Reggae music is the perfect accompaniment to a festival. The deep grooves and pulsating rhythms beg listeners to dip their knees and sway their hips. Island-inspired sounds call to mind relaxing ocean waves and intoxicating … er, sunshine.
In fact, reggae is so crowd pleasing and effortlessly uplifting that many listeners never get beyond the trance-y beats and rub-a-dub style to really notice the words. Bob Marley’s eternally popular “Jamming” isn’t merely a party beacon for bong-hitting frat boys, but a deeper acknowledgment of the strength of community.
“No bullet can stop us now, we neither beg nor we won’t bow; neither can be bought nor sold,” the song imparts between the bouncy choruses. Marley—like many current reggae artists—knew that pop music was a tool to get a more profound message to the masses.
And now roots-culture educators Priest Jah Dougie and I. Jabulani Tafari, organizers of the first Reggae on the Mountain event, want the masses to understand that message.
“There’s a lot more to reggae than the music,” Tafari explains. “Our workshops help you to get a little more in-depth as to why the music addresses the subjects it does.”
Tafari, who edits Florida-based Rootz Reggae & Kulcha magazine, is experienced in leading black history programs and educating people about the Rasta culture of his homeland of Jamaica.
It was such a program that brought Tafari and Dougie to Warren Wilson College last February, where they found themselves speaking to a predominantly white student body.
“We still managed to make a connection,” Tafari recalls. “The atmosphere of Asheville and the people was very inspiring. Out of that came this idea.”
Naturally, the Asheville area’s first dedicated reggae festival will include bands: Music runs throughout the evening with live acts from the likes of Niyorah and 3 Hot, to the old-school sound-systems Dougie calls “an orthodox form of reggae.” It will also feature afternoon seminars on health and healing, and a tribute to the late Wailers guitarist Peter Tosh, who would have turned 63 on Oct. 19, just days after the Oct. 13 festival.
The artist was murdered in 1987, just as his solo career was enjoying a comeback. Tosh was known as a controversial character, but his reputation as reggae pioneer and Rastafarian trailblazer outweighed reports of his quick temper and sharp tongue.
“Peter Tosh was like Bob Marley: a very forceful and articulate educator,” Tafari notes.
Dougie adds, “He was also very environmentally minded. He was the first [reggae] artist to sing about nuclear war.” It was Tosh’s song on that subject that earned him his 1987 Grammy for Best Reggae Performance.
The reggae artist’s environmental leanings fit neatly into Reggae on the Mountain’s mission – inspiring festival attendees to go green.
“There are simple things we can to do to be a little bit more energy conscious,” Dougie says. “We’re concerned with transmitting this to the young people. The young people have to save the world, so we have to reach out to them.”
The festival is also intended to help students back in Jamaica by raising funds for Kingston’s Haile Selassie secondary school, an impoverished learning institution that needs everything from books to equipment. The raffle prize — two round-trip airline tickets to the Caribbean island — will provide a lucky winner with a tropical vacation, and a group of Jamaican children with the knowledge that there are people in the rest of the world looking out for their welfare. Dougie points to this as Rasta culture’s responsibility to give back.
Want to learn more about the spiritually based practices behind reggae music? Workshops on Ital living delve into grassroots methods of preventive medicine and a wholesome diet that many Americans now know as vegan.
Beyond the educational aspect of Reggae on the Mountain, Tafari and Dougie stress that it’s also a celebration. The event comes at the beginning of the Ethiopian millennium—it’s the year 2000 by that calendar—which many Rastas observe. (Notably, the last day of the Ethiopian millennium was Sept. 11, which fell on the anniversaries of a day of reckoning for Americans and Peter Tosh’s death.)
Tafari calls the new festival “roots with quality.” And yes, there will be plenty of boogie-inducing reggae tunes.
“Because our lyrics address so many social issues that can uplift, that is what this kind of festival can do,” Tafari says.
who: Reggae on the Mountain Festival
what: Performances by international and local reggae artists, plus culture and health workshops
where: Swannanoa 4-H Camp, 170 Woodland Drive, Swannanoa
when: Saturday, Oct. 13. Gates open at noon; the festival begins at 2 p.m. Peter Tosh tribute is at 4 p.m., followed by music from 5 to 10 p.m. $30 at gates, $25 advance, $20 for students with ID. Camping and cabins: $10/$20. www.myspace.com/ashevillereggaefest or 216-7333