“The innovation of Rastafari dancehall music in isiXhosa language in Cape Town”

Special IfEK- lecture, 15.6.2023, 4 pm, SFG 1040 with Prof. Dr. Tuomas Järvenpää, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu

Donnerstag 15.6.2023, 4-6 pm , SFG 1040, Universität Bremen

Prof. Dr. Tuomas Järvenpää, lehrt regulär an der University of Eastern Finland (Joensuu-campus) Cultural Studies mit Fokus auf Popular Music & Religion. Grad ist er als Fellow zu Gast bei uns am IfEK: Aus seinen ethnografischen Forschungen in Cape Town, Südafrika stellt er am kommenden Donnerstag, 15.6.23, ab 16 Uhr zentrale Ergebnisse vor.

Herzliche Einladung an alle Studierenden und Lehrenden: SFG 1040 im Rahmen des Regional-Seminar “Südliches Afrika”, Leitung Dr. Cordula Weißköppel


The Rastafari language, or ‘Dread talk’, has been essential in the spread of reggae music across ethnic and national borders as a marker of transgressive and global blackness.

In this talk I examine why and how Rastafari vocalists in Cape Town have started to incorporate vernacular isiXhosa language into their music and what social negotiations this innovation has entailed in their music careers.

Both for the Rastafari movement and Xhosa speakers in general, oral culture is linked to gendered and generational power. I examine how the innovation of isiXhosa lyrics into reggae music is formed in contradistinction to the masculinities of both the earlier generations of reggae music in and the wider Xhosa society.

The research material of the article consists of artist interviews with different generations of male musicians as well ethnographic observations from the life world of the artists in Cape Town. The material was formed during three-months of fieldwork in Cape Town in the autumn of 2013 with a short revisit in 2015.

Author details

Tuomas Järvenpää is a cultural anthropologist, whose research interest are in the field of religion and cultural study of music. His current research project looks at the various intersections and influences between Christianity and hip hop in Finland. His past projects have looked at evangelical rap music in Namibia and reggae and Rastafari movement both in Finland and in South Africa.

Murals in Judah Square community, Knysna, 2013, photo by Tuomas Järvenpää