Rasta culture. Despite its modern American association with white, upper-middle-class young men at liberal arts colleges who ironically grow dreads and listen to Bob Marley all day, the roots of the movement go much deeper. Although it arose in Jamaica, half a world away, most of its faithful recognize Haile Selassie – former emperor of Ethiopia, and one of the most prominent Africans leaders (for better or for worse) of the 20th century – as having a prophet-like importance, giving it a strong East African connection.

In Kenya, it’s fairly unusual to find *true* adherents to Rastafari ideology, although it does appear to have one minor stronghold: here. It represents a small-but-mighty subculture on North Coast, particularly among “beach boys,” or young men who come to the shore from inland villages to seek their fortune in the tourist economy. They don’t get much respect from the elders, but many of the young people see them as hip and effortlessly prosperous, romanticizing their lives and seeking to emulate them. (Too often, the *realities* of their lives involve less-than-legal money schemes like drug peddling and commercial sex work.) For this hipness, they are sometimes seen as the gatekeepers of music and entertainment tastes, the trendsetters for what becomes A Thing in my little village. It should be unsurprising, then, that 75% of the music I hear on a daily basis is reggae. You can’t discuss Kenyan music as a whole, or my region’s musical interests as a microcosm, without acknowledging it.

There’s something you need to know about me:

As interesting as I find the emergence of Rastafarianism from a modern theological standpoint …

I hate reggae.

Loathe it.

More than anything.

It’s like a parasite crawling into your ear or laying eggs beneath your skin – and I should know, as I’ve experienced both of those things.

My Kenyan friends and neighbors know of my feelings, and think it’s all *hilarious.*

I respect and love people who like it, in the same way I respect and love people who put ketchup on their scrambled eggs: I can never understand, account for, or fully appreciate your tastes, but by God, you have a right to them. I’d die for that right. Please nonetheless forgive me if I gag quietly into a wastebasket while you partake.

Perhaps I’m being unfair to the genre as a whole, having miserably cut my teeth on overplayed vinyl albums in college, and never taught to appreciate its evolution as an art form. There are no doubt some marvelously talented reggae artists in this world. But in my village, there’s a certain fascination with those who can take one song and turn it into another entirely. For instance, my neighbor’s favorite is an artist who takes a good thing and makes it ungood, such as transforming Cat Stevens’ melodic and bittersweet “Wild World” into a plonking, upbeat, insipid tune with random interjections of “DON’T GO BABY OO-OOOO!!”

Others take a relatively ungood thing and turn it into … well. I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you. Just listen. Listen and weep.

The woman singing has a lovely voice. I feel like that somehow actually makes it worse.

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