How people got to be reggae music lovers or fans has always fascinated me. Maybe partly because reggae still is off/outside the mainstream, also in the Netherlands. It is not found that easily, let’s just say. It requires (to a degree) an extraordinary life path: that is, different from copying the masses, or simply following what’s commonly on television or the radio.
Reggae has of course since decades gone international and widened its fan base, but I have known individually quite different reggae fans within the Netherlands. Black and white (and Asian, or mixed etc.). Males and females. Old and young. Some with little education, some highly educated. Of different class backgrounds. Some combine liking reggae quite equally with other genres (e.g.: some with African, funk, soul, some with hip-hop, some even with non-black music genres), while others on the other hand adhere almost “strictly” to reggae music, and do not get into much else. Some like roots reggae more than dancehall or vice versa. There are even reggae fans – believe it or not - who do not smoke the “ganja herb”. Furthermore, some have an interest or sympathy for the related subject of Rastafari, some do not, or even despise it. The latter, despise, I find somewhat odd since Rastafari is not the same as reggae, but is nonetheless connected to it.
These differences (and similarities) between and among reggae fans/lovers intrigue me, also in relation to personal backgrounds. That’s the reason why I would like to interview specific individuals who love reggae.
I start with my “bredda” (= Jamaican Patois for “brother”, but also means “friend”, or “mate”) Abenet, full name Abenet Bakker: a Dutch citizen with an Ethiopian background. He is now in his late 20s.
I first met Abenet in a reggae-minded place in the centre of Amsterdam, about 8 years ago. I soon found out he had an interesting background. He was eloquent and intellectual. He looked Ethiopian and wore dreadlocks then. He spoke Dutch fluently, without an accent (like me). In my case – though my parents were not Dutch - this can be attributed to the fact that I was born in the Netherlands, like languages, and did relatively well in school. In Abenet’s case (besides that he may have some things in common with me: doing well in school, good in languages etc.), this was partly also for another reason, he told me: he has been adopted by Dutch parents as an Ethiopian child.
(Photo left: Abenet in 2011 on the Dutch North Sea coast..)
I soon understood that he liked reggae, confirmed by the fact that I also encountered him, on another occasion, at a Sizzla concert in Amsterdam, some years ago. He later said he told his interesting life story to a Dutch author (Roland van Reenen: also a reggae fan, I understood), hoping this would result in an equally interesting (auto)biographical book, expected to be published, and which would include attention to his Ethiopian background. This book has yet to be published. Abenet said to me that, in relation to this, “going public” on my blog did not worry him so much, since it is in a sense no longer new for him.
All this provided me with reasons why I chose Abenet to start – hopefully! - a series on reggae fans in the Netherlands on my blog.
Abenet says he has been listening to reggae regularly since he was 17 years old (about 10 years ago). Yet he heard it already before this age, such as through his mother. He listened to UB40 and Bob Marley since he was about 8 years old.
What appealed to him when he was 8 years old - he explains - was the mere mentioning of the word ‘Ethiopia’. This word indeed recurs throughout lyrics of Bob Marley, of course due to Bob’s Rastafari beliefs.
Around the age of 17 he also, alongside reggae, began listening to soul and hip-hop, and furthermore a variety of genres.
He points out that there has not been an essential change in his music preference since then.
IDENTITY AND CONNECTIONS
I asked Abenet whether he felt more Ethiopian or more Dutch. Thus I entered into the complex - and often burdened - issue of identity.
Abenet answered that he does not really feel to be Dutch, neither really Ethiopian. In the Netherlands this is mainly because of his colour, in Ethiopia because of his “Dutch mentality”. He moreover has lived in several parts of the world - and among various cultures - and sees himself in essence as a ”global citizen”.
He earlier has told me that he has “returned” for a year to live in Ethiopia, about 5 years ago. He was then about 23 years of age. He points out to me that he felt at home there that year, but in fact already felt at home the first time he returned.
That year in Ethiopia did change him totally, he emphasizes. Not so much his lifestyle, as his entire way of thinking. He thus learned a lot about his culture, as well as his own perspective.
Abenet further states that the Rastafari message in the full sense does not appeal to him so much, but that Rastafari contains elements – present partly also in other religions – that he does find appealing, and which he can relate to himself and his Ethiopian background.
He noted in Ethiopia that local music genres were more popular than foreign ones. He attributes this to language issues. Relatively more international music influences he noted among richer people as well as young people in Ethiopia.
He found reggae music to be here and there present in Ethiopia and to be used by local Ethiopian musicians, giving the example of artist Eyob Mekonen, who makes reggae-influenced music.
Abenet explained how he also visited a concert by Jamaican reggae singer Luciano, at the central Meskel square in Addis Ababa. Luciano performed there - along with other artists (Mikey General, Afrikan Simba and others) – in 2007. Incidentally, the entry fee was the equivalent of 2 euros here.
Regarding Rastafari and dreadlocks the general opinion in Ethiopia seemed overall a bit less positive, Abenet noted. Rastafari-adherents (therefore?) tend to remain mostly within the Shasamane area within Ethiopia (land Emperor Haile Selassie once granted to Rastafari-adherents desiring repatriation-MC).
While Abenet’s “way of thinking” had according to himself over time in a deep sense changed - especially also because of his year living in Ethiopia - his music preferences did not really change since he was 17. He in the present continues to listen to and like reggae, and especially loves it when it is “positive”, such as lyrically. He for instance likes the band Morgan Heritage.
He further listens presently, besides to reggae, also to African, Ethiopian, jazz and other music, upholding more or less the same criteria: the music should be positive and “made with feeling”.