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Recently I was at a poetry slam and I heard a Jamaican poet use the term "Nyabinghi," pronounced:

Nigh uh BEAN ghi

It can also be spelled Nyahbinghi.

This beautiful word stuck in my head so I researched it and was introduced to this intense musical hypnosis that is also the precursor to reggae.

Nyabinghi evolved from the drum ceremonies that enslaved Africans of various tribes brought with them to Jamaica. As the country grew more industrialized throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, Nyabinghi songs were celebrated only among followers of the Rastafarian religion (based on mythology about Ethiopia and a very different interpretation of the Bible from the Judeo-Christian status quo), while most Christian-indoctrinated Jamaicans saw the Afrocentric drum and chant ceremonies as primitive and backward. Nowadays, Nyabinghi is used mainly as a term for a certain sect of Rastas, as opposed to just the rhythm or the music.

The ceremonies consist of a drum chorus playing a syncopated version of a heartbeat's rhythm, with a simple repeating melody sung by all the people in the circle. The most popular example of the Nyabinghi rhythm is from a song by Bob Marley called Rastaman Chant. Ironically, another song that uses a very similar rhythm that anyone who's ever watched a sports game on tv would instantly recognize is We Will Rock You by the rock group Queen. The main difference is a Nyabinghi rhythm would not have a clap after the two stomps. If you have never heard either of these songs, do yourself a favor and download them from one of the new Napsters.

If you saw the documentary Life and Debt--about the economic crisis in Jamaica due to the greed of the International Monetary Fund-- the music scenes consisted of Nyabinghi ceremonies.

The word's origin is ironic in that it is the name of an ancient East African queen, yet Rastafarianism--the religion that claims the word--is overwhelmingly patriarchal.

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