Marijuana music from Diamonds to Tarrus
A measure of the attention Jamaican popular music has paid to marijuana is that the various artistes' Hi Grade Ganja Anthems albums themed around the topic reached volume four last year. And remember that these are songs solely about marijuana - its consumption, transportation, effect and consequences - not tracks that make passing reference (like the enduring Guinness and spliff combination).
Another measure of Jamaican popular music's engagement with marijuana is the line-up of the Rastafari Rootz Fest, currently on at Long Bay Beach, Negril, Westmoreland. It is the first event to be held under the marijuana exemption provision in Section Eight of the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act 2015, as the festival is being held under the aegis of Rastafari.
The Rastafari Rootz Fest is a combination of an expo and stage show, with the High Times Cannabis Cup being held within the evening and the placings announced on the final day. For the two major show nights, Friday and Saturday, many of the performers who have been selected will be able to perform a strong marijuana song. This was after Thursday's opening ceremony, where there was a ganja music sound system salute slated to feature Mutabaruka, Gabre Selassie of Rockers International, Gary I from Jah Love, and Negril's DJ Jessie.
For the live performances, from The Mighty Diamonds' Pass The Kouchie (which appears on the 1981 album Changes) to Tarrus Riley's late 2014 Herbs, which is going strong at this time in 2015, there will be over 40 years of marijuana music served up at Long Bay Beach.
They are not the only ones on the bill who have marijuana material. Jah9 has a song named The Marijuana, while Jah Bouks, Luciano and Bushman (especially the last, who has an album of Stepping Razor covers) have called upon the spirit of Peter Tosh to express their feelings on the vegetable matter.
The Mighty Diamonds, Jah9 and Tarrus Riley have diverse takes on marijuana, with some intersections in their approaches. In Pass The Kouchie, the Diamonds set a scenario of communal consumption - after a solo walk:
"It was a cool and lovely breezy afternoon
(How does it feel when you've got no herb?)
You could feel it 'cause it was the month of June
(If you got no herb you will walk an' talk)
So I lef' my gate and went out for a walk"
On that stroll, the singer passed a particular place and heard the memorable refrain:
"Pass the kouchie pon the lef' hand side
Pass the kouchie pon the lef' hand side
It a go bun, it a go done
When he stops to see what was happening, it turned out that "it was a ring of reads and a session was there in swing", so the kouchie was duly passed.
Tarrus Riley's Herbs starts with a complaint about the official treatment of marijuana ("how you deal with the grades is degrading/and we no intoxicated"), incarceration for possession of a small amount ("seven days or a fine/but the evidence couldn't find") - keeping in mind that the song predates relaxation of the law by a few months - and moves into celebration:
"Gimme my herbs
My skunk my lamb's bread, my sensimilla..."
And there is the biblical and medical connection:
"If yu believe inna medicine
Dis ya plant full a nuff health benefits
If yu reading yu Bible
Look good yu wi see it imna Genesis"
Jah9 advocates a number of drops a day to keep particular ailments at bay, positioning Jamaica as the supply point. She looks back at the security forces' actions:
"For years they persecute I
Send police to hunt and kill
Raid an burn out we farming
And send the youths them go a jail"
The reversal of position by the authorities is not left out:
"Now hypocrisy presenting itself as good business practice
When the former colonisers want to meet with Rastafari to work out logistcis
When creation provided the marijuana"
And while the government is flayed, Jah9 is sure that it is up to I and I to free marijuana, a task she is up to, as "if them legalise it I will advertise it and provide them with the marijuana".