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From Judah to Jamaica: The Psalms in Rastafari Reggae

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Abstract Rastafari reggae bears a profound but problematic relation to the Judeo-Christian biblical texts, particularly the Psalms. Involving multiple religious and cultural transmissions, orders of intertextuality, the adaptation of Judaic psalms into reggae songs clearly constitutes some form of appropriation, an act of reinterpretation that has religious, political, cultural, and ethnic implications. This analysis aims to reconcile conflicting narratives explicating this relation and reinterpretation, approving the creative adaptation of biblical texts while resisting a trend in some of the prominent Rastafari scholarship to diminish or denigrate the Judaic experience out of which those texts originate. Rather than a form of “hijacking”—a favored metaphor in the recent secondary literature—the appropriation and transformation of the Psalms into Rastafari reggae is better understood as a tribute to the enduring power, relevance, and appeal of the biblical texts. The two forms of religious art enrich and reinforce one another, representing original and ongoing traditions of words and music as revolutionary cultural resistance and spiritual empowerment.

Affiliations: 1: University of Alaska Fairbanks


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