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Nyabinghi, also Nyahbinghi, Niyabinghi, Niyahbinghi, is the gathering of Rastas, known as Rastafarians to celebrate and commemorate key dates significant to Rastafari throughout the year. It is essentially an opportunity for Rastas to congregate and engage in praise and worship. For example, on July 23rd of each year, a Nyabinghi is held to celebrate the birth of His Majesty, Emperor Haille Selassi I. So how is this done? During a Nyabinghi celebration men and women have different roles and expectations. Men are expected to remove their tams (Rasta hats) whilst women must keep their hair covered. A group of men typically organise themselves in a line or semi-circle and are assigned to beat the drums throughout. The remaining congregation continue to sing well known songs or 'chants', some of which are edited hymns that reflect the traditions of Rastafari. For example, 'I have a little light in I and I'm going to make it shine, Rastafariiii, shine' and 'Holy Mount Zion is a holy place and no sinners can enter there, so let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, of Rastafari'. Nyabinghi is a Rasta tradition that promotes Rasta unity, strengthens the Rasta spirit with fellowship and raises the conciousnes and presence of Rastafafari in the heart of those in attendance. At some points passages of the bible are read. Rasta recognise the significance of Jesus Christ, but as a prophet.
The Niyabinghi resistance inspired a number of Jamaican Rastafarians, who incorporated what are known as niyabinghi chants (also binghi) into their celebrations ("groundations"). The rhythms of these chants were eventually an influence of popular ska, rocksteady and reggae music. It is the traditional music of the Rastafarian practice and it is used during "reasoning" sessions and consists of chanting and drumming to reach states of heightened spirituality. Nyabingi music consists of a blend of 19th century gospel music and African drumming.
Niyabinghi drumming is not exclusive to the Niyabinghi order, and is common to all Rastafarians. Its rhythms are the basis of Reggae music, through the influential ska band, the Skatalites. It is said that their drummer revolutionized Jamaican music by combining the various Niyabinghi parts into a 'complete' "drum kit," which combined with jazz to create an entirely new form of music, known as ska. Niyabinghi rhythms were largely a creation of Count Ossie, who incorporated influences from traditional Jamaican Kumina drumming (especially the form of the drums themselves) with songs and rhythms learned from the recordings of Nigerian musician Babatunde Olatunji.
Though Niyabinghi music operates as a form of Rasta religious music outside of Reggae, musicians such as Bob Marley and even non-Rastas such Prince Buster (Muslim) and Jimmy Cliff used the idiom in some songs. Recently, dancehall artist Sizzla, American roots-Reggae artists such as Groundation and Jah Levi, and Hip hop have used Niyabinghi drums extensively in their recordings. Though sometimes claimed to be a direct continuation of an African cultural form, Niyabinghi drumming is best seen as the voice of a people rediscovering their African roots.
Combining Jamaican traditions with newly acquired African ones, Count Ossie and others synthesized his country's African traditions and reinvigorated them with the influences of Nigerian master-drummer Babatunde Olatunji, as a comparison of Count Ossie's Tales of Mozambique and Olatunji's earlier Drums of Passion will reveal. Indeed, it is that combination of inherited traditions and conscious rediscovery of lost African traditions that makes Niyabinghi drumming—and Rasta—so powerful.
Three kinds of drums (called "harps") are used in niyabinghi: bass, also known as the "Pope Smasher" or "Vatican Basher", reflecting a Rasta association between Catholicism and Babylon, the middle-pitched funde and akete. The akete (also known as the "repeater") plays an improvised syncopation, the funde plays a regular one-two beat and the bass drum strikes loudly on the first beat, and softly on the third beat (of four). When groups of players get together, only one akete player may play at any one time. The other drums keep regular rhythms while the akete players solo in the form of a conversation. Count Ossie was the first to record niyabinghi, and he helped to establish and maintain Rastafari culture. Only Rastamen are allowed to play drums at Nyahbingi. Anyone may play shaka, or shekere.
- Thunder: It is a double-headed bass drum, played with a mallet. The strokes are an open tone on 1 and a dampened stroke on 3. Occasionally, the thunder player will syncopate the rhythm.
- Funde: The funde is the middle drum. It maintains the dominant heartbeat rhythm as the funde player makes steady, dampened strokes on 1 and 3. it is thus dually known as the heartbeat and has the least improvisational role.
- Repeater: The repeater or kete, is the smallest and highest pitched drum. It is somewhat of a single elongated bongo. The drummer tends to play around 2 and 4, with a syncopated, rather than a backbeat feel. These beats are important to the overall feel of the Nyahbingi rhythm, but the repeater has a very improvisational role in bingi because it is seen as the carrier of spirit.
- Shaka: The shekere, which is commonly found throughout Africa, the Caribbean Latin America, has a place in Nyahbingi. The shekere player has a somewhat flexible role: He/she has been known to play on “1”, “1&”, “1” and “3” or “1&”…“3&” [The following should be noted regarding the curious nomenclature of this instrument—Perhaps the word is a simple corruption of the proper pronunciation; and there is the possibility that it is a more calculated allusion to the Zulu word for fire, shaka.
Niyabinghi chanting typically includes recitation of the Psalms, but may also include variations of well-known Christian hymns and adopted by Rastafarians. The rhythms of these chants were eventually an influence of popular ska, rocksteady and reggae music. The chants contain ideas of black redemption and repatriation. They help people to participate and feel included in the Rastafarian community.
Nyabinghi chants include:
"Every time I chant Nyahbingi"
"Psalms 137" aka "Down By The Rivers Of Babylon"
- "400 Million Blackman"
- "400 Years" (its lyrics influenced Peter Tosh's "400 Years")
- "Babylon In I Way"
- "Babylon Throne Gone Down" (arranged by Bob Marley to "Rastaman Chant" in 1973)
- "Banks of the River"
- "Behold Jah live"
- "Blackman Get Up Stand Up" (its lyrics influenced Bob Marley's and Peter Tosh's "Get Up, Stand Up" in 1973)
- "Chant Zion Chant"
- "Closer Than a Brother"
- "Come sight up in Jah Army"
- "Fool Fool"
- "Have a little light in I"
- "I'n'I Riding"
- "I Am Getting Ready"
- "Idemption Trodding"
- "I Must Trod Home"
- "I Shall Not Remove" (its lyrics influenced Bob Marley's "Forever Loving Jah")
- "I Will Not Go With You"
- "Jah Got the Whole World"
- "Jah Wind Blow East"
- "Leave Babylon"
- "Little Children"
- "Mystery Babylon Have To Move" / "Him Have To Move"
- "Never Get Burn"
- "New Name"
- "No Night in Zion" (arranged and released by Culture in 1997, arranged and released by Luciano in 2001)
- "Nyahbinghi Voyage" (arranged and released by Steel Pulse)
- "One Day Nearer Home"
- "Over Hills and Valleys"
- "Peace and Love"
- "Promise to Hear I Chant"
- "Rastafari Conquer"
- "Rastafari Know What This Gathering For"
- "Rivers of Babylon" (arranged and released by The Jamaicans, Boney M arrangement became a world hit)
- "Rock-of-my Soul"
- "Rock of Ises"
- "Roll River Jordan"
- "Run Come Rally"
- "Satta Massagana"
- "Send One Mighty Ingel"
- "So Long Rastafari" (arranged by Bob Marley in 1978; arranged and released by Dennis Brown in 1979)
- "Take a Sip"
- "The Lion of Judah" / "The Conquering Lion" (arranged by Bob Marley in 1976)
- "The Things You Do" (arranged and released by Sizzla Kalonji)
- "Universal Tribulation"
- "Volunteer Ithiopian"
- "What a Weeping"
- "What a Woe"
- "Will You Be Ready"
- "Zion Land"
- Katz, David (2003). Reggae Bloodlines: In Search of the Music and Culture of Jamaica. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80496-4. Cite error: Invalid
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