Reggae music was extremely popular among the first waves of Ethiopian immigrants to the United States. This is the music that a generation of these immigrants first heard in their homeland, when the Black Caribbean looked to Ethiopia’s Empire as a symbol of freedom in the 1930s. Reggae became a legendary and sometimes actually beneficial memory from Ethiopian immigrants’ homeland as they began to migrate to the United States in the 1970s. Reggae’s layers of musical and global identity are part of the Ethiopian immigrant experience as a whole. Reggae, in my opinion, was adopted by Ethiopians and other African immigrants as a coping technique and a conduit for their new experiences of American racism. Reggae and Rastafarianism’s borrowed ideologies gave a less hierarchical and more free interpretation of personal identity than the old highland Ethiopian identity, which tended to be defined more by who you weren’t (non-Orthodox Christian and/or non-Semitic ethnicity). Beyond the philosophical underpinnings, the music spoke to Ethiopians living in Western cities. It fostered a global Black communal spirit, which served to alleviate separation anxiety for family members, friends, and cultural practices left behind in Ethiopia as a result of governmental or ethnic oppression.
Songs reflected Black American political ideas and provided a framework for Ethiopian immigrants to advocate for their families in everyday life in the United States.