BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS / “Rastaman Chant”
A few days ago, I sent an email to Paul Roberts of P.R.A.D.E. fame (prade.blogspot.com) and happened to mention that BoL was going to be doing a post on Damien Marley. He wrote back the following:
I have a friend who earnestly claims that he thinks the [Damien Marley] track ‘Welcome To Jamrock’ is (I quote) "hotter than anything his father ever put out." Has the white-pothead appropriation of Bob Marley the image made his music lose all its potency for the next generation?Good question, Paul. I grew up thinking of Bob Marley as a black revolutionary. That he was also a musician was (relatively) incidental. In my eyes, Marley was no different than X or Tubman or King or Coltrane. The Salaam children learned that all of these people were heroes who fought for the rights of the poor, the downtrodden, the enslaved, the dispossessed. I had no particular interest in any of their individual stories—at the time, I was probably more interested in Mario Bros. video games or Spiderman comic books. Still, I learned about these people and their activities because that’s what the children of the black revolution did—we learned about our heroes and their activities. Later, as a teenager, I revisited these stories—X’s autobiography; King’s recorded speeches; stories and pictures about Tubman; and of course, the music of Marley and Coltrane. I realized then that all those boring stories I’d been forced to sit through, and all those posters with the mean-looking faces that had stared down at me through the years, and all that annoying music I’d ignored my whole life to that point, had actually served to prepare me for me. Unlike my friends, I didn’t have to stumble my way through a lengthy and intense spiritual awakening. For me, learning about the historical and ongoing struggle of black and brown peoples in the Americas was like going back home. There was nothing strange or difficult about it. It came easily. And it felt good. By my early twenties, I’d spent four years at an (almost) all-white high school and I’d worked several years at Tower Records in the French Quarter. At those two institutions, I learned that Bob Marley wasn’t a black revolutionary after all. In actuality, Bob was part of a (un)holy trinity of wild-eyed, long-haired, brown-skinned, pot-smoking dudes whose chief function seemed to be giving white hippie wanna-be’s something to put on the front of their T-shirts. The perceptive reader will note that the word ‘trinity’ is a reference to a group of three, and therefore, either at my (almost) all-white high school or at Tower Records in the French Quarter, or at both, I must have learned of the existence of two other wild-eyed, long-haired, brown-skinned, pot-smoking dudes. I did indeed. They are Jimi Hendrix (whom I’d previously thought of as an electric blues and rock guitarist) and Che Guevara (leftist radical and co-leader of the Cuban Revolution). Today, nearly 25 years after the last member of the trinity met his untimely demise (Che was assassinated in ’67, Hendrix OD’d in ’70, Marley succumbed to cancer in ‘81) anyone with fifteen bucks and a torso can still be seen as a counter-cultural cooler-than-thou type simply by going to their friendly neighborhood Target and purchasing a T-shirt bearing the image of one of said trinity. (Having even the slightest clue as to what these gentlemen meant or continue to mean to anyone who found or continues to find them meaningful is strictly optional.) I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that Paul asked a good question—“Has the white-pothead appropriation of Bob Marley the image made his music lose all its potency for the next generation?”—and I have a simple answer. That answer is ‘yes.’ Luckily for me, I am not of ‘the next generation’ and, as such, Bob Marley’s music retains all of the potency of an atomic bomb. I wanted to post some tracks that would be accessible for those who only know Bob Marley’s most popular hits while being obscure enough to interest those who own most of the albums and probably have no desire to hear “I Shot The Sheriff,” “One Love” or “Three Little Birds” yet again. The feature track is one of my favorite semi-rarities. It’s Marley with Peter Tosh and Joe Higgs (who was sitting in for the refusing-to-travel-anywhere-with-the-potential-for-cold-weather Bunny Wailer) doing a rougher yet somehow prettier version of “Rastaman Chant” than the one that appears on American pressings of The Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’. This version of “Rastaman” was recorded and broadcast live in San Francisco in October of 1973, not long before the original Wailers officially broke up. The combination of the powerful drumming and the soaring vocals always lifts my spirits. “Jah Live” is Marley’s tribute to his spiritual father, Haile Selassie. Marley recorded the song in 1975, just after Selassie’s death. Like all Rastafarians, Marley believed that Selassie was “the true and living God,” “ever faithful, ever living, ever sure” and therefore Selassie could not actually be dead. Marley apparently went to his grave believing that Selassie was still alive somewhere and that reports of his (Selassie's) death were a scam. In Timothy White's Marley bio, Catch A Fire, White writes of Marley singing so passionately during this recording that, by the end of the session, Marley was literally drenched with sweat. The last track is an alternate take of “Time Will Tell,” the gorgeous tune which closes Marley’s unfairly maligned 1978 album, Kaya. By the late Seventies, We Who Believe in Freedom were unwilling to allow our heroes to do anything other than Believe in Freedom. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it. It’s an inside thing. ) Therefore, for those of us predisposed to never letting the fight rest, Kaya was a major disappointment. The album is nearly all love songs: love songs to women, love songs to Jamaica and, of course, love songs to the weed. In my main man’s defense: a) They’re all beautiful songs, b) He still gave us “Crisis” and “Running Away” and, c) In ’79, he returned to his revolutionary ways with the incendiary polemics of Survival, just like we knew he would. The San Francisco version of “Rastaman Chant” is available on a CD named Talkin’ Blues. The latter two songs are available on the soundtrack to the movie Countryman. Both CDs are well worth the purchase price.
This entry was posted on Sunday, October 9th, 2005 at 12:01 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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