Rastafari Nite of Culture and Elegance
Rekindling an appreciation for the Arts By Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
October 5, 2003

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Dancers on stage at the Rastafari Nite of Culture and Elegance (Pictures by Cullen Bess-Nelson)
LAST Saturday night truly belonged to the 'Dau'ters' as designers Roxanne King and Louann Lewis, and ace choreographer Vivian Daniels of the National Dance Company pulled out all the stops to make it truly a 'Rastafari Nite of Culture and Elegance'.

The event, which was held at the Ocean View International Hotel amidst a profusion of 'heights', gold and green balloons and other decorations symbolic of the Rastafarian sect, saw King, a relative newcomer to the local fashion scene, do stuff with the humble cotton that had virtually everyone, even the most taciturn among the 'Lions', on the edge of their seats, wondering what other tricks this diminutive young woman could possibly have up her sleeve.

Lewis, on the other hand, let her 13 years in the business do the talking as she explored the many possibilities of batik and tie-dye, at times allowing her formal training in Fine Art to come to the fore.

'Different Moods' was the name ascribed to this particular collection of hers, which brought to the affair a sort of quiet elegance.

Daniels, with her usual panache and sense of occasion, delved deep into the 'Rasta' psyche for something that would best reflect the spirit in which the event was being organised.

'Voices' was what she came up with, using John King's gut-wrenching 'How Many More' to drive home the enormity of the current crime situation and to highlight the pain; the anguish; the sense of utter desolation many a mother must feel at the loss of one of her offspring, and Bob Marley to urge her black brothers and sisters to rise above the situation in a medley that comprised such vintage tracks as 'Get Up; Stand Up'; 'One Love' and 'Destiny'.

'Flash of the Spirit', another of her dance routines, was just as it says: Spirited.

The event, which was emceed by former journalist and theatre personality, Ras Leon Saul, also saw sterling performances from roots poet, Ras Aaron Blackman, Jah Punta and Ras Cali, all leading lights in the local Rastafarian community.

Fashion scenes from the Rastafari Culture and Elegance.
The popular local group, 'First Born', was also slated to make an appearance that night.

Speaking with the Sunday Chronicle days before the concert, programme coordinator Ras Ashkar explained that the whole purpose to the exercise was to rekindle in the Rastafarian community an appreciation for the Arts, a trait the sect has traditionally been noted for but has been sadly repressed in the last few years, due to a number of reasons.

Clearly a subject he feels rather strongly about, Ashkar, who is part of the outfit that organised the show, Stepper's Promotions, said: "Africans are a people with culture and customs. Far more than being the legacy of our historical past, our culture and customs are characteristics of our African-ness."

He noted that while last Saturday's soiree was a first for an event of that nature, plans are in train to make it an annual occurrence in observance of New Year's Day, or the beginning of spring, in Ethiopia, a country to which Rastafarians the world over swear allegiance.

The festival is usually celebrated on September 11, a day now associated with the elusive Osama bin Laden and the carnage laid waste to America two years ago that has forever changed, not only the face of lower Manhattan, but the way the world does business in the future as well.

Ashkar, who is fluent in Amharic, one of the official languages of Ethiopia and its most popular, is himself into the business of promoting culture through his Lij Ethio-Rastafari Youth Society, an organisation he founded some months ago and which has, as one of its aims and objectives, "…to promulgate….the doctrines and precepts of the Rastafari faith, and to show its inclusive and global nature."

Among the group's other objectives are to:

(a) Focus attention on the educational, moral and material advancement of the Rastafari and Ethiopian youth;

(b) Work with other Rastafari and non-Rastafari organisations and religious groups on terms not contrary to the Rastafari doctrines and therefore in accord with the will of Haile Selassie I, to bring about our established goals;

(c) To foster internal unity among the various Rastafari denominations, and external unity between the Rastafari faith and other religious and non-religious organisations.

A prolific writer as well, the 25-year-old 'dread' is also into publishing, his first attempt being the quarterly magazine, the Rastafari Youth Times, the third issue which is due out anytime.

He is also the author of 'A Booklet of Useful Amharic Verbs' which will no doubt come in handy for any of his 'Rasta' brethren wishing to master this ancient tongue which he himself picked up along the way through associating with native Ethiopians and his own research.

He teaches the language once a week at the Pike Street Kitty home of academician, Dr Joycelynne Loncke.

Sharing with the Sunday Chronicle some of his innermost thoughts about his literary and other cultural undertakings and where he expects them to go, Ashkar said: "I must be honest, it's not the easiest of tasks. It's very onerous…but with confidence, anything can be accomplished. So I am confident that the day would come when the youths would be aware of their responsibilities to society.

That's what the organisation is all about."