The Permeating Rastafari Spirit: An Interview with Alan Espinoza

Alan EspinozaNo hay nada mejor que el talento, la carrera y el trabajo vayan de la mano.” — Alan Espinoza [There’s nothing better than having talent, career, and work go hand in hand.]

Alan Espinoza, 26, is affectionately known as “El Jahmin” for his Rasta-inspired store, Jahmin House, and has also penned the artistic name, “Leon Irie.” Leon is Spanish for “lion,” a symbol of the Black Jesus or Lion of Judah for Rastas, and Irie is a Jamaican word referring to a state of positivity and being at peace. This is exactly the relaxed, calm, open, and cheerful attitude that Alan exudes even when he faces discrimination against his beliefs and way of living.

In the video below, Alan speaks about what it means to be Rastafari for him and introduces his store to us. Also catch his original music, a photo montage of the Rasta spirit in his life, and some clips of him hyping up the crowd and performing at a local skateboarding event:

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Listening to the Heart

As the youngest of four siblings in a conservative family, Alan was set for a career in business administration, but it was during those very years in the transition from high school to university that he would learn to listen to his heart. In his last years of high school, Alan began listening to reggae and found that the music transmitted calmness, tranquility, and joy for him. “I didn’t understand English, but I heard the word ‘Rastafari’ a lot and it ignited something in me,” he relates. “I later listened to Gondwana, a Chilean Rastafari band, and their lyrics of peace, love, respect, Marcus Garvey, Haile Selassie, and Rastas caught my attention.”

He soon met other Rastafaris in Huancayo who had already been part of the movement. They taught him about the Rastafari culture and about distancing from the libertine life. “I left my studies in business administration because I felt I was one more servant of the system,” he explains. “My heart asked me to find my true self.” And through Rastafarianism, he found a new direction in life that involves all that he loves: his Rasta spirit, music, art, and entrepreneurialism. Not only would he open the first Rastafari cultural store in Huancayo, but he would also start a band with his Rasta brothers, blending reggae with other rhythms of Latin America, and support the marketing of both endeavors with studies in art and graphic design.

Jahmin House Huancayo

Rastafarianism in Peru and to Leon Irie

“Rastafarianism is a way of living,” Alan tells me. “It’s about the Bible, the scriptures, salvation, repatriation, and finding your roots and where you need to go in body or spirit, physically or spiritually.” Although Alan lives the life of a stereotypical Rasta listening to and singing reggae music, sporting dreadlocks, and smoking ganja, he makes sure to clarify that these are ways to express the Rastafari culture but are neither necessary to the philosophy nor practiced by all Rastas.

“Reggae is popular music from Jamaica and Rastas propagated their culture through it. It was a form of communication and this is how it arrived in other countries like Peru. In Leviticus, God told Moses that he should let his hair grow as a pact with God and this is where dreadlocks come from. As for marijuana, Rastas consider it ‘the sacred herb’ mentioned in the Bible. You need to have an open mind and smoke marijuana securely to assimilate it well physically and spiritually.”

Unfortunately, Peru hasn’t been so welcoming to his beliefs. “Peru has a closed mind,” Alan comments. “Even if you’re good at something, what you look like is more important.” Some people have come right out and told him to cut his hair if he wanted to work for them. In fact, when hanging out with some Rasta friends once, a police officer told them to split up and leave just because of the way they looked. “It’s a lack of respect for human rights,” he states. “As Rastas, we believe that the beast or 666 is the Catholic Church, the Vatican, and the Pope who control governments and armed forces. People in the ‘system’ work for them unconsciously.”

In his search for understanding, Alan opened his store, Jahmin House, which sells Rasta-themed clothing, accessories, and items. He also sells his own line of clothing branded “Afrikan Roots,” in reference to the Rasta belief that Africa is the origin of humanity. “I’ve been painting since I was a child and now paint clothes and sneakers,” Alan says. “Not only have I been able to express my artistic side, but a lot of people have also come to know Rastafarianism through my store.” In the future, he hopes to take Jahmin House to the national level and eventually study communications to supplement his certificate in arts and graphic design for advertising.

Afrikan Roots Peru

Expressing the Rasta Spirit in Huancayo

“In 2005, I put a group of the brothers together and found that they all had musical talents,” Alan recounts as he begins the tale of the Black Family R7. He describes the meaning behind the name of his group: “Black because we’re black in essence, even if not by skin, family because we grow together, “R” in reference to Rastafari, respect, and revolution, and seven for the perfect number of God.” The Black Family R7 has a distinct sound and style because they mix genres like salsa with their base of reggae, rap, and hip hop. It wasn’t easy to get started because some rappers felt threatened by Rastas rapping. “They’d put us at the end of the show or shut off our music while we were singing,” he remembers. “But the struggle only motivated us even more and we kept on singing.”

Soon, the Black Family R7 became more than just a musical group. They hosted full-on shows, presentations, events, and festivals as the crew grew to 15 people with varying talents, such as breakdancing, beatboxing, juggling, bicycle tricks, and urban art. “We garnered the support of the government for a while,” Alan says proudly. “Through them, we were able to achieve much more.” As they gained fame and popularity, the Black Family R7 were even invited to present in other places within the country. “The only thing that frustrates us is that we don’t have a CD recorded yet and we have around 100 songs,” he says. “We don’t want this to stay in the closet.” They now expect to have their CD out by the end of the year with the help of a Rasta brother from Bum Dem Records. “I also dream of R7 becoming well known internationally,” Alan mentions. “As a teen, my dream was to have a rock band or be a football player. I won’t be able to be a football player, but I may be able to go far with a musical group.”

This interview was conducted in August 2011, the sixth anniversary month of his store. Visit Alan at Jahmin House, store S-04 at Centro Comercial Consticución in the semi-basement.

How have your religious and spiritual beliefs influenced your career? Tell us in the comments below!

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22 Comments

  1. Posted October 22, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Good for Alan Espinoza! He went for his passion and what was in his heart. Truly an upcoming entrepreneur. Thank you Samantha for sharing his story and the video was a great way to see and hear him.

    And Peru doesn’t really sound any different than the U.S. We still have the community pressures of what you should look like to get a job, hence, cut your hair! Or if you are a younger boy hanging around a corner at dusk, the police may approach you and ask what is going on. I’m just happy to hear he had a dream and he is working towards seeing it all the way through! Congrats Alan and happy anniversary!

    • Posted October 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      You’re so right, Lynn! There’s still a lot of discrimination in North America even when there shouldn’t be. I often wonder if it’s just more subtle there. =P

  2. Posted October 22, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Another amazing person brought to light Samantha. I had not understood a lot about living as a Rastafarian before so thanks of the education. Reggae has always been a moving music and now i know why.

  3. sangeng wong
    Posted October 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Samantha, a most interesting question. Sense of rightness, fairness, giving the benefit of doubt to others and other qualities are essential values which need to be fully developed and realised/manisfested in the path of spiritual development. In my career as an accountant and later as a lawyer, fairness in charging legal fees, acting responsibly and professionally in discharging my duties and following through till the end (and not giving up half way) are qualities which are part innate and part gained from readings/learnings from wise teachers/scriptures which I cherished and keep on realising and manifesting.
    Once certain values have been internalised, i.e having truly felt and identified with and committed to memory, then the realisation of which becomes simple.

    • Posted October 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      I love how you describe them as values that we can develop, Sang Eng. I think it’s something that is part of every parent’s role — the instill these values in their children. At the same time, in your personal example, we can all learn from and change from mentors and self-education as well. Thank you so much for sharing your personal story. You are a mentor to me too!

  4. Posted October 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    One can only imagine how you meet such a varied population, Samantha. Your city is smaller than the population of Washington, DC. I travel this area often- with my eyes wide open, and rarely meet the diversity you bring to us each day.
    Thanks for sharing these people with us and helping us discern more about the world about us.

    • Posted October 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Haha! Aww, what an amazing compliment, Roy! I do try to keep my eyes wide open! =)

  5. Jocelyn
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Hi Samantha! What a great way for you to share and tell a story about Alan. You’re such a great writer and you it’s as if I was there while I was reading it. Kudos to you and Alan for following his passion.

    Have you heard of Triberr?

    • Posted October 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      Wow! I really appreciate your positive feedback, Jocelyn! =) Actually yes, I’m already on Triberr! Thanks so much for asking though! =)

  6. Posted October 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    This is a wonderful story about a young man who is following his heart. Thank you, Samantha!

    • Posted October 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      You’re so welcome, Janette! =) I love stories of others who follow their hearts too. =)

  7. Posted October 27, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    This was a great read Samantha. I had no idea what Rastafarians thought of the Catholic church!

  8. Posted October 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    What a fascinating guy! I knew about Rastafarians, but never understood much about what it meant. This was so intriguing. You have interesting people all around you! Oh, I know we all do, but yours are so very different from mine. It makes for some great reading and learning. Thanks, Samantha! :D

    • Posted October 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      Same here, Paula! I’m so glad I could shed light for you too! Haha! I know what you mean! I’ve been meeting the most amazing people here and I just have to share their stories! =)

  9. Posted October 29, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    What an interesting post Sam! I have to admit that I didn’t know about Rastafarians, so thanks for enlightening me!
    I have come to the conclusion that it is i;portent to be passionate about something, and what I like about Alan is that he lives for his passion. You can’t go wrong with such an attitude!

    • Posted November 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      You’re so welcome, Muriel! It was certainly a learning experience for me too! =)

      I love that we’re all now more in line with our passions. =)

  10. Posted November 1, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Samantha, I can see why you would write about Alan and his Rastafarian music and beliefs. Sounds like Rastafarianism is a mixture of Old Testament and early Christian, African, Caribbean beliefs with (in this case) some Latino influence. People like Alan add color and interest to our lives and it’s a pity that they should be criticized or ostracized for what they believe in or look like. The important thing about Alan is not his beliefs or appearance, but what he is trying to achieve with his music and Black Family R7. The best of luck to him/his group.

    • Posted November 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Yeah! I was surprised about all the possible influences to Rastafarianism and about how much it was actually a religion in terms of traditions, beliefs, and rituals. As Janine reminds us, I love the “beauty of our differences.” =)

  11. Abe
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    It is all a matter of Balance. Balance between our home, carreer and sprituality create a huge effect on our carreer. But I am certain that our carreers are effected in a more possitive way if we as individuals practice our spiritual beliefs, not just say we believe. In doing so we learn tolorance, compassion, open mindedness and respect for others. Humblings us in a way the we place ourselves on an equale plane with everyone we come in contact with. These four charicter when excersised within the work place can serve as a bridge of trust between you and your co-workers or subordanents. Excersising your spirituality of who you are will become a moral building tool for all the people you may have influence over.
    Great Post Samantha!!!!

    • Posted November 5, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

      I love how you lay out those four characteristics, Abe! Those qualities mean a lot to me too and I imagine they’re exactly what underlie positive community/society building. I also wholeheartedly agree that spirituality plays a much stronger role in our lives and careers than many may think. It’s truly about living as we believe and not just saying it!

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