The Discourse of Protest, Resistance and Social Commentary in Reggae Music : A Bakhtinian Analysis of Pacific Reggae book cover
1st Edition

The Discourse of Protest, Resistance and Social Commentary in Reggae Music
A Bakhtinian Analysis of Pacific Reggae

ISBN 9780367423261
Published September 30, 2021 by Routledge
154 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

A comprehensive, engaging and timely Bakhtinian examination of the ways in which the music and lyrics of Pacific reggae, aspects of performance, a record album cover and the social and political context construct social commentary, resistance and protest.

Framed predominantly by the theory and philosophy of Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, this innovative investigation of the discourse of Pacific reggae in New Zealand produces a multi-faceted analysis of the dialogic relationships that create meaning in this genre of popular music. It focuses on the award-winning EP What’s Be Happen? by the band Herbs, which has been recognised for its ground-breaking music and social commentary in the early 1980s. Herbs’ songs address the racism and ideology of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the relationship between sport and politics, as well as universally relevant conflicts over race relations, the experiences of migrants, and the historic and ongoing loss of indigenous people’s lands.

The book demonstrates the striking compatibility between Bakhtin’s theorisation of utterances as ethical acts and reggae music, along with the Rastafari philosophy that underpins it, which speaks of resistance to social injustice, of ethical values and the kind of society people seek to achieve. It will appeal to a cross-disciplinary audience of scholars in Bakhtin studies; discourse analysis; popular cultural studies; the literary analysis of popular music and lyrics, and those with an interest in the culture and politics of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific region.

Table of Contents

1. Constructing an encounter between Mikhail Bakhtin and the New Zealand band Herbs

2. Message music and meaning

3. Mikhail Bakhtin: dialogism, discourse, and ethics

4. The social, political, and cultural context

5. Politics, protest, and resistance in Herbs’ What’s Be Happen?

6. Narratives of experience and identity

7. Taking sides: Herbs’ album cover

8. Coda

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Elizabeth Turner is an independent researcher and academic affiliated to Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.


"The book presents an argument clearly demonstrating how music has seriously impacted New Zealand on a political and social level. Dr Turner broadens the use of Bakhtin’s theory of ‘Dialogism’, originally created for literary analysis, to effectively investigate the historical and cultural significance of the music group Herbs’ first album What’s Be Happen? The Herbs are described as the 'vanguard of Pacific Reggae' by AudioCulture — the online encyclopedia of New Zealand popular music. Dr Turner’s analysis of their first album, which was highly political, draws attention to the impact the album has had on New Zealand at that time and since. It also explores the influence the band and this album has had in forming a music genre that has become internationally recognised."

Keith McEwing, Secretary, Music Advisory Committee, The Lilburn Trust

"Elizabeth Turner skilfully blends an informative study of reggae in Aotearoa New Zealand with a detailed conceptual analysis drawing ​on the ideas of cultural theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. Focusing on the band, the Herbs, the book chronicles and interprets a significant era in New Zealand popular music history through an engaging critical lens."

Professor Henry Johnson, University of Otago, New Zealand 

"Turner's scintillating reading of Aotearoa New Zealand band Herbs' 1981 reggae album What's Be Happen as staging a complex web of dialogic relations to challenge colonialism's legacy of racism, social exclusion, land loss and cultural dislocation - in Aotearoa New Zealand and elsewhere - highlights the continuing relevance of Bakhtin's work for thinking practices of resistance by marginalized communities and for affirming the transformative power of popular culture."

Professor Esther Peeren, Professor of Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam

"In terms of its treatment of Bakhtin's work alone, this book is a treasure bringing to the fore Turner's deep and erudite understanding of key Bakhtinian concepts and theories. The main, and highly significant, contribution of Turner's book is its highly compelling account of Herbs' classic 1981 album 'What's Be Happen'. Beautifully written with detailed insights concerning both the historical context and ongoing legacy of this landmark recording, The Discourse of Protest, Resistance and Social Commentary in Reggae Music will be essential reading for both popular music scholars and general readers with an interest in reggae and its trans-local evolution as a medium of protest."

Professor Andy Bennett, Professor of Cultural Sociology, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia