The following is an interview between Sergio C. Muñoz at Intelatin and the Jamaican musician, Derajah. If you love Derajah, check out his performance of “Stone” in the compilation releasing this week called Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica
In June 2016, a cross-generational gathering of Jamaica’s finest musicians took place, high up in the hills above Kingston and over four remarkable days, they recorded the Soul of Jamaica, delivering a poignant and positive message of love and harmony.”
In 2012, Scottish director Kevin Macdonald released his documentary on Bob Marley. In the film, Macdonald theorizes that there was a poignant emotional dynamic between Marley and his absentee father, Norval Sinclair Marley. With the success of Bob Marley on the global stage, never again did anybody consider the Marleys as a British name. Rather, Bob became the head cornerstone that his father, the builder, refused. The Marley name became synonymous with Bob and Jamaica and Rastafari.
For sure, Bob Marley takes a lot of the oxygen in Jamaican culture but in his generation, there was also Bunny Livingston, Peter Tosh, Lee Scratch Perry and Jimmy Cliff, to name a few of the famous standouts. I’m going to promote one of the younger generation. With us at Intelatin is Derajah, one of the artists on the compilation.
SERGIO: Brother Derajah, when did you first start going to Chinna’s yard?
DERAJAH: I was born in Kingston in 1981. I started to go to Chinna’s yard before 2005. I was introduced by friends in downtown Kingston. One day my brethren told me, “Derajah, we are going to take you to a brethren and he is a wonderful musician and a great friend,” so they take me to his house and when I went there, I was introduced to Chinna and Earl, Jr., his son. When I went there, I saw Chinna playing his guitar and I started to hum and then sing and then tears run from my eyes and I had a spiritual moment and the rest is history. I give thanks for the privilege and the honor to be around elders with their great knowledge.
SERGIO: Was Stone inspired by “Corner Stone” by Bob Marley?
DERAJAH: Stone wasn’t inspired by Bob Marley’s “Corner Stone.” I must say big respect to the great mentor and I admire his work. This Stone was inspired by Winston McAnuff a few years ago called “Corner Stone” and I listened to it many times and I thought it started reflecting my life and I see myself in this song and I ask Winston if I could remake the song. I used the chorus and part of the first verse and I amended with my own lyrics and the second verse is written by me and my own inspiration.
SERGIO: What will you do after the release of this compilation to promote your work as a musician?
DERAJAH: “If I had the choice, I could be singing for two hours or more just Derajah alone. The time given to me to expose my work I will use it in the best way possible and I will also select the songs and the persons that resonate best and people are loving my show and how I personalize my work. I sing songs for those who have lost loved ones. It is easy for me to convey my words so I say it is best for Derajah to take the stage for two hours. I want to teach music to children, show them that they are the first musician in their lives. Their heartbeats are the first drum. My next album will release in September of 2017.”
SERGIO: Were you born into the way of Rastafari?
DERAJAH: Rasta for me is an in-born concept. It’s a way of life that I have discovered independently. Somehow when I was born, I saw pictures of my dad with his locks and I did not know if this man was serious about Rastafari, but we had a conversation one time and I saw that my father was different from the way of life because I did not come out my mother’s womb seeing him with locks, and me and him talk and I asked him about it and he told me that back in the day when we were born.
Things were too tough and rough because Rasta was being persecuted and so he cut his locks and he got a job as a teacher at my high school. I am forever indebted to my father for the sacrifice that he made for our family. I independently grasped knowledge about Rastafari, of course my father still go to nyabinghi and today he still pray to the life source, the life force and there is one God with one destiny and Rastafari is the one name that I have ever heard my father call on. My mother was always Christian minded and centered as a Christian and walking and talking with the Creator. For me its a balance, we grow up in church and then we find this way of life, Rastafari, Yes I.
SERGIO: Do you still practice while you are on tour or living in France or Brazil?
DERAJAH: Practice becomes perfect. I do practice the groundations and the grounded vibrations when I travel worldwide. I like the brethren that I am familiar but I also like the brethren that I have never met before and the vibes is so strong and we must hold our meditation and hold our groundation vibes. We have a strong community in Jamaica but my community is worldwide and I do communicate with brethren and with sistren through groundation vibes nyabinghi drums, chantings and singing. Having these types of moments to share with people worldwide in the international community.
Jamaica was originally called Xaymaca and it was populated by an indigenous culture known as the Taíno. From 1509–1655, the Spaniards invaded and controlled the island, and from 1655–1962, the British invaded and controlled it. For 154 years, the British enslaved an estimated 700,000 Africans and brought them to Jamaica. So in short, the Spaniards massacred the indigenous population and the British created a slave colony for their own economic benefit.
Fast forward through 418 years of brutal oppression and Marcus Garvey enters the atmosphere in 1927 with thought leadership on the power of Pan Africanism. This sparks a movement and it culminates in 1966 when Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie I visits Jamaica alongside a local Rastafari leader named Mortimer Planno.
After Selassie’s visit, the movement pops in 1976 when Bunny Livingston releases Blackheart Man, Bob Marley releases Rastaman Vibration and Peter Tosh releases Legalize It. With all of these ambassadors penetrating the global stage, Jamaica makes its mark worldwide and with it, the world is introduced to Rastafari.
According to Charles Price in his book Becoming Rasta, Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica, there is one element of the culture that I’d like to detail. It is called Binghi: a Rastafari belief that words and sounds have emancipative, healing and protective powers used to meditate on existential questions about God, peace and justice within a community of like-minded believers. Price says, “They are inquisitive people in search of ‘the truth,’ visions and dreams that provoke questioning and self-reflection.”
Price recounts when an elder, Ras Sam Brown, spoke: “We are those who are destined to free not only the scattered Ethiopians but all people, animals, herbs and all life forms… We are those who shall fight all wrongs and bring ease to the suffering bodies, and peace to all people.” Some Rastafari, according to Price, have created a type of currency called “Heartical” under the idea that a person’s heart can describe their moral character, their deepest values and their commitment to justice. Reading this, I come back to Brother Derajah, the heart is the first drum for children. Prayer comes through music for Rastafari when they chant Binghi calling on the forces of nature to destroy the powers of oppression.
SERGIO: Where do you see the culture of Rastafari today in 2017, Brother Derajah?
DERAJAH: The culture is even greater and stronger today. Man get to realize that religion has failed and is only spirituality alone can fix everything. Back then people use to call a Rasta man when they wanted to dig a pit to build a toilet, or cut dem yard. Now Rasta redemption come and Rasta Deh pon top just like what Bob Marley says. Rasta take his rightful place, Rasta Teacher, Rasta Doctor, Rasta Lawyer, Rasta Scientist . A lot of development. Yes I, Rasta Is Love and Love Shall Lead The Way. So I Man say Rasta Is The Future. Yes I.
The Intelatin monthly podcast is produced by Sergio C. Muñoz. We are in our sixth year of production showcasing the contributions of Latin American individuals in the United States. The work of Intelatin has been featured in Studio 360, ReVista—The Harvard Review of Latin America, LACMA, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Art Center College of Design, Poder Hispanic Magazine, Latino Leaders Magazine, PBS, the Inter American Dialogue, America’s Quarterly and over a dozen publications in Latin America. Special thanks to Latino Rebels for their support.