February 7, 2005
ARTICLE: British Rastas flock to land of messiah
Here's an article I wrote in today's Guardian about UK visitors to the Bobfest. I had to dip out of the concert to write it, missing most of the late afternoon acts. But I got back in time to see the Marley sons go through their father's classics, including 'War', 'Get Up, Stand Up', an amazing 'I Shot The Sheriff', 'Jamming' and 'Roots, Rock, Reggae'. So all is forgiven.
Exodus: British Rastas flock to land of messiah
Ethiopia, whose Emperor Haile Selassie gave new focus to a black Christian movement, plays host to the annual Bob Marley anniversary
Andrew Heavens in Addis Ababa and Sandra Laville
Guardian - Monday February 7, 2005
Jules Benji, a massed choir singing No Woman No Cry over his shoulder from a huge stage in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa, declared: "We're doing His Majesty's work here. This is a historic day for Ethiopia."
His clothes were traditional Ethiopian, shining white, with a ceremonial dagger at his side. But his accent was pure Moss Side, Manchester.
The 29-year-old was one of hundreds of British Rastafarians and reggae lovers who had made a pilgrimage to the Ethiopian capital yesterday to celebrate what would have been the 60th birthday of their hero and prophet, Bob Marley.
Up to 100,000 fans were jamming through the evening at the nine-hour free concert called Africa Unite - after one of Marley's best known songs - as Ethiopia, the symbolic homeland of Rastafarianism, hosted his birthday tribute for the first time.
Most of the British pilgrims had taken a week or a fortnight's holiday from jobs in Birmingham, London or Manchester to travel to Addis Ababa. Others, like Mr Benji, had taken one look at the bustling city, thrumming under a heat haze to the music of the reggae legend who died of cancer aged 36 in 1981, and decided that they were here to stay.
"There's lots of people coming and going between England and Ethiopia, Rastafarians and other people. I came out here three weeks ago and I'm here to live," he said.
A Rastafarian record producer and saxophonist, he is hoping to continue his musical career in Ethiopia, eventually moving from Addis Ababa to the Rasta community of Shashemene, 150 miles south of the capital.
As the tens of thousands poured into Addis Ababa yesterday morning to watch performances by Marley's widow Rita, Angelique Kidjo from Benin and the Ethiopian born Teddy Afro, the country revelled in its popularity. Cafes, bars and hotels were full, and the flow of money provided a welcomed boost to the economy and a chance to shed the negative stereotypes of war and famine.
"There's a real sense of freedom here," Mr Benji said. "All the west has got going for it is development. But Africa will have that soon, the roads, the schools.
"I am here to carry on Bob Marley's work putting the words of His Majesty [the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie] to music."
A few metres in front of him in the packed audience was another white-robed figure, parading up and down in front of the stage waving a huge red, gold and green flag with a snarling lion at its centre. Nine months ago Yohannes Ishijah was a familiar sight to commuters rushing through Leicester Square underground station in London.
"I was a busker. I used to play Bob Marley songs in the underground. I got arrested all the time," he said. Last year Mr Ishijah inherited some money from his father and left his home in Crystal Palace, south London, to emigrate to Ethiopia at the age of 41.
"This is great. I think it's incredible that so many years after Bob Marley's death he can still inspire such amazing shows in the name of the Most High. Bob Marley has penetrated through time. We are with the King of Kings."
Like Mr Benji, Mr Ishijah's move was motivated by a mixture of devotion to the Rastafarian faith and idealism about what he could achieve in Ethiopia. "I want to be the breast for those who need milk. If Jah [God] puts me in the right position, I would like to open schools here. I would like to open a park."
With the coronation of Ras (Prince) Tafari as the Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930, Marcus Garvey's Christian black nationalist movement adopted Ethiopia as its spiritual home and Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah, as its messiah. For the first time yesterday Marley fans could combine a celebration of his birth with a visit to their promised land after Marley's widow Rita pressed for the birthday tribute concert to be held in Addis Ababa this year rather than in Jamaica, the country of his birth.
In the past week alone more than 3,000 reggae fans and rastafarians have flown in, at times shocking the predominantly Orthodox Christian population with their belief that smoking marijuana is a sacrament. Around the main square yesterday bars, hotels and nightclubs were awash with red, gold and green, the colours of Ethiopia and Rastafarianism. Portraits of Marley adorned taxi windows, and lyrics from his songs were printed on advertising hoardings around the city.
Leah Middleton, 65, a red-haired Rastafarian from Moss Side, who runs a guesthouse in Addis Ababa, was one of many to benefit from the influx of reggae fans. She first heard about Rastafarianism from a neighbour in Manchester, and went on to join the Twelve Tribes of Israel, one of the main groups of Rastafarians. The rooms were full of Rastas from London and Manchester yesterday, some staying, some passing through.
Until recently it was feared that Ethiopia's small population of Rastafarians was dwindling. Followers of the movement arrived in the 1950s after Haile Selassie offered black settlers 500 acres (202 hectares) of land around Shashemene. Most of it was confiscated by the military regime which took over after the emperor's death in 1975 and until this week Rastafarians remained a tiny and largely ignored minority in the country.
If this week's influx is anything to go by, that could change. "I am a Rastafarian at heart. This is the place we all aspire to be," said Don Ricardo, a musician from north-west London. "This is my first visit to Ethiopia. But it won't be my last."
Posted by aheavens at February 7, 2005 2:59 AM
Iman enjoy these articles, we are on our way to Ethiopia. Althoug we appear to be the stone that the builder refuse we would soon be the head corner stone.In the future there would be a much higher rate of migration to Ethiopia from the universal Rastafari community.The bigger plus is that most Rastafarian in the west are tradesman with technical skills and educated under the same system like most british chinese japanese autralians etc, we are not stonedout recluses that are migrating from the bush into a technical environment, but from a technical environment into the bush so that equates vast development and knowhow. Ethiopia and Frica should be glad that some of it's children are willing to forfeit and forego their diasporic countries and is willing to reside in a country that is allegedly plagued with issues. No one seems to appreciate the positive aspects of Rastafari they tend to magnify what they deemed to be negative like for example the sacrament of the cannibis as a religous doctrine. Whereas no one is concerned about the social and practical alcoholic spirit drinkers (drunks) and the religous addicts that pay high prices every week or month for prescription governmnet controlled drugs, that has devastating side effects, like liver bleeding, blindness,swollen limps etc, when anibriated looses all motor functions which almost always results in detrimental endings. All Babylon' (Pot calling the kettle black)(Drunks calling Rastas High).What's ahead is all positive and progressive we have aquired necessary education and technical skills that allow us to control our own destiny development Eight out of every ten Rastafaria is educated and has a technical bckfround beit welding, instrumentation, fabricating carpentry, computing also higher level academias professors,doctors,nutritionistlaywers,technicain,nurses,programmers,civil engineers etc.We are about the fulfilment of HIM prophecy,and against all odds we Rastas will prevail after all since the 1930's the had doubted us.To Africa particularly Ethiopia here comes one of it's son that said that he was sure that he wants to live in his father land (Ethiopia)when asked he said literally he said we going,now we celebrate his 60th earthday in that land,who said Jah Jah dead.RAstafari,we are still young and vibrant in faith, given our unique dispositon nothing was handedown to us yet with our deligence and resilancy we have arrived.Ehtiopia is still our home(AFRICA)for Africans home and abroad.Ras IDi
Posted by: Ras IDI at June 16, 2006 11:12 PM