Bob Marley Wikipedia

Bob Marley Wikipedia

Today marks the anniversary of Bob Marley’s passing away.    Marley passed away on May 11th, 1981.

There is a classic commercial for the Jamaican beer Red Stripe that ends with the memorable line:  “Red Stripe and Reggae, helping our white friends dance for 70 years.”

Walk into most college scenes, and Reggae is as much a part of the American party scene as mainstream friendly hip-hop, equally devoid of any political content .

College kids+beer+reggae=instant party.

But if our familiarity with Reggae doesn’t extend past Bob Marley’s Legend albums (admittedly, one of the coolest albums ever), and we can only sing a few lines from “Buffalo Soldier” and humming along to “Let’s get together and feel all right”, we’re missing out on a whole world of Reggae worth exploring.

One could move on Peter Tosh.   Echoing the way that many 60’s radicals, including the later Dr. King, became disenchanted with the empty rhetoric of “peace”, Tosh sings:

“Everyone is crying out for peace,
none is crying out for justice.
I don’t want no peace,
I need equal rights and justice.”

 Tosh saw this reggae message as a global struggle against colonialism and imperialism:

Everyone is fighting for equal rights and justice
Palestinians are fighting for equal rights and justice
Down in Angola, equal rights and justice
Down in Botswana, equal rights and justice
Down in Zimbabwe, equal rights and justice
Down in Rhodesia, equal rights and justice

Peter Tosh correctly recognized that his own struggles were linked to the anti-colonial struggles of Palestinians and Africans.

Emperor Selassie wikipedia

Emperor Selassie wikipedia

But there is no reason to move past Bob Marley himself.    Marley’s Rastafarianism was already wed to radical anti-colonial politics.    In memory of Bob Marley, the prophet of linking together music, protest, revolution, love, and redemption, here is his radically powerful song, “war.”  Marley’s song was almost a verbatim reiteration of the powerful speech given by Haile Selassie I before the League of Nations in 1963:

Bob Marley, “War”

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another
Inferior
Is finally
And permanently
Discredited
And abandoned –
Everywhere is war –
Me say war.

 That until there no longer
First class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the color of a man’s skin
Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes –
Me say war. 

That until the basic human rights
Are equally guaranteed to all,
Without regard to race –
Dis a war. 

That until that day
The dream of lasting peace,
World citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued,
But never attained –
Now everywhere is war – war.

 And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes
That hold our brothers in Angola,
In Mozambique,
South Africa
Sub-human bondage
Have been toppled,
Utterly destroyed –
Well, everywhere is war –
Me say war.

War in the east,
War in the west,
War up north,
War down south –
War – war –
Rumors of war.

And until that day,
The African continent
Will not know peace,
We Africans will fight – we find it necessary –
And we know we shall win
As we are confident
In the victory
Of good over evil –
Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil –
Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil –
Good over evil, yeah!

If you haven’t seen Marley perform this song, here is one option and another here .

Bob Marley official site

Bob Marley official site

Let’s give Marley the last word here as well:

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds….

How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?

Reggae is at its most revolutionary force when it is prophetic, emancipatory, raw, justice-oriented, anti-colonial, imbued with love and life-affirming.
And very much like Hip-Hop in this case, what a tragedy to see such powerful prophetic medium commercialized to enable awful, awful drunken dancing.

Happy Redemption, O Holy Bob.

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