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Ras Iley: true Rastafarian


Ras Iley: true Rastafarian

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DARCY SMALL is a bona fide Rastafarian. Known in the music industry as Ras Iley, he was led to Rastafari in the late 1970s by the powerful messages in the reggae music of Burning Spear, Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh, as well as the life and work of Marcus Garvey.

And it has been years of committment to this way of life.

He recalled when he was a youngster attending the Lodge Secondary School, Rastafarians got ridiculed for their religion. It was during the time when Marcus Garvey’s Repatriation to Africa philosophy was rampant in the region.

“In the 1980s you could not wear dreads at school. I remember going to school at Lodge I used to brush back my hair. I had one lock and I would put red, gold and green beads on it, and every time the head master saw me he would pressure me and pressure me.

“I used to come with my rebellious way because I was trying to tell the system that I have a right as Ras to come into school the same way the Indian girls wore pants as their religious right.

“Every day going to school I had to actually hide my lock behind my ear. At that time I used it as a symbol, being involved in the Rastafari movement at a young age.

“So I am proud to have lived to see the day that Rastafarian children can go to school with a tam and be accepted in the school as part of their religious right.”

Iley said he believes the negativity toward the Rasta movement came from people not wanting to accept their African heritage movement at a young age.

“Because of the stigma on Rastafari, we did not reach the stage where we wanted to accept something that originated in the Caribbean which we fought down greatly. Sometimes if you ask Bajans, they do not want to recognise that they have an African bloodline in them.

“Living as a Rasta you accept The Black King (Haile Selassie I). So in general you have to deal with people who are afraid of their blackness.”

The calypso veteran said he thinks people wear dreadlocks because of the strong character it portrays.

“When I see certain things like people with their saloon dreads I does laugh. In one breath it is still good to see people confidently wanting to wear locks. But it is only because they realise it carries a powerful aura. They just want the dreads to have the lion look but do not want to live the life as a Rastafarian,” he reasoned.

“I finished school in 1983, which was the first year I dread up. Rastafarian is a form of commitment to the Rastafari movement. It is a discipline,” he asserts.

When Iley is on stage the crowd anticipates he would take off his tam. People love to see the diminutive Rasta man – the self-dubbed Mr Energy, the winner of the 1986 Tune Of The Crop – Spring Garden On Fire – drag off his tam and shake his natties in all their glory. Iley said the locks are his iconic feature and he enjoys the reaction he receives from the crowd when he shows his eight feet long dreads.

“Remembering when the hairstyle that they fight I down for in the 1970s and the 1980s, and the harassment Rasta used to get from police and society, makes me wear my locks with a sense of pride when I am on stage. People like to see my performance because they know I am going to back my tam and every time they see me it is like the locks getting longer.

“There were times when I lost five and six inches off my hair because I literally stepped on them and when I step sudden, they pop off.”

Iley is now accustomed to the weight of his hair, especially when it’s wet.

“When the water gets into the locks the weight becomes so heavy I cannot move my neck sudden, everything has to be orchestrated to move,” he recounted.

It takes a full day for Iley’s locks to dry completely, but points out that he dries his scalp dry, dabs out the excess water from the length and particularly the ends, and leaves the rest to nature. And he uses lots of natural hair products for his hair care.

“I pay a lot of attention to my hair because as an entertainer sometimes you’re performing, you go among people and you know people have this notion over the years that Rastas are unclean.

“But as far as my life is concerned, cleanliness is next to godliness and I always try to groom my hair. For to me it is a symbol of Rastafari, and I try in all ways, as a Rastaman, to make sure I always present myself clean,” he stated.

While Iley has not been in any competitions of late, he still keeps a close eye on the music inudstry.

“People do not really realise the value of the Pic-O-De-Crop competition. It is the mother of all competitions because that is what we had when Crop Over started,” said the veteran of 33-years in music.

Iley said that although many artistes sang party music, social commentary took the forefront of the festival.

“It is all well to say that you want to sing a little party music but a lot of the people that support Crop Over and also the calypso tents depend on us as commentators to deal with the issues that are happening in the country every year,” he explained.

When Iley is not playing with his Rottweiler, Sheba and her pups, the 52-year-old takes care of his exotic birds. The former long distance runner and jockey loves birds so much that he has a bird sanctuary at his Rouen Road, St Michael home.