Cannabis and Rastafarianism in the Reggae Culture

reggae and ganja

While musicians have generally metaphorically approached pot in jazz and rock, reggae is much more direct, and the words “marijuana,” “pot,” “cannabis” and “ganja” are very regularly found in the lyrics of the songs, either to request their legalization clearly or to evoke a specific spiritual experience.

To understand this experience, it is necessary to go beyond looking at reggae as an aesthetic genre and delve into the religious and social history of Jamaica, where this musical genre was born in the late 1960s. If reggae finds its musical origins in a fusion between ska, calypso, rocksteady and rock’n’ roll, it is also, for many, the flagship of Rastafarianism, a cultural, social and spiritual movement born in Jamaica in the late 1930s with a desire to bring the descendants of slaves closer to their African roots.


The Rastafarian movement is named after Tafari Makonnen, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, known as Haile Selassie I. But how could an Ethiopian emperor give his name to a Jamaican spiritual movement 12,500 kilometers away? During the 1930s, the Back to Africa movement gained momentum as the community of descendants of black slaves experienced a severe identity crisis. In Jamaica, this reflection is embodied by Marcus Garvey, nicknamed the “Black Moses,” who acts as a prophet of a movement that aims to unite all the black communities of the world. Garvey often refers to Selassie and Ethiopia in his writings and speeches, as this state was the only one to resist European colonization, except during an Italian occupation during the Second World War.

Garvey turned Selassie into a kind of black messiah and generated the Rastafarian movement around this character who, ironically, would never recognize Rastafarianism, Ethiopia being a resolutely Christian state for 1500 years.

What about cannabis in all this?

Again, we have to go back in time a little bit, to the middle of the 19th century to be more precise, when Jamaica is a British colony. After the abolition of the sale of slaves on the international market in 1807, the British “imported” workers from India (another British colony), who brought cannabis plants in their luggage, which they called “ganja.”

With the climate as it is, Jamaica is becoming a fertile breeding ground for cannabis cultivation. This herb is widely consumed by Afro-Jamaicans, to such an extent that the white elites, who control the country’s political authorities, decide to ban its consumption and culture with the “Ganja Law,” passed in 1913. Then, despite a relaxation of the law in 2015, decriminalizing the possession of fewer than two ounces of cannabis, the plant will still be officially banned on the island. Besides, considering that 37,000 acres (150 km2) of land are devoted to cannabis cultivation, it can be concluded that the law may not be as effective as one would like.

Knowing this, there is, therefore, a certain logic in the fact that a black identity movement makes the use of cannabis, banned by whites, symbolic. It is in this context that many Rastafarian followers (some are still against it) decide to make their consumption of ganja an integral part of their social, political and spiritual experience since according to them, it must be smoked to raise consciousness and soul and in a meditative context. “Grass heals the nation” is their motto and this grass should not be used for recreational purposes. Rastas usually consume cannabis either through a Chalice or even a weed vaporizer such as the ones sold on the website Cannavapos and used by Chronixx, one of the leading young artist these days!

chronixx and his pax 3 vaporizer

bob marleyIt is in this context that reggae is born, developed by musicians whose social and identity concerns are in harmony with those of Rastafarianism. As its followers consider cannabis as an integral part of this position, it will become one of the important themes openly addressed in the songs: the words “ganja,” “pot,” “cannabis” and “marijuana” are heard in the reggae texts. We sing about its virtues, or we ask directly for its legalization, as in the song Legalize It, the eponymous song from the album of former Wailers member Peter Tosh released in 1975.

Bob Marley

It is impossible to discuss this subject without mentioning the positions of the legendary Bob Marley, the flagship of reggae. He converted to Rastafarianism in 1966 (he was a Catholic) and campaigned all his life for the legalization of cannabis. Moreover, Rastafarianism owes its international popularity to Marley, who popularizes the movement all over the world with his music.

Our Top 10 women in Reggae

queen ifrica

How many hits have been signed by women? Our Top 10 will make you aware of the important place that female singers hold in this still very masculine environment that is reggae.

Millie Small – My Boy Lollipop

My Boy Lollipop is simply the first Jamaican song to be successful abroad. And it’s a woman who interprets it! After recording a few songs for Coxsone at Yard, Millie Small moved to London. When she arrived there, she recorded this title in 1964, which immediately became a hit on the British island. The rhythm, called blue beat, is one of the premise of ska. First success for Jamaican music and for the Island label… You know the rest!

Marcia Griffiths – Feel Like Jumping

Recorded in 1968 at Studio One, Feel Like Jumping was Marcia’s first hit, later becoming a member of the I-Threes, Bob Marley’s backing singers. Does the riddim mean anything to you? Normal, it is the Boops Riddim, better known as 54-46, the same one that is the hit of Toots and the Maytals… Still active today, Marcia Griffiths is considered the undisputed Queen of Reggae!

Lady G – Nuff Respect

Set in 1988 on Gussie Clark’s powerful Rumours Riddim, which features Gregory Isaacs’ terrible tune, Nuff Respect is a bold title for a time when women were very rare in Jamaica’s music scene, and even more so in dancehall. Lady G stands up for women’s rights and demands loud and clear that they be shown respect with a precise deejay flow and an irresistible Jamaican accent. The tune even gets a clip in the pure 80’s style with the haircuts and clothing that go with it. Listening to this title, we see only one simple thing to say: Nuff respect to yuh Lady G!

Queen Ifrica – Daddy

This is a title that became a cult as soon as it was released. Placed in 2007 on Kemar’s 83 Riddim’Flava’ McGregor for his label No Doubt, Daddy may not be Queen Ifrica’s most musically striking tune, but it is undoubtedly the most striking in terms of writing. The singer dares to break taboos and denounces incest and sexual abuse of children in a fiery and beautifully written plea. She puts herself in the shoes of an abused young girl and delivers touching lyrics: “The long showers I take don’t wash away my memories.” Against all odds, the song will quickly rank at the top of the charts in Jamaica, despite various attempts at censorship. And the money will even be supported by UNICEF, which will hire Queen Ifrica for a few concerts for abused children. The perfect example of a conscious and militant reggae!

Phyllis Dillon – Don’t Stay Away

The rocksteady was probably the period when female artists were most prominent in Jamaica. With singers like Nora Dean, Marcia Griffiths, Doreen Shaffer, Joya Landis, The Soulettes or The Gaylettes, love songs took on a new dimension. Phyllis Dillon mourns the departure of her soul mate on an absolutely must-see rocksteady riddim composed and played by Tommy McCook & The Supersonics. Don’t Stay Away was released in 1967 on Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label. This is the first original song recorded by Phyllis Dillon, so far limited to covers of American standards such as Bettye Swann’s Make Me Yours or Stephen Phills’ Love the One You’re With. However, she was only 19 years old when this title was released. Propelled to the top of the charts, Phyllis nevertheless made a short career that she stopped in 1971.

women in reggae

Nora Dean – Barbwire

“The other day, I met this guy who had barbed wire in his underwear…” Nora Dean tells the story of a young girl being picked up by a young man who is a little too enterprising. But she doesn’t disarm, hits him on the head and runs to his mother, calling for help: “Oh Mama, my ma ma ma!” It was precisely this gimmick that made the title popular. Nora Dean will have had a quick career, almost unnoticed if this 1969 title produced by Duke Reid had not been released. She is known for her grippy titles and this one will further shape her reputation. A track released in 1969 that prefigures in a way the slackness of today….

Dawn Penn – No No No (You Don’t Love Me)

Classic among the classics! Many know this Dawn Penn tune, but few know that it is inspired by two American songs. No No No No includes lyrics and some musical elements from the track You Don’t Love Me recorded by Willie Cobbs in 1961 and itself inspired by Bo Diddley’s 1955 title She’s Fine She’s Mine. As the producer Coxsone often travelled to the United States to bring back records, it was not uncommon in the 1960s for some songs recorded in Jamaica to be covers of American rhythms and blues. This No No No No No is part of it. First recorded by Studio One in 1967 on a rocksteady riddim (on which Prince Jazzbo will deliver a superb cut deejay), it became a global hit in 1994 when Steely & Clevie had the good idea to base Dawn Penn on a more modern version (which will even get her clip). Since then, the famous “No No No No” has been sampled and covered dozens of times by American artists such as Rihanna or Beyoncé. Party of the States and return to the States… The loop is closed!

Judy Mowatt – Black Woman

“Black woman, to you I dedicate my song”. A song by a woman for women! Judy Mowatt is a former Gaylettes when she started her solo career in the early 1970s. However, it was not until she joined another trio – the I-Threes alongside Marcia Griffiths and Rita Marley – that her solo titles would resonate. Black Woman is one of his most successful songs. Eponymous title of a female solo artist’s first reggae album (produced by herself!), it conveys an emotion that we feel more than sincere expressed in an irresistible soul voice and served by a beautiful riddim.

Althea & Donna – Uptown Top Ranking

One of the most famous reggae songs in the world. It has been used dozens of times, appears in films, video games, series…. When it was released in 1977, the title sounded like a bomb in England. Uptown Top Ranking immediately ranks at the top of the charts making the two teenage Althea & Donna the youngest women to have entered the English charts. They were only 18 when they recorded this song for Joe Gibbs. The riddim is in fact a recut of the 1967 instrument, Alton Ellis’ I’m Still In Love. Althea & Donna answer in this song to the deejay Trinity who had recorded Three Piece Suit on the same riddim two years earlier.

Tany Stephens – It’s a Pity

Adultery is often encouraged in modern Jamaican music. Dancehall artists, whether male or female, do not hesitate to boast of the increasing number of conquests in recent times. But in 2004, a dancehall singer known for her sulphurous side dared to approach the subject in a different way. It’s a Pity is Tanya Stephens’ hit of choice. Rather used to dancehall at the time, she finally settled on a 100% reggae riddim particularly chaloupant. It is Doctor’s Darling Riddim, a huge recruit from Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse, played by the German group Seeed. On the version, Tanya tells an impossible love story between two lovers already taken. But instead of encouraging action, the Jamaican singer wisely closes the song and neither of them skip the step! That’s why we can make hits while remaining moral…

Buju Banton: his 1st show in Jamaica

buju banton live

Saturday, March 16 was a historic date in Jamaica. The largest musical show ever held at the National Kingston Stadium welcomed 35,000 people to attend Buju Banton’s first show since his release from prison last December. The latter was not alone far from there. His performance was preceded by a number of tributes and mini shows from Jamaican reggae legends such as Berres Hamond, Cocoa Tea, but also from younger artists such as Agent Sasco, Chronixx, Koffee and many others!

Slideshow of the most beautiful photos of our reporter!

Some live videos are also included below.

Get to know Yellow Man


Albinos, Yellowman will turn what some consider a physical disability into an asset and become the biggest dancehall star of the ’80s.

Yellowman was born Winston Foster in 1959 in Kingston. Albinos, he will turn his physical handicap into an asset and become the biggest dancehall star of the ’80s. But the road was hard to reach his artistic objectives. Indeed, Jamaican society is very hard on albinos. It is the fact that he fully assumes his disability by declaring himself, through his songs, sex-symbol and by using trivial, even vulgar lyrics (called slackness), that Yellowman becomes the favorite of the public on his native island.

Added to that, his original voice timbre, his very particular way of toasting, his sharp humor and his ability to make fun of others and himself will install him as the number one dancehall artist. Influenced by artists like U-Roy, he made his debut in sound system with the Gemini sound. In 1979, he won a song contest that propelled him to the front of the Jamaican public, who immediately adopted him. Although he has recorded countless singles, he recorded his first album on Channel One in 1981.

The title of this album is “Them A Mad Over Me.” He continues to shock and mock everything around him. He mocks Lone Ranger in his title “Me Kill Barnie,” then suffers the wrath of Peter Tosh, who finds the song “Shorties” degrading for the female population. But the controversies encouraged Yellowman to go even further, pushed by his regular producer: Junjo Lawes… He releases his second album “Mister Yellowman” which becomes an international success!!!

Not content with his success, Yellowman continues with singles and albums that are hits such as “Duupy Or Gunman”, “Yellowman Getting Married”, “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”, “Wreck A Pum Pum Pum”, “Galong, Galong”, or the enormous “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng”…

A few years later (in 1987), “The Negril Chill Challenge – Slackness vs. Pure Culture” was recorded, a superb clash between Yellowman and Charlie Chaplin, representing the roots and kulcha vibe against the bad lyrics of our favorite albino. For the record, Charlie Chaplin lost this clash that has since become part of the reggae legend.

Yellowman lost its aura with the 1990s and a new generation of dancehall artists. However, he worked with Fatiss Burrel on “Yellow With Cheese,” and did a very nice cover of “Blueberry,” Fats Domino’s hit.
He returned to the forefront in 1994 with “Prayer,” then “Message To The World” in 1995 and “Freedom Of Speech” in 1999.

His latest albums to date are “New York” in 2003 and “Round 1” in 2005, a clash album with Ninjaman. His appearances in Europe have become rare since the 2000s. But some were lucky enough to see that he was still in good shape during his performance at the Elysée Montmartre in France in 2009 alongside the Congos and Julian Marley.