Trending: Does Smoking Ganja Lead to Better Performance?
Ali G — a British comedian — sporting dreadlocks and smoking ganja approaches the police commissioner and asks, “Yeh man, Mr Officer, is it really a crime to smoke herb on the streets?”
The commissioner politely replies, “Yes, it is a crime unless you have permission to use it for medicinal purposes, in which case you have to produce a doctor’s prescription to that effect.”
“Ah, come on officer! I and I is a rastaman and Rasta is a religion which allows us to smoke ganja so that we get high and wiser and get closer to Jah, seen! Are you suggesting that I and I haffe go against my religion? Besides, I and I am wearing dreadlocks and I and I even have a massive collection of Bob Marley’s CDs. Isn’t that reason enough to smoke weed and feel irie?” Ali G retorted.
The commissioner, who took this comedian seriously, insisted that the smoking of marijuana was a serious offence and that Ali G risked being arrested for smoking it in public.
A question I have often asked my musician friends is, “Does smoking ganja really make the musician more creative?”
I have never smoked even a cigarette in my life. So don’t look up to me to give you the answer to the question I have just asked.
In case you are not familiar with the word ganja, let me start off by explaining what it is. The word “ganja”, as many youths think, did not come from Jamaica and although ganja itself is used by many rastas, “ganja” is not a Rastafarian word. The word actually comes from the word “ganges”, referring to the Ganges River, which is a river in India where Cannabis Indica grew naturally. The Indians started using this cannabis medicinally and it eventually spread to other parts of the world where it was used as a recreational drug by those who wanted to get high.
Let me also introduce you to other words which are used interchangeably with the word ganja. These are herb, dope, marijuana, weed, gage, mbanje, dagga, spliff, sensimillia, joint, grass, cola, skunk, reefer, tea, locoweed, callyweed, narcotics and gonamombe. Take your pick.
Cultures over the years have given different names for the plant for different reasons. Why are there so many different names for one thing? Some theorists have expounded that the different name tags have been given in order to delude the police about the recreational use of this substance, which is deemed illegal in many countries.
Musicians have often cited marijuana as key to their creative process. The first musician to make his marijuana use public was the grinning, gravel-voiced Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, the jazz maestro from New Orleans whose world famous hit What A Wonderful World is still blowing our minds on airwaves today. He wrote in his autobiography that ganja or “gage”, as he referred to it, was “a thousand times better than whiskey … it’s an assistant — a friend”. More than half a century later, Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson, the man responsible for writing The Rolling Stones’ second most important album echoed Armstrong’s notion of marijuana being an “assistant”: “Marijuana helped me write those songs,” he said in an interview with the Melody Maker.
There is no need to labour on Rastafarian beliefs. A lot of reggae musicians in Jamaica do smoke weed perfunctorily. They see that as a way of getting inspiration before a performance. I remember getting into trouble with Peter Tosh after I had seen him inhaling and puffing away smoke from his thick spliff. I said, “Why do you smoke it? Don’t you know that ganja is the cause of cancer and you might succumb to lung-cancer if you continue to smoke it?” He replied, “Is where you hear dat? Dis ya ting makes you wiser, seen! Babylon ban it because dem don’t want the black man to get wiser dan dem. Besides, ganja is the only cure for asthma, you overstand?” He got livid when I asked him if he was suffering from asthma to justify his smoking weed. “Buoy, if you keep aksing this kind of raatid foolishness question, it’s blood, you know!” That shut me up.
The symbiotic relationship between ganja and roots reggae helped to clear a psychological space for the flourishing of Jamaica’s brand of cultural nationalism. Its significance to Jamaican culture transcended both this and its function as a religious sacrament for rastas. As rasta-influenced reggae musicians extolled the virtues of ganja to the international audience, which included Zimbabwe. Ganja became an acceptable catalyst to music performances by youths the world over. Jamaica, roots reggae, and ganja essentially became interchangeable advertisements for each other, with the latter rivaling legal Jamaican exports such as bauxite, sugarcane, and bananas. Despite the religious rhetoric then, a deeper reason for the sacralisation of ganja in Jamaica might be the huge economic benefit it brings to the island.
Romanticised by reggae and a sacrament in the island’s Rastafarian religious sect, the use of ganja is widespread though illegal in Jamaica. A Jamaican narcotics squad patrols warehouses, sabotages clandestine airstrips, and intimidates growers, and the Jamaican government has sponsored helicopter flights over parts of the island to burn ganja fields. Yet these campaigns from a Jamaican government pressured by US politicians are not appreciated by the majority of Jamaicans; a recent poll indicated that 62% of all Jamaicans opposed the curtailment of marijuana exportation to the United States, in part because of so many benefits from it. In 1983, John Holt in protest sang, “Police In Helicopter, Searching Fi Marijuana. If you Continue to Burn Up Me Herb, Me Gonna Burn Up Your Canefield! We no Trouble Your Banana, We no Trouble Your Corn. So Why You Trouble Our Ganja?”
As a result of the situation, some have suggested that the connection between reggae and ganja may represent the most complex “drug-music nexus” in the sphere of global popular music. But what has been less documented is the role of ganja in the sonic transformation of Jamaican music in the 1970s. In the 1970s, during the peak of Bob Marley’s career, ganja was an important catalyst in the sound of dub music. For example, some musicians claim a correlation between the sound of the music produced in different recording studios, and various producers’ willingness or reluctance to let musicians smoke ganja in their studios. Similar to the case of psychedelic rock music of the 1960s, mind-altering substances were a catalyst in the expansion of Jamaica’s sonic imagination in the 1970s, inspiring musicians and engineers to expand their conception of the capabilities of their equipment. With that in mind, should ganja smoking be legalised in Zimbabwe?
Does Smoking Ganja Lead to Better Performance?
Despite the Jamaican influence, Zimbabwe’s top musicians such as Winky D, Jah Prayzah, and Oliver Mtukudzi do not smoke mbanje. If they can go on stage without the influence of ganja and make it to the top, why do the lesser musicians see ganja as a catalyst to their performances? Like I said at the beginning, I do not have answers to these questions as I have no experience of smoking marijuana.
In my own conclusions, not all musicians smoke weed before they go on live performance.