Photo/IllutrationA mural depicting reggae music icon Bob Marley painted on the rolling shutter of a shop in Rome (AP Photo)

UNESCO on Nov. 29 added to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list a set of ritual visits of deities in masks and costumes in Japan, known as “raiho-shin” (visiting deity).

There was something humorous about visiting deities with terror-inspiring visages, such as Namahage in Oga, Akita Prefecture, gathered to celebrate the registration.

In the Caribbean, far from Japan, many people must have celebrated the addition of reggae music to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization list on the same day with joyous dancing.

The music genre originated in Jamaica in the 1960s. Jamaica, colonized by Europeans, became home to Africans who were brought over as slaves.

Reggae’s distinctive rhythm is African in origin, but the genre developed as a fusion with Spanish music and was also influenced by black American R&B.

Bob Marley (1945-1981), who popularized reggae around the world, described the music as international, perfect and capable of embracing any genre, according to a translated book titled “Reggae Okoku” in Japanese.

In explaining the registration of reggae on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list, UNESCO cited “its contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity.”

Even after independence from Britain, Jamaica continued to suffer economic stagnation and social disparities. Reggae was what poor young Jamaicans turned to for comfort and as a means for voicing their protests.

Many young people must have been encouraged by Marley’s “Duppy Conqueror.” Part of one version goes as follows: “Yes, me friend, me friend/ Dem set me free again/ The bars could not hold me/ Force could not control me now.”

“Get Up, Stand Up,” another Marley song, is still sung at social protest rallies.

Incidentally, I recently came across a newspaper article about reggae being used for preaching by a young Buddhist priest in Akita Prefecture.

Reggae continues to spread around the world, embracing something even Jamaicans would never have imagined.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 3

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.