FInal Essay

For the final summation of my project, I have selected a few songs from the artists I’ve been studying. And though it was like trying to find diamonds in a pile of gold, I have tried to find where the artist has really made a huge stamp in culture amongst all the golden work they had done. The first song i selected was “Ol’ Man River” to symbolize the defiance that gave rise to the Post-Colonial songwriting scene. In his clear, morally righteous stab, Paul Robeson was able to change the lyrics of “Ol’ Man River” to transform the image of the world-weary slave into the politically-charged Paul Robeson he would become famous for.

Robeson’s energy is one that you can find in all of the other artists i selected to represent the struggle for justice within “Babylon”, the Western influence which Bob Marley and Peter Tosh were weary of. And though Tosh’s work after The Wailers remained topical and revolutionary, Marley transcended the revolutionary status in order to write about larger ideas such as love, freedom, and in the case of “No Woman, No Cry”, solidarity in the face of poverty. This is the reason why i selected the song to represent the uplifting nature of music. From the beginning, you get a sense that its a work that represents the inner soul of Marley as the melody is simple yet striking. The rhythm stands out amongst reggae and the rest of Marley’s work, as the drums and bass seem to be in line with the standard reggae groove heard throughout the remainder of Marley’s work. But the heavy organ and strong lyrical echo given by the I-Threes give a more emotional, even gospel-like effect. The lyrics are strewn with images of “the government yard in Trenchtown” the actual place where “Georgie would make the fire light”. In essence, the song is meant to show that poverty can give way to greatness. As Marley says in the song “my feet is my only carriage, so I’ve got to push on through” which shows the struggle of the poor in Kingston in such an intimate manner. This manner is why Marley became such an international success, the ability to relate to someone as far away as Zimbabwe or LA shows that Marley’s songwriting, especially in this song, is full of the soul of the Rasta movement as well as the movements within everyone struggling in poverty, fighting for justice.

The amazing connections that Marley made with his music was ever-present in “Zimbabwe”, the next song I have selected. As a Jamaica’s musical ambassador, Marley is able to connect the struggles within Jamaica to the struggle for independence in Zimbabwe. And just as Jamaica had lowered their British flag before, Zimbabwe did the same and Marley was able to perform live in a beautiful ceremony that represented the togetherness of countries who were downtrodden by the colonial system.

            Needless to say, other points of Marley’s career are charged with active defiance against Western ideals. The embrace of their own, unique back-to-Africa culture made the Rastas poignant and vibrant in the colonial world. And the next song I’ve selected, “Get Up, Stand Up”, shows that energy. With both Marley and Tosh chanting the lyrics, encouraging people to “Stand up for your rights” against the forces of Colonialism. The most striking portion of this song is Peter Tosh’s direct approach to Babylon. He announces: “We sick an’ tired of-a your ism-skism game, Dyin’ ‘n’ goin’ to heaven in-a Jesus’ name, lord We know when we understand:
Almighty god is a living man.” This alludes to Haile Selassie, the physical manifestation of Jah (God) within Rastafarianism. The style of this song hints at the divide between Marley and Tosh, but also serves as a powerful embrace of culture.

            Marley’s last great testimony to the movement comes towards the end of his life and is marked by “Redemption Song”, a moving song that is written from the viewpoint of an African slave. The song refers to the roots behind the many movements against Colonialism in the period. Nearing the end of his life, Marley urges the listener to “have no fear for atomic energy, ‘cuz none of them can stop the time” a pale reminder that the struggle for peace, justice, and redemption can be one that seems very far away. And even in this light, Marley asks “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?” because, after all, they’re all he ever had. The beauty of this song comes with humble nature of Marley, as the listener is inspired to sing the songs of freedom, and to be mindful of the struggles that bring freedom.

            Much like the chant in “Get Up, Stand Up”, the next two songs I chose show Tosh’s radical stance in the face of Babylon, with lyrics charged with ideas similar to Marley’s, but with more emphasis on the core of justice and equality instead of larger ideas. The first is “Equal Rights”, the title track from Tosh’s 1977 album. In the song, Tosh claims that “Everyone is crying out for peace, none is crying out for justice”. This divide between ideals can seem unusual, but Tosh claims that inequality is the bedrock of bigotry in this song, as he goes on to say that “There will be no crime” if there are equal rights. These lyrics demonstrate Tosh’s idealism, that the corrupt forces of Babylon are what is making the struggles so violent, and that inequality needs to be rid of. The next song, “Apartheid”, is like “Zimbabwe” in that it relates back to Africa, like most of Rastafarian culture. This song, unlike “Zimbabwe”, is a dark realization that what is to come will not be so peaceful. Still, the song refers to the Colonial powers as those who “build up your parliament” in African countries and build “no schools for black children” and “no hospital for black people”. The power of this song is the chorus; it demonstrates Tosh’s chanted choruses that are often the soul of the song. It proclaims “We gonna fight this apartheid” and as simple as it is, it’s very empowering to those who struggled for justice in apartheid Africa.

            The inspirations of these songs are shown in Fela Kuti, Nigeria’s own politically-charged musician. The song “Colonial Mentality” goes at the heart of injustice in Nigeria, the remains of colonial idealism. Much like the Jamaican musicians, the way to real justice is an embrace of their own unique African culture. The disgust of Colonialism is shown throughout the song, a striking portion of the song is the beginning where Fela states “E be say you be colonial man You don be slave from before Dem don release you now but you never release yourself”. It stands out because it demonstrates how even the people within the black community are tricked into the system and are kept slaves within, as the Rastas would call, “Babylon”

            In conclusion, all of the artists have made clear contributions to the idea of resistance, in that Robeson stood against Red Scare mentality by embracing socialist ideals that contrasted heavily much the same way Marley and Tosh stood against the remains of Colonialism by embracing the cultures that they robbed them of. And this cultural immersion was further carried out by Fela Kuti who fought against bigotry and racial separation in the land where Colonialism was still very much alive. It all goes to show that in these times of great disorder, discrimination, and racism, there is always music to fight to with, peace to fall back on, and expression to show others that the message is an undying one.     

Though Bob Marley & The Wailers are often noted as the first ambassadors of Reggae music, it is important to take a step back to gain understanding as to what made up the backbone to the body of Reggae. In the 1960’s, after American troops had exposed Jamaicans to R&B music during World War II, many artists were inspired towards this style. Just as calypso and mento emphasized the offbeat in each 4/4 phrase, Jamaicans began applying this to R&B. The result brought a new wave of Jamaican music: ska. With independence from the British Colonies in 1962, the people of Jamaica were elated at te start of their independent country. This was celebrated by one of the first recognized ska bands, The Skatalites, in their song “Freedom Sound”. This new genre hampered artists who celebrated a newly autonomous Jamaica and who understood the plight of the common folk in working class Jamaica. Often, the musicians who performed ska wore suits to mock the upper class and were known as “rude boys” because of their ruffian style.     

This video is a great example of the efforts of Paul Robeson. His idealistic and pragmatic persona were what made him a prominent figure in both the “Red Scare” blacklistings and The Civil Rights Movement. Robeson would have likely agreed with a more DuBois-esque approach to the integration of blacks into white society. As a performer, Robeson was given the opportunity to sing in the show Showboat where he played the role of a slave. He stole the show with his main song “Old Man River”. This song contrasts the weary and deterministic nature of slaves in the south and the passive nature of a river. Along with the metaphor of time with the river, it is also there to contrast the personality of a river, ever “rolling along”. The most important notation one should take from this video is the few lyrical changes from the original. “Niggers all work on the Mississippi” was changed to a derogatory “Darkies all work on the Mississippi”. And most importantly “The Old Man I’d like to be” became “The Old Man I don’t want to be”. This reflects Robeson’s personality because he was very assertive and progressive and never passive. Even during his blacklisted period he still gave concerts over the telephone to Canada.  

Often Bob Marley is split between his years as a politically charge musician and performer and a transcendent post-colonial artist. Examples of the more radical and militant songs include “Get Up, Stand Up” and “400 years”. It is crucial to point out that this radical energy was the work of Peter Tosh. Tosh was never the face of The Wailers, so when he showed up on lead vocals (such as “400 Years” and half of “Get Up, Stand Up”) it was evident that the more political influenced side of Marley came from Tosh. He considered himself to be Bob Marley’s teacher as they grew up in West Kingston. Tosh would always create the chords and melodies to The Wailers’ early songs, and usually play a big part in the songwriting. When Tosh and another original Wailer, Bunny Wailer left The Wailers in 1974 due to unfair citations, Tosh stayed within his comfort zone and kept writing politically charged and highly Rastafarian music. In this case, Tosh is describing the pure Rastafarian lifestyle. It is important to note the references to Ital, a form of veganism in the Rastafarian faith. “I mon’ don’t, (I mon’ don’t, I mon’ don’t) eat up your fried chicken (fried chicken) not lickin’” is a good example of Ital. Tosh goes on to say that he doesn’t “Play fool’s games on Sunday” nor does he “Congregate on a Sunday”. These are more direct references to the style of worship in the Rastafarian faith. Rather than attending church on Sunday and playing fool’s games, the Rastas would have spiritual groundings in which they would be in more direct contact with Jah Rastafari. This direct connection also gives the mystical quality of Rastafarianism.    

A consummate example of an uprising made through music, Bob Marley’s Peace Concert raised a feeling of unity in a street violence filled Jamaica. The island had been divided by strongholds of two political parties, the People’s National Party (PNP) lead by Michael Manley and the Jamaican Labor Party lead by Edward Seaga. Each leader had used poverty-stricken peoples in Jamaica to combat for them, the aim of the One Love Peace Concert was to Unite the people for the benefit of all. To the song “Jammin’” Marley bursts with sayings “making the people right” by having them “unite”. Thunder clasps give an even more mystical feeling to the concert. The two get on stage and shake hands with Marley in between, saying a prayer. To think, a boy raised in the ghetto, who would have probably become another victim of street violence in the PNP and JLP struggle, having the leaders of the two parties shaking hands.