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Reggae gig opens up Ivory Coast's "Rasta Village"

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - With its wooden shacks on a beach shaded by palm trees, Ivory Coast’s “Rasta Village” could be anywhere in West Africa -- if it wasn’t for all the dreadlocks, Ethiopian flags and murals of the Lion of Judah.

A resident works in front of a mural of Bob Marley at the "Rasta Village" of Port Bouet in Abidjan May 8, 2010. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

This weekend the villagers in Ivory Coast’s Rastafarian colony, near the port of Abidjan, made a rare opening to the outside world with a four-day reggae festival that culminates in the anniversary of Bob Marley’s death on Tuesday.

Reggae bands pumped out loud bass lines. Devoted Rastafarians with big dreadlocks sipped beers at tables painted in the red, yellow and green of their adopted Ethiopian flag, each named after one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

With its curious blend of Old Testament Christianity and pan-African nationalism, Rastafarianism -- Rastafari as its followers prefer to call it -- is usually more associated with its birth place in Jamaica than the continent it yearns for.

But Africa’s Rastafarians, whose tell-tale dreadlocks can be spotted across the continent from the beaches of Zanzibar to the streets of Johannesburg, insist they’re the real thing.

“It’s all the same culture,” reggae singer and resident Ras Kaloudja told Reuters at the festival.

“For us, it originates in Africa, then it went to the Caribbean, then it came back here. It’s the same spirit everywhere, although there are musical differences.”


Reggae, the music which exposed Rastafarian culture to the world, is huge in Ivory Coast.

While other West Africans jig to Senegalese rumba or Malian “desert blues,” in Abidjan’s ubiquitous outdoor bars you are much more likely to see a live reggae band playing.

Parker Place, a popular reggae bar in Abidjan’s industrial area that hosts dozens of live bands, is usually heaving.

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Reggae star Alpha Blondy is probably the most famous Ivorian after Chelsea footballer Didier Drogba.

The Ivorian Rasta village was established by local artists and musicians in 1999 and currently houses about 250 people.

Residents say they live a way of life similar to their Jamaican counterparts: simple, peaceful, full of music.

“We’ve completed the work that the others in Jamaica started,” said singer Ras Goody in his home, next to a mural of Bob Marley in his most cliched pose -- smoking a big joint.

Some make a living selling Rasta-style clothes and trinkets.

Amongst the many murals that brighten the village’s walls are Ethiopia’s former Emperor Haile Selassie, believed by Rastas to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ and a direct descendant of the Biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Then there’s Marcus Garvey, the early 20th century Jamaican writer whose vision of a “United States of Africa” inspired a generation of African intellectuals to demand independence for their countries. One of those intellectuals, Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah, also has a spot on the village’s wall.

And, incongruously, there is Ivory Coast’s national slogan urging “discipline and work” -- not obvious Rasta virtues. Ivory Coast’s post-independence leaders rejected pan-Africanism and built close ties with colonial master France.

After years of economic success, the country is struggling to emerge from an eight-year political crisis, which was sparked by a 2002-2003 war and is dragging on amid accusations that all sides are profiteering from the uncertainty.

Rastafarians see Africa as their promised land, “Zion,” and reject Western culture as a greedy, self-serving “Babylon.”

Despite the increasing allure of Western consumer society, their idea still holds sway over many Africans.

“Africans need economic liberty, self-sufficiency and respect,” said Samira Ouattara, 25, a student wearing a matching green, yellow and red Bob Marley dress with a headscarf.

“Then we can be free from the colonialists.”

Editing by Paul Casciato