In the planned documentary film, Global Beat Fusion traces hip-hop back to an unlikely source: India. Centuries of cultural practices and spiritual beliefs formed a bond between indentured servants in Jamaica, eventually leading to the formation of rap music in the Bronx in the nineteen seventies. Based on the 2005 book by Derek Beres, Global Beat Fusion: The History of the Future of Music, this documentary reveals an undiscovered history of the myriad influences that created the world’s most popular music.
Slavery ended in Jamaica in 1834, opening the door for indentured servants on coffee and sugar plantations. Shortly thereafter, 261 Indian workers arrived at the Clarendon Plantation, where they quickly mixed with former African slaves. Both populations had been oppressed by the British, and so became fast friends.
The workers were effectively slaves all but in name, which forced many to flee the plantations and live off the land. These back-to-nature seekers formed Nyabhingi communities. The Indian influence on these tribes include:
- While Rastafarians credit dreadlocks to the biblical Samson, their tradition of matting hair, zagavi, traces back to Hindu saddhus who, inspired by the god Shiva, had been growing dreads for thousands of years in a style called jatawi.
- Thandai is a “cool drink” Indians made from bhang, ganja. This blend of sugar, milk, and marijuana was a common beverage choice for psychonauts. Its 5,000-year history in the Indus Valley as a stimulant and medicine predates usage in Jamaica.
- Indian cuisine heavily influenced ital cooking. The Ayurvedic concept of balance in food preparation and selection proved important to the strict dietary guidelines of the Nyabinghi, and later Rastas.
- Karma became an essential concept. The word, from the Sanskrit karmen, implies that actions affect what happens to you while offering keys to inner freedom. The idea that humans could be liberated during this lifetime empowered Afro-Jamaicans, who for 400 years of enslavement were told salvation happens only after this life.
Reggae is the outgrowth of Nyabhingi and Rastafarian communities. The storytelling over percussion became a template for rap music. Reggae’s soundsystems, DJs, and toasters (early emcees) led to the creation of hip-hop when a Jamaican immigrant, DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, born to Jamaican and Barbadian immigrants, and Barbadian native Grandmaster Flash laid the foundation of the sound in the Bronx.
Oppressive social conditions, economic inequality, and police brutality inspired the lyrics of Jamaican toasters and reggae artists as well as hip-hop emcees. Whether in a Jamaican yard or a Bronx basement, these poets’ ciphers and innovative dancers provided critical community bonds in a world that held them down at every step.
The history of early hip-hop predominantly points to Africa. While many pieces indeed come from that continent, the Indian inspiration has never been explored. Global Beat Fusion tells a long overlooked story of rap music by featuring early figures and new artists strengthening those long-held bonds in India, Jamaica, and America today.