"This is what I have to confess, it’s all about the sess," declares Jamaican singer Bushman on the intro to his single "Cannabis," one of the innumerable reggae songs written about, or that references, marijuana. Bushman’s lyrics transcend the elevated effects of smoking by emphasizing the plant’s numerous medicinal and industrial uses. "A bushman is a medicine man," says the baritone singer born Dwight Duncan, "so I wanted to write a song about how the plant can be used to treat asthma, to cure glaucoma, to kill pain, and you can make paper and fabric from it too. It has helped a lot of people not only those who use it, but those who sell it because that income sends their kids to school."
Bushman’s song will take on even greater significance when he performs it live at Rastafari Rootz Fest Presents The High Times World Cannabis Cup, scheduled for Nov. 12-15 in Long Bay Beach Park, Negril, located in the western Jamaica parish of Westmoreland. High Times Magazine, which has championed the usage and legalization of marijuana since its initial publication in 1974, founded the Cannabis Cup in 1988 as private event, held in Amsterdam. It is now the world’s foremost marijuana trade show and gathering of ganja enthusiasts. Growers, dispensary proprietors and owners of various related businesses present the industry’s latest technological advances and newfangled accessory miscellany through instructional seminars, expositions and product showcases. Competitions are held in several categories, including Best Seeds and Best Grower. Since 2010, The High Times’ Cannabis Cup has convened in states that have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, such as Colorado; the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup promoting cannabis’ healing properties is held in states where the plant is permitted for medical (but not recreational) use, like California.
The Jamaican debut of High Times’ Cannabis Cup, open solely to Jamaica-based farmers, is the Rastafari Rootz Fest, a conference focused on Rastafarian philosophies and cultural identity, which for many Rastas includes the usage of marijuana as a sacred herb. Significant occurrences within Rastafari’s trajectory will also be explored, such as the Nov. 2, 1930 coronation of Ras Tafari Makonnen as His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, which gave birth to the indigenous Jamaican spiritual movement Rastafari, which is now practiced throughout the world. Regarded by many Rastafarians as a Deity, Selassie's teachings are widely revered, referred to in countless reggae songs.
Daytime informational sessions will be complemented by nightly reggae concerts featuring homegrown Jamaican Rastafarian artists whom have all advocated for the legalization of marijuana in their lyrics. The lineup -- released exclusively to Billboard by Matt Stang, High Times’ director of advertising and sponsorships -- includes legendary harmony trio The Mighty Diamonds, responsible for 1982 hit "Pass The Kouchie," one of reggae’s most enduring hymns to herb; veteran singer Fred Locks, whose "Black Star Liner" was an early reggae anthem of African repatriation, a considerable tenet within Rastafari; contemporary roots superstar Tarrus Riley, who recently cracked the Hot 100 with the Major Lazer produced "Powerful" featuring Ellie Goulding; stalwart vocalist Luciano, who conveys a heartfelt spiritual fervor in his charismatic performances; sing-jay I Wayne; singer Jah Bouks whose career was launched in 2013 as a contestant on Television Jamaica’s (TVJ) talent contest Magnum Kings and Queen of Dancehall, where he placed third; the sole female act, singer Janine "Jah9" Cunningham, whose "Steamers A Bubble" weaves Rastafari’s regal African identity into a hypnotic, chronic-championing hit. Also appearing is singer Jawara McIntosh, a.k.a. Tosh 1, the youngest son of the late Peter Tosh, reggae’s most vociferous marijuana activist.
"When you look at the adoption of legal cannabis, reggae music has led the way," Stang tells Billboard. "We want to promote our event through reggae, and we chose artists who are pro-ganja, pro-Rastafarian, pro-peace."
"Reggae deals with issues that affect humanity and we will use the music in an educational process for this event," adds Ras Iyah-V, organizer of the festival and president of the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association. "The artists performing reflect Rastafari in their music and way of life; they sing about herb but also the struggle, equality and justice."
Despite decades of steadfast campaigning by Rastafarians and reggae artists to "free up the weed," as Luciano sings on his 2004 hit, ganja remains illegal in Jamaica. However, on February 6th, 2015 (on what would have been Bob Marley’s 70th birthday), as an amendment to the island’s Dangerous Drugs Act, the Jamaica government decriminalized personal possession of 2 oz. or less of marijuana, now punishable only by a $5.00 fine. "Before that, even if they found you with just a seed, you could be arrested," offers Ras Iyah-V, a prominent advocate for marijuana since the 1970s. Further revisions to the law now permit each Jamaican household to grow a maximum of five plants and adult Rastafarians, once severely and routinely persecuted by authorities for their unrepentant ganja smoking, can now freely use marijuana for sacramental purposes.
"For years, I&I have declared herb, ganja as part of our rituals similar to how the church uses bread and wine; it was a violation of our constitutional rights and from a United Nations Charter point of view, we should have been able to enjoy those rights from long ago," declares Ras Iyah-V.
Rastafarians' legal greenlight for ritual their usage of ganja has facilitated Rastafari Rootz Fest’s hosting the High Times Cannabis Cup as the island’s first legal marijuana affair. Following lengthy discussions and intense governmental scrutiny, Minister of Justice Mark Golding granted the permit for the event on Aug. 17th (coincidentally, the birthday of the late Jamaican National Hero Marcus Garvey, whose African-centered, often prophetic teachings are a cornerstone of Rastafari), giving the organizers less than three months for their promotional campaign. Scheduled to be an annual affair through a partnership between High Times and Ras Iyah-V, Stang projects this year’s attendance at approximately 7,000, modest by Cannabis Cup standards. "The success will be in showing the world what Jamaica can gain by becoming legal, and a destination for this kind of event," Stang commented. "We want to push the real grassroots culture of the Rastafari religious sacrament in a way that is free and open to all Jamaicans."
"Rastafari and the Cannabis Cup coming together is a real milestone," says Bushman, who performed at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam in 2008, "and I think Peter Tosh is smiling right now at the manifestation of his intentions."