Marijuana Amplified the Musical Experience Centuries Before Woodstock

Have a marijuana!

From humanity’s earliest musical notes, fans who followed the sound have shared in an ancient musical tradition handed down for centuries: smoking cannabis!

Smoking hashish from a waterpipe at a music festival held during Ramadan in Egypt. 1865

Long before the drug-fueled festivals of the 1960s guided the modern public’s perception of drug consumption at concerts, music fans around the world have unknowingly shared in an ancient tradition. The ritual of smoking cannabis has not only changed the way music is heard. but also the way it is played.

Ancient remnants of this musical ritual can be found in some of the most remote cultures in the world. In South Africa, tribes including the Zulu and Basotho incorporated “dagga,” or cannabis, smoking into their musical traditions. As the tribesmen gathered to sing traditional folk songs, cannabis began to blaze as the first musical notes began to ring out over the thick, still smoke.

According to the Basotho Cannabis Smoking song, recorded in C.J. Bourhill’s report from 1913, called “The smoking of dagga (Indian hemp) among the native races of South Africa and the resultant evils,” the Basotho smoked cannabis in these musical meetings to “remember.”

The dancing Nautch girls of northern India have indulged in hash for centuries, smoked from elaborate water pipes while enjoying their own traveling assortment of musicians. As the pleasurable smoke washed over, the pulse of the music would prove too much as the girls sprung to action — rhythmically dancing in their own world for an entranced crowd.

Nearly 100 years ago in Greece, a huddled audience would sit in a smoke filled backroom of a “tekke” (hashish coffee house) smoking water pipes full of hashish listening to the melodic rhythm of rebetiko music. Cannabis would be so influential to early Greek music that it would eventually play a large role in creating a subculture of those who followed the bands, the Mangas.

In America, jazz changed the way the public viewed how music should be fully appreciated. In “Really the Blues,” Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow explained why cannabis had such a large influence on both jazz musicians and the audience who listened: “Tea puts a musician in a real masterly sphere, and that’s why so many jazzmen have used it,” adding that for both the musician and audience “you hear everything at once and you hear it right.”

And as Louis Armstrong tells it, the musicians themselves often prefer playing to a elevated crowd. As written in “The Louis Armstrong Story 1900-1971” by Max Jones, Armstrong, a legendary toker himself, believed a stoned audience brought a warmth to his performance once fondly recalling “One reason we appreciated pot, as y’all calls it now, was the warmth it always brought forth from the other person, especially the ones that lit up a good stick of that shuzzit or gage.”

Group of Nautch Girls listening to Musicians’ Kashmir, India 1870s

If you’re looking to enhance your next musical experience, tap into one of humanity’s ancient traditions: have a marijuana and enjoy the music!

Music fans seek shelter is a grass hut at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in Bethel, New York, Aug. 17, 1969. Sign above reads “Have a Marijuana.” (AP Photo)

Music fans seek shelter is a grass hut at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. Sign above reads “Have a Marijuana”. Bethel, New York, Aug. 17, 1969

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