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Christina Zanfagna

Christina Zanfagna is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Santa Clara University in music and ethnic studies. She received her PhD in ethnomusicology from UCLA. Her research focuses on music’s relationship to religion, race, and geography in urban America, with an emphasis on Black sacred and popular musics. Christina has worked for non-profit organizations such as Afropop Worldwide, Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, and the Prison University Project. She is also a regularly performing flamenco dancer.

“A Lion In Zion: Snoop’s Black Americas”
Snoop announced his turn towards the Rastafarian way following a visit to Jamaica in 2012. After decades of making some of the most notorious and violent gangsta rap, he sought a new path of peace and love. “I want to go to the White House,” Snoop lamented in the documentary, Reincarnated, that chronicled his journey into Jamaica’s marijuana fields and reggae landmarks, “but what the fuck can I perform? All my songs are too hard.” Foregoing the Dogg in favor of the Lion, Snoop Lion’s pilgrimage to the heart of rasta involved a visit with Rastafarian elders, including Bunny Wailer, the only remaining member of the Wailers. Bunny, like many other Snoop fans and critics, has been critical of Snoop’s conversion from hardcore gangsta rapper to enlightened reggae singer, and eventually “excommunicated” Snoop from Rastafari (on Facebook) for “fraudulent use of Rastafari personalities and symbolism.” Bunny isn’t the first spiritual advisor Snoop has sought guidance from. Years earlier, he visited the Honorable Louis Farrakhan at his home, commenting that Farrakhan was one of the few black leaders that supported him and fellow gangsta artists. It is in this light that I would explore Snoop’s intertwined voicings of gangsta, Nation of Islam, rasta, and reggae as representative of diasporic black religious pluralism. Tracing his voice through varied musical and spiritual transformations and the audibly entangled sound worlds it assembles, I will explore themes of conversion and black liberation as they intersect with renderings of Zion, Exodus, and the Lion of Judah. While Snoop Lion’s recent reggae offerings have been widely critiqued on both their religious and aesthetic merits, his story helps us to decouple race and nation, revealing how he is both a highly localized product and expression of the LBC, but also a diasporic symbol of multiple black Americas.

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