laurel Aitken who went on to boss the ska era, often in a conscious style, here in Rasta mento mode. Lovely sax soloing against nyabinghi drumming on this record.
Count Ossie is a crucial figure in bringing authentic Rasta music to the recording studios and this is a beautiful early chant-along example of that - Babylon Gone - I wonder if this relates to Jamaican independence, waving goodbye to British colonialists?
Jamaican independence was won in 1962 and ushered in a new era in Jamaican music - the ska sound came alongside independence and echoed the optimism that self-determination brought. Ska was fundamentally the music of the dancehall and rum shop but there were artists who brought a roots and culture message to the sound. Two cuts here from Zoot Simms are great examples, both introduced in Amharic, Press Along subtly encouraging a Rasta freedom of expression - it being effectively a crime to express Rasta sentiments - followed by Golden Pen, which went on to be reinterpreted by Sylford Worker as a roots anthem in the 70s.
Keeping the churchical vocal style going is Laurel Aitken back again, riding high in a 1964 ska style, singing down the walls of Jericho, followed by an incredible number credited to Vernon Allen, wonderful minor key ska switching to major key bridge, topped with heavy vocals and a wonderful sax solo. Big big tune.
Next up two back to back from the kings of ska, The Skatalites. It is said that it was trombonist Don Drummonds influence that brought the Rasta message to the Skatalites repertoire... killer instrumental piece Addid Ababa first, driven by a wicked snare-scatter drum pattern, followed by an upfull vocal tribute to Marcus Garvey...sung by one Delroy Bongoman Byfield.
In comes Delroy Wilson, aged just 13, giving his take on the immortal lines The Lion of Judah Shall Break Every Chain & Give Us The Victory Again & Again over a rocksteadyish ska track, followed by a serious instrumental take on the Lion of Judah theme by Prince Busters band - another hard-to-top minor key ska instrumental that one.
Peter Tosh vocals on a classic Wailers piece next, mixing rude boy attitude with a Rasta message...Rasta Shook Them Up, Easy as That!... followed by the man Prince Buster himself on the microphone coming with some serious cultural lyrics over a heavy rock steady beat - not what you usually associate with Prince Buster but delivered with pure conviction.
Third time around for Laurel Aitken showing his longevity, this time on a 1969 early organ reggae piece, hailing Selassie, whose visit in '66 created so much momentum for the Rastafari movement. The Reggae Boys cut Selassie also from '69 is a Lee Perry production in a similiar theme, followed by another Perry production, the very rootsy Earth Ruler cut led by U-Roy, his debut in fact, whose backing track fundamentally sounds like a slowed down version to the previous Reggae Boys piece.
Big thanks to Littleseb, Ringo and the Pama forum crew for helping compile this one.
Original Rasta Recordings 1955-1969
Etheopia - Lord Lebby and The Jamaican Calypsonians 1955
Night Fall In Zion - Laurel Aitken 1958
Babylon Gone - Count Ossie & The Wareikas 1962
Press Along - Zoot Simms 1963
Golden Pen - Zoot Sims 1963
Jericho - Laurel Aitken 1964
Babylon - Vernon Allen 1964
Addis Ababa - The Skatalites 1965
Marcus Garvey - The Skatalites 1965
The Lion of Judah - Delroy Wilson 1966
Lion Of Judah - Buster's All Stars 1966
Rasta shook them up - The Wailers 1966
Free love - Prince Buster 1967
Haile Selassie - Laurel Aitken 1969
Selassie - The Reggae Boys 1969
Rightful Ruler - U Roy & Peter Tosh 1969
Satta Massagana - The Abyssinians 1969