Styles & Forms | Bobo Dread Deejays | Reggae

The Bobo Ashanti is Rasta for the twenty-first century: more militant and less tolerant. With their ideological attacks on Rome, social demotion of women and condemnation of homosexuality, deejays like Capleton and Anthony B may seem world’s apart from the hippy-ish notions of dreadlocks that was Bob Marley’s legacy. There’s actually not much difference.

Unlike roots reggae, which had a discernible musical style, Bobo music is defined purely by its content. The sounds of Bobo records are a spectrum of modern reggae – dancehall digital, spiritually acoustic or just plain reggae rhythm – it is the singer or deejay’s message that sets it apart. It has taken up the mantle of Rastafari and uses Jamaican music to spread its word, and given that today’s reggae has fragmented to such a degree, Bobo uses any aspect of the music to get its message across to what it sees as an increasingly wayward youth. As artists with existing careers convert to Bobo, so they bring with them their own styles as a method of giving thanks and praise. While it definitely has replaced the Marley-esque protest songs of the 1970s and 1980s, it has also added a twenty-first-century bent: the reggae business itself is now far more diverse, but essentially it remains the same chanting-down Babylon of its predecessor.

Bobo Ashanti dates from the 1950s, when Emmanuel Edwards established his Ethiopian International Congress Rasta camp in Kingston. He was trying to create a more committed version of the faith, drawing upon Garveyism, Ethiopian Christianity and Old Testament ideology to a create a communal living environment. This remains central to today’s Bobo, as does a diet eschewing all meat, wheat and salt; fasting and prayer are frequent, and Bobo camps are as self-sufficient as possible.

Bobo dreads have always stood apart from the rest of Rasta with their red-, green- and gold-trimmed white robes and turbans rolled almost vertically around their dreadlocks, which are kept covered because Bobos believe that, from Bob Marley’s time onwards, dreadlocks became a fashion statement rather than a show of devotion. To keep them under wraps this way keeps faith as a personal issue for the wearer.

Exciting And Uncompromising

Such refocusing of Rasta’s appearance is a useful metaphor for the refocusing of its purpose. Modern Bobo believes Rasta has become part of mainstream life and no longer provides the strict guidance that, in its adherents’ opinion, black people need to survive Babylon. Inside Bobo’s uncompromising ways is exactly the same ideology as Rasta had in the 1970s when it first made a wide impact; all Bobo has done is put it back on track. Bobo believes that the world is descending into moral chaos – something it sees as best illustrated by the state of today’s reggae and hip hop, with its apparently demeaning obsessions with sex and violence – and that desperate times call for desperate measures. Like Bobo’s counterparts from 30 years ago, the music has the dancehall...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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