As promised, I have embarked on some participant observation missions. Below are details about one of them…
The name of the club is Lali-Bela after a city in Ethiopia but I think that’s as close as we get to a connection. I am not exactly sure why it has this name but it definitely makes it stand out among the vast array of typically Czech sounding bars and clubs.
Here’s a quick description:
On this night the venue was featuring two reggae soundsystems called ‘Equal-I-Zer’ and ‘Forward March Posse’ with special guest Jahfro (haha like Jah (rastafari) and Fro like Afro because he had a huge one) from Berlin. The music was pretty good but the atmosphere was much more notable.
About 1 in 3 people here had some form of dread locks, and it was split evenly between women and men. There were two Black people, both of them African immigrants to the CZ. One was from Ghana specifically and had dreads and I’m not sure where he was from, but he was wearing traditional West African clothing. One of them, let’s call him Mark, was a part of a soundsytem and was the only person to rhyme on the mic other than the featured guest. I think that his performance symbolized some type of validity to the songs. He was on the mic for about one hour saying things like, ‘much respect to the ganja plant’, ‘Rasta feel the people’, ‘Big up Ganja’, ‘Show them the positive way’ etc.He also mentioned themes of repatriation back to Africa and nyabinghi warriors*.
Throughout the night different people went to the DJ area to select. These people are called selectors and are usually the reggae aficionados (people who dedicate a lot of time and energy to promoting, spreading and learning more about reggae’s message). The reggae aficionados seemed to have the longest dreads, and donned other elements from Black cultures like a djembe drum, Rastafarian colored necklaces, and some Africa-influenced clothing. Instead of dreads others showed their contempt with society in different forms of dress like, a ‘Stop the Violence’ T-Shirt and one person was a skin head signified by his closely shaved head and black combat boots.
Before you fall out of your chair I think it is important to explain the different branches of the skin-head movement. Some people are traditional skin heads and believe in working class solidarity, others are neo-nazis, and some are SHARPS: Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice….(whoa awesome). One in the first category was at the event which is not surprising as traditional skin heads and Jamaican music in Europe have had a long, prosperous and sometimes troubled history.
What struck me most about this night was that the most enthusiastic response from the audience did not come from more popular reggae songs (No Bob Marley was played) but instead Roots Reggae which has a very strong racial message. When ‘His Imperial Majesty’ played, sung by Rod Taylor, there was a huge response from the crowd as they leaped from their seats to jump and sway their heads to the beat of the music. The lyrics however did not seem to fit the scene because the message focused heavily on Black Consciousness, Rasta Religion, and Jamaica. For example, some of the lyrics included: We are all one religion because I am a true born Rasta man…they took us away from Africa and brought us here to Jamaica…to work on beach and plantation…all we see was frustration.’
The message is clear. And from the outsider’s point of view, does not seem to make sense in this context. Another Research Question: So how are Czechs making sense of, and appropriating the themes and messages of Jamaican Roots Reggae? What are they being drawn to and what connections are they making?
Below are some pictures from the night:
The next entry will be about my
trip to Moravia!