Hopi Make Strong Connection To Reggae Music

February 03, 2015
Laurel Morales
Ed Kabotie sings in a Hopi reggae band at the recent Rumble on the Mountain festival in Flagstaff, an event Kabotie organized.

Some Hopi people lovingly refer to their remote reservation as "the doughnut hole" because it’s surrounded by the Navajo Nation and so far from a major city.

But three decades ago tribal members convinced Jamaican artists from the SunSplash reggae festival to make a major detour off the Interstate and venture all the way out to Hopi land.

Since then the Hopi have organized dozens of reggae concerts.

Jennifer Joseph, who goes by Jonnie Jay on KUYI Hopi Radio, recalls when reggae was first introduced to Hopi. 

"The artists that came, they didn’t play to crowds that were 10,000," Joseph said. "They played to crowds of less than a hundred. But they came and they came and they came because they felt the roots. They felt the connection." 

For three decades many Hopi have adopted reggae as their music of choice. It’s difficult to travel the three mesas that make up the reservation without seeing several gold, red and green bumper stickers, not to mention someone in a Bob Marley T-shirt. 

Joseph said the Hopi can connect with a lot of reggae music’s themes, but oppression really hits home. 

"Although they sing about their strife and issues where they live, we can really relate to it," Joseph said. "Those are the same issues we face everyday up to today. And it’s always Babylon coming down on us."

Laurel Morales
Visitors to Hopi will likely see a lot of reggae bumper stickers like "Reggae Inna Hopiland" on Ed Kabotie's guitar.

Through reggae, Ed Kabotie said he can transform his culture’s suffering into a form of spirituality just as Rastafarians do. Kabotie is a musician in three bands and a concert organizer.

For decades the federal government tried to eradicate Native American culture by forcing tribal members to attend boarding schools, speak only English and stop practicing ancient traditions.

"My great-grandfather was sent to boarding school when he was 15," Kabotie said. "My grandfather, my father and I was sent to boarding school. Metal, I think, is a very big music as well because we’re angry."

But reggae has helped some Hopi reconcile their aggression with their devotion to living in harmony. KUYI Hopi Radio general manager Richard Davis said reggae has been a powerful yet peaceful expression.

"The message of peaceful resistance, conscious resistance is definitely something that is a direct link between Hopi culture and reggae music," Davis said. 

Some traditional Hopi believe reggae has diminished or even poisoned their culture. 

"They thought they were bringing in drugs and it was because of them drugs and alcohol were starting to come in and it was not," Joseph said. "These were also brought in by our own people who lived in the city who brought them home to us."

While it may not sound like traditional Hopi music, Joseph and others say the core message is the same. 

"Ziggy Marley he says love is his religion," Joseph said. "Love is our religion. We were once the same people. When we came to this world we were all one people."