The first sign you see when spotting a miraa base (khat) in Meru is a wilting frond of banana leaves hanging off a tin shack and almost always the easy beats of roots reggae music bumping to the tune of chewing mouths.
Reggae, the musical genre popularised by Jamaican musicians of African descent with relatable themes of poverty, struggles, peace and justice has become something akin to an anthem in Meru because of the many miraa bases, making it the town’s most popular music.
Its slow jerky rhythm, its militant and spiritual lyrics as well as the rebellious appearance of its singers, among others, have influenced musical genres, cultures and societies throughout the world, contributing to the development of new counterculture movements.
But in Meru, the reggae is the best choice for chewing khat because it’s slow tempo controls the rhythm of chewing Miraa hence the good time while enjoying the crop.
The slow tempo of Reggae’s softer and simpler beats, which enhances relaxation is believed to bring calmness and eliminate tiredness for Jabba lovers.
It also believed that when chewing miraa there is peace, which goes hand in hand with reggae that often carries the message of peace love and unity. And as the miraa stimulant enhances meditation (what ever that means), reggae becomes an automatic catalyst that escalates the “building of castles in the air.’’
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Miraa or “khat” as it is most commonly known in Kenya is grown intensively in the Nyambene Hills district of Kenya by the Tigania and Igembe sub-groups of the Ameru.
It is of prime economic importance for the region, and Nyambene-grown miraa feeds a growing international and national market.
While it is a controversial substance, condemned as a ‘drug’ by many, Tigania and Igembe have much pride in the twig, emphasising not just its economic role but also its place in Nyambene traditions.
Miraa, is linked to their heritage, helping forge an identity as young, modern and Meru and with it the local music preferences that has made reggae one of the most popular genres in Meru.