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New World View

Ghanaian reggae star Rocky Dawuni is changing perceptions of Africa.

September 07, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There are enough summer reggae shows to warrant the suspicion that perhaps Southern California has been secretly annexed by Jamaica. If more proof is needed, then look no further than Oak View, where the Lake Casitas World Rhythms & Reggae Festival unfolds Saturday with 10 hours of music beginning at high noon.

Performing at this year's event will be Andrew Tosh, Rocky Dawuni, the Fully Fullwood Band, Ras Shiloh, Sugar Black, the King's Chamber Revue and the Cannons. The festival is a benefit for Bookshacks for Jamaicans, an organization that helps to provide books for schools and build reading rooms in the island nation. Concert-goers are urged to bring books for the book drive.

In addition to the nonstop soundtrack, event organizers are setting up a Caribbean-style village featuring arts and crafts and plenty of food. Capacity for the show is 5,000, and camping areas have been set aside for concert-goers.

To the untrained ear, reggae music may seem to be one song with one beat that goes on for a week. In fact, it's an ever-changing variety of Jamaican music that encompasses African rhythms and jazz and New Orleans rhythm and blues. Although not nearly as funny as the Jamaican bobsled team, reggae has a better beat and a clear message: love, peace, understanding.

Rocky Dawuni, one of Ghana's most popular reggae artists, has stories to tell, as well as a new album to push.

How's "Crusade" doing? Are you a rich rock star?

Well, it's big in my country and big in Africa. The revolution is creeping up little by little, you know. We're fighting a war, it's a whole lifetime thing, and we are winning. We are sowing the seeds that we know will grow. It's not an immediate gratification thing; it's long term.

Is reggae changing the world?

I wouldn't say that reggae is changing the world, but rather it is changing the way people look at the world because the world never really changes. It's just a matter of how we interpret it. I think the interpretation of Africa has always been through the eye of colonialists. The way we perceived ourselves and the way we pursued a direction of how we should govern ourselves are all taken from colonial systems. What we are trying to do is use our music and its political edge in order to change people's thoughts.

How's the reggae scene in Ghana?

It's big and growing and powerful. The reggae scene in Ghana was the first that developed in Africa. The reggae coming from Ghana now is tied to ideas of Pan-Africanism because Ghana was the first black African country to become independent. Music is meant to change, to make a difference and create a whole new perspective for ourselves and all the people who are interested in the affairs of Africa.

What attracted to you to reggae?

I wanted to use a medium to speak up about what I was experiencing and observing. I'm a big student of Fela Kuti, and also Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Burning Spear. I have to keep the politicians on their toes. I went toward reggae because that's what everybody was using. I started with reggae, but I'm taking reggae to a whole new level.

Is African reggae different from Jamaican reggae?

African reggae is similar. Jamaican reggae was basically music born out of African drum patterns by the same Africans who were moved from Africa and didn't ask for it. It integrated some Caribbean sounds and sort of blew back to Africa. We can understand it because we know where it comes from. The only difference is geographical. Their message, their intent and their effect is basically the same: to try to free people that will lead to a much more progressive, politically responsible world.

So they have the same spiritual goals?

They have the same spiritual goals. I believe in universality. My music doesn't really try to promote a certain religion or a certain perspective. It tries to promote the general human good and general human responsibility--spirituality that cuts across all spiritualities. I want to be able to walk in a Krishna temple and worship, a Christian temple and worship and a Muslim temple and worship. Also, I want to be able to sit somewhere in nature and not really care about any religions and still be able to commune with God.

Africans invented civilization; maybe now they can save it.

Africa was the source of humanity, but if you look closely, popular media has tried to discredit Africa or ignore it. Africa was instrumental in the development of the Western world in terms of manpower. These countries that are enjoying better times should be able to honestly go back and help African countries reach a certain level of economic integration. But it's not being done. We are capable of doing anything. I mean, anything we can conceptualize, we can do.

When you play, do the people dance or stare?

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