On Bob Marley and Reggae Music: Letter to DJ Fireman

I salute you my brother,

I have never met you in person but I have followed your activities through social media and I respect your consistency in your adherence to the original reggae genre and your outspokenness in terms of social justice as well as your condemnation of deviant musical genres that seek to degenerate and demean our youths like the despicable  “passa passa” among other sordid trends of our confused times. For this and your bravery in speaking the truth I salute you General Dimbaa Jarju AKA DJ Fireman.

My purpose of addressing this missive to you is to congratulate you and all lovers of Reggae music on the decision of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to include reggae music in the  “list of international cultural treasures which the United Nations has deemed worthy of protecting and promoting.”

Bless up bro and fire born all destructive music genres and evil forces that seek to corrupt our youths!

On the advent of this momentous occasion for Reggae, I thought I should share with you some reflections I once penned down about the music of the one guy we might as well call the chief priest of Reggae, the legendary Robert Nesta Marley. Below is an excerpt from an essay I did, as published in the May 12, 2014 edition of the Standard Newspaper titled, “Natural mystic: The genius of Bob Marley”

Among the finalists was the legendary Bob Marley, but he had played all of his hit tracks and needed one more song to break the tie to win the royal prize to be presented by Her Majesty the Queen herself. When the gong sounded Bob scratched his head and there was no song popping out. He turned around looking at the “I Threes” but the look in their eyes was not promising. Then he looked at Carlton Barret; the master percussionist nodded and the halls of Buckingham Palace reverberated with the sound of his drums. The sound oozed out of every musical instrument in the band. Bob was mute for an unusually long moment and then the verses flowed:

There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air;

If you listen carefully now you will hear.

This could be the first trumpet, might as well be the last…

If you listen carefully to this song you will see that the instrumentals go on a little bit longer than usual before Bob’s voice comes in. The explanation is in the narration above. There was no song written for it but when Carlton Barret and the band hit the notes and Bob knowing he would lose the majestic prize if he didn’t sing, he got inspired and the lyrics flowed through…

I have been studying the genius that is Bob Marley for a long time trying to establish the secret source of his brilliance. And in this process of studying his music, he has very often given me inspiration when I needed it most. There is this song of his where he chants:

We got something they could never take away:

And it’s the fire (fire), it’s the fire (fire)

That’s burning down everything…

I have played this song hundreds of times just to get that single verse to inundate my mind. For me the fire in that verse represents inspiration and its indispensability to success in any field. And I get inspired further when Bob sings that our enemies can take everything from us but the fire burning within. This is why I have said that even if I am banished to the Kalahari Desert alone I will live a happy and successful life because of that immutable fire I have got burning in my soul.

And speaking of enemies (or should I say frenemies) Bob’s song “Who The Cap Fit” speaks for most people, knowing the amount of backstabbing and insidious scheming we have suffered from people who are supposed to be friends. I am sure you have had your fair share of this so let me reproduce some lyrics of this song and refrain from analysing it because nobody can say this better than the great Robert Nesta Marley himself:

“Man to man is so unjust, children:

Ya don’t know who to trust.

Your worst enemy could be your best friend,

And your best friend your worse enemy.

Some will eat and drink with you,

Then behind them su-su ‘pon you.

Only your friend know your secrets,

So only he could reveal it.

And who the cap fit, let them wear it!

Who the cap fit, let them wear it…”

Bob is right; when you think it’s peace and safety, a sudden destruction. He also hit the nail on the head when he sang, “if your night should turn to day, a lot of people will run away!” All because of the rat race that most of us are engulfed in.

Now turn a page to the greatest panacea for the kind of venom mentioned above that kills more people than guns. In his song One Love, Bob calls for unity and reconciliation, and the message is surely divine. This is the song he performed in a peace concert for the reconciliation of two political archrivals in Jamaica…

Still on the subject of love, my love and admiration of my dear mother Kaddy Jammeh has made Bob’s song “No Woman No Cry” another favourite of mine. And on pages 94-95 my book The Way to Happiness I wrote this about that song:

“It’s a breezy Saturday night in Dakar. As I stroll along the Yoff highway my Sony walkman (old-fashioned me, I am yet to get an iPod or iPhone) blasting the lyrics of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. The lyrics depressing at first then inspiring as the track crescendos into the refrain: “Everything’s gonna be alright, so no woman no cry!”

“My mind races through all the women I see toil and moil every day to feed their loved ones amid the mountains of obstacles and tears. My mind walks further down memory lane about the struggles of my own mother, widowed some 33 years ago, working around the clock to raise five kids, with one that has a huge stomach like me. From her selling porridge in the streets of Banjul to the cleaning of offices in The Quadrangle she fought against the odds to bring up all her children under one roof, resisting the overtures of relatives who thought the burden to be too heavy on her, offering to adopt some of her kids. And then I imagine the struggles of many more women with similar and sometimes more compelling stories.”

Yes I had a challenging childhood in Banjul and Lamin. And it was during my childhood years in Lamin that I heard the story of Bob Marley in a competition at Buckingham Palace as narrated above. Because of the way the story was narrated to me and the fact that unlike most of his songs Natural Mystic does enjoy a long space of instrumentals before Bob’s voice comes on I believed the legend that he never wrote that song, it just came in the heat of a hot contest. Doing my analysis of Bob’s genius, I later concluded that yes the legend may not be true but that it is indeed possible that Bob Marley could compose such a song without any preparation. I know this because I am now acquainted with the source and nature of his genius and that source, that secret, can be summed up in one phrase that was uttered by no less a mind that Bob himself: Natural mystic. His genius is natural yet mystical. “That’s the natural mystic blowing through the air…”

My good brother Dimbaa, the above is an excerpt from one of the the essays I did on the inspiring reggae lyrics of Bob Marley. As the world celebrates reggae and places it at its rightful pedestal in the global cultural symphony, I salute you and all reggae lovers and promoters.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the sounds and lyrics of the Jamaican genre. In my Bunny Wailer voice I urge you bro:

Stay with the reggae rhythm,

‘Cause this a inspiration is sent from the King.

So we’re gonna stay with the reggae rhythm,

‘Cause this a reggae music make you dance and sing.

Ooh-yes…

We’re moving onward, and we ain’t gonna stop,

Rock reggae music till it reach the top.

Yours, in the Service of the People

Momodou Sabally

The Gambia’s Pen

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