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'Coping with Babylon' not regular Rasta film

By Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer

Freddy McGregor is one of the Rastas interviewed in the film, 'Coping With Babylon'. - PHOTO CONTRIBUTED


WHILE THE DOCUMENTARY 'Coping With Babylon' explores Rastafari, it does not take the time-honoured ­ or time-worn ­ path of simply explaining Haile Selassie, reggae, dreadlocks and vegetarianism all over again.

Instead, Rastafarianism is presented as a method of dealing with what passes for modern life while 'coping' (function: verb) and 'Babylon' (function: noun) were defined dictionary fashion at the start of the film.

Along with three other films, Lumumba, The Tracker and Favela Rising, Coping with Babylon is part of the coming weekend's free 'Weekend of Resistance Film Forum', which will be held at the Livity Restaurant on Hope Road, St. Andrew. The films start at 9:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with Lumumba and The Tracker to be shown on the first day.

Of course, with Rasta and reggae being inseparable and highly visible, performers play a strong role in Coping with Babylon. Brief interviews with Half-Pint, Luciano, Morgan Heritage and Beenie Man, along with a more extended interview with Freddie McGregor, get the film rolling. Mutabaruka plays a pivotal role throughout, including a gem of an ending quote.

Highly ironic

Barry Chevannes of the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, also plays a vital role in Coping With Babylon, while there are several key interviews with Rastafarians who are not entertainers, such as Paul Kelly at the Bob Marley Museum, 56 Hope Road.

The film quality is, overall, very good, with footage such as Half-Pint performing at the 2004 IRAW Awards in New York and Mutabaruka, stunningly sharp, performing at the 2005 staging of the same event.

It is either highly ironic or highly appropriate that the brief concert footage, as well as many of the brief interviews with entertainers which get Coping With Babylon rolling are filmed in New York. For one thing that is made very clear from the get go is that America is the heart of the beast.

As Paul Kelly puts it, "The system that the people who run America, that they use to conquer the world, that is the heart of Babylon." Another Rastafarian said, "America don't love Rasta ... This is Babylon; this is Sodom and Gomorrah."

And Elephant Man puts his coping approach in a typically 'weddy weddy' way (with a half-twang, to boot), saying, "Yow, Babylon is everywhere, man; the world is filled with Babylon. But we Jamaicans know how to deal with it; we keep it jiggy."

Chevannes puts the matter in scholarly terms. "A Rasta using the word 'Babylon' expresses the entire western system, not only of oppression, but of corrosion, the erosion of values, the materialism, selfishness, capitalism and that search for profit over personhood. Everything that maintains and upholds that system is a part of Bablyon," he says.

Coping strategies

However, Peter Morgan of Morgan Heritage takes the definition of Babylon on a personal level, in an interview at Radio City Music Hall, New York.

"Babylon is not a place; Babylon is a state of mind. Babylon is confusion. So if you are confused in your own self, then your own self is Babylon," he says.

And in between the definition of Babylon and the coping strategies comes an extensive exploration of Rastafari and its concerns, from the different houses to the hair, from the 'Marxist-Leninists' of Ethiopia to George Bush.

As Chevannes puts it, "Rasta does not take up arms. Its resistance is through witness and testimony." And a Rastafarian said, "We don't carry guns, for there is no need for no guns, cause we are not at war with no one. Our warfare is spiritual, through word sounds and power."

Coping With Babylon is a Sonerito Productions film, directed by Oliver Hill.

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June 15, 2005

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