Since Colorado legalized marijuana back in 2014, the music and arts scene has expanded, yet neither reggae nor the Rastafarian faith have seen much of an uptick in relevance. Until now.
The Colorado House of Rastafari, a nonprofit and members-only church opening in Denver on January 6, aims to change people’s experiences and perceptions about the role cannabis can play in their lives with live music, food and more.
The main purpose of the CHOR is “to organize, centralize and come as one; a place for like-minded ones to come together and celebrate the culture of Rastafari,” says Sean Bookman, the group's president. "The creed of Rastafari is let the hungry be fed, the naked be clothed, the sick nourished, the aged protected and the infants cared for. So the CHOR is a place where the community can gather, strengthen each other, be a resource center for the community, and also do outreach programs here locally to help the less fortunate — as well as doing things in Ethiopia and Africa, which is the spiritual home of the Rastafari movement.
“Rastafari includes the way that we worship the Most High through Nyabinghi chanting, praying and psalms,” Bookman adds. “Nyabinghi is the spiritual tradition and practice of the Rastafari movement, stemming from the elements of the drums: the thunder, the lightning, the heartbeat of creation. And then we chant in a repetitive form where the whole congregation can rise up their voices and chant. Musically, this place is where we gather each and every Sunday for the Denver Dub Club, where we feature the culture of sound-system reggae music and different artists and musicians. We have a lot of great talent right here in Colorado.
“This is a place, too, where we can express our freedom, our sacramental right," he says. "The world knows that not every Rasta smokes herb, but it’s something that we use for medicinal and spiritual purposes, so this is a safe haven for people to come to be members of the church, where they can express their sacramental right and medicate, and also for their spiritual upliftment — a safe place for people, a place for enlightenment, a place for reasoning.”
But the CHOR is not only for religious practice, Bookman emphasizes. Yes, he says, “the time is now” for the community to “gather under a roof in our space with our own vibration,” but the vision embraces “not just people that are Rastafari, but people who enjoy the culture, the music, the food.”
Traditional food, called ital (rhymes with vital), “is a natural food, so Rastafari people like to eat closer to the Earth, a vegetarian — we don’t say diet — but livity,” Bookman explains. “So we cook food that’s nourishing for the community, that’s affordable.”
All of these different elements are coalescing around the January 6 grand-opening event, a Melkam Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) Celebration, which will include traditional Nyabinghi chanting, drumming, and Ises (praises) to open up the church.
Bookman says that following the “opening prayers, then we’ll light it up on the sound system, chef Tafari will be serving wonderful food, and members will have access to sacrament as well. And we just look for it to be a wonderful occasion and a joyous start to great works to come in the future.”
Chef Tafari — from Saint Ann’s, Jamaica — is behind the catering outfit Jamaica House; beyond serving a vegan brunch as part of the event, his food will be available Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 8 p.m.
A practicing member of the church, he notes that “Rastafari is a lifestyle, complete. It’s a livity; a lot of people are connected to it for different reasons, some people because of the diet. But that’s just the connection...because once they understand the whole thing, it’s a philosophy. It’s knowledge. This is what they’re really connected to: origins. Rasta is the original man. It’s important to me personally; it’s the most important thing to Jamaica in a long time.”
Denver Dub Club, inspired by similar events in Kingston, Los Angeles and elsewhere, will take place every Sunday from noon to 4:20 p.m. Music will be performed live by selectors (DJs) and vocalists (MCs, singers and toasters).
“People can dance and get exercise and feel the spirit, and also hear very conscious music and conscious lyrics,” Bookman says. “We represent roots and culture and very spiritually minded lyrics. To uplift people’s minds, bodies and souls — that’s what it’s about, the Denver Dub Club.”
The January 6 lineup, on the Pomegranate Hi Fi sound system, includes selectors Bloodpreshah and Infrared International Sound. I will play a set as The Groove Thief. Singers Harry Mo, RasMoses, Logan Lavalley, Empress Makeda, Fiyahchief and Siriana T will also perform.
The CHOR is located at 33rd Avenue and Holly Street, in Northeast Park Hill.
“Our location is historic, near Martin Luther King Park and Axum Park, which is a food desert, as well,” Bookman notes. “So we want to bring a very positive uplifting center for people, where they can access good healthy food and, if they need it, medicine. When I say medicine, I mean cannabis, sacrament. And we’ll also be offering yoga programs, massage, meditation, wisdom schools, Sabbath gatherings — basically, a place where people can come, have a sanctuary, feel at peace, feel at home.
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“To come into the sacramental sanctuary, people will need to become members,” Bookman says. That will cost $4.20 for a daily membership and $10 per month; there will also be a lifetime option.
“These will include access to the sanctuary, our events, the food that we serve to the membership base, and our different programs like yoga and healing arts,” Bookman says. “Part of the membership dues go to our charitable and outreach programs.”
Colorado is “a very popular place," Bookman notes. "A lot of people are moving here; we have a lot of different cultures. Aurora is the most diverse place in America, so we want to work with the vast communities here, just do good and share our love with people around here.”
Colorado House of Rastafari Grand Opening Celebration, Melkam Genna Celebration and Denver Dub Club, 12 to 4:20 p.m. Sunday, January 6, Colorado House of Rastafari, 5564 East 33rd Street. For more information, call 720-556-2020.