BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS / “Rastaman Chant”

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17 Responses to “BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS / “Rastaman Chant””

Dankwa Says:
October 9th, 2005 at 7:12 pm

Kalamu, Greetings!

This Marley piece is on point. Additionally, the music selections are well thought out and well received. 

Peace, Dankwa

Kevin M. Says:
October 10th, 2005 at 11:25 am

Greetings, Kalamu, Mtume, and Breath of Lifers…

I have enjoyed and benefitted in so many ways from all the Breath of Life editions, can’t adequetely express thanks enough for that, but this is the first time I have been moved to submit a comment.

It’s actually a question about Marley’s dialogue with Curtis Mayfield in One Love/People Get Ready.

Traditionally, the story is that People Get Ready came out in 64/65 and was incorporated in One Love on the Exodus album in 75/76. Then I got ahold of Peter Tosh’s compilation Scrolls of the Prophet and there is a ska version of One Love, dated 1964, pre-dating the release of People Get Ready, with exactly the same lyrics, including the phrases that also appear in People Get Ready.

The musical and lyrical dialogue works whether it occured with near-simultaneity in the 60s or later in the 70s, and it works whoever recorded first. But I like to know the historical facts if possible and have not found any definitive account of this dialogue yet.

Anyone willing/able to provide illumination?

Kevin Meehan
Orlando FLA

Mtume says:                                                      


I’m no expert on Marley, Tosh or the Wailers, but the way I understand it, Marley re-recorded many songs that were originally done by the Wailers. If you look for some of the older (pre-Burnin’), indie-label Wailers compilations, you’ll find lots of songs like "Natural Mystic," "400 Years," "Duppy Conqueror," etc., that Marley later re-did on some of the more popular Tuff Gong/Island albums.

The song "People Get Ready" and the lyrics in question ("Is there a place for the hopeless sinner / Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own?") were definitely written by Curtis Mayfield. The version you heard by Peter Tosh (more likely by The Wailers with Tosh singing lead) is in all likelihood an early version of "One Love." Later, when Marley re-recorded it, they probably changed the title to "One Love"/"People Get Ready" and officially gave Mayfield co-composer credit. By then, Marley was an industry. Everything would’ve had to be done ‘correctly.’

That’s my educated guess, anyway. If anyone knows differently, let us know. 


kp Says:
October 10th, 2005 at 9:12 pm

i can’t shake the feeling that you fellas are being lazy in simply blaming “white pothead appropriation.”

i’ll get it out of the way: i’m white.

i understand the argument. i’ve seen “white reggae” bands and they just don’t do it for me. (something missing, you know?)

and i realize white appropriation of black culture is a consistent trend in american culture. (i’d rather not talk minstrel show stuff, tho)

but you can’t just lift bob to iconic status without laying some blame at his feet.

because he was 50% white.

and 100% “pothead.”

not to compare the man with any “stoner” off the street, but he set a standard for that. how can you praise what he did in life and ignore how he walked through it? was it only a “sacrament” when bob fired up the chalice?

and he obviously wanted the “hippies” to dig his music. how else can you explain the sugarcoating of his message on tracks like “3 little birds?”

don’t just blame the “white potheads.” blame bob for wanting as many people as possible to hear his music and find his message. (he dropped that patois when he sung, didn’t he?)

on a side note, “i like all music except reggae” seems to have become the new “i like all music except country” among a number of white people i talk to about music. usually for the same reason: “white hippie pothead appropriation.” shit is strange…….


          "50% white / 100% pothead"        

was bob 50% white? 100% pothead? genetically his father was white, so if one uses "race" (i.e. designation by skin/blood") then, of course, you could say that. but for many of us "blackness" (and by extension "whiteness") is color ("race"), culture and consciousness, with color being the least important of the three. culture is how one lives and the values one espouses in that living—by that criterion, bob certainly was not even 2% white. consciousness is one’s self-concept and who/what one identifies with—by that concept bob was more black than white but certainly some parts white (hey, man, did you read the post on damien marley?).

but more than that, dear white person, we black people have had to deal for a long, long time with the fact that our blackness is not pure, that we are mixed biologically. race as a biological fact does not mean that a much to me. on the other hand, the sociological implications of race within the western world obviously impacts me tremendously, and whether i want to or not, i have to deal with the western world wanting to define me based on race. fuck that bloody business. race alone does not now and never did define me.

did you read our discussion of bob’s contradictions? ok, if you missed it the first go round, please read it again. both mtume and i are totally aware of bob’s contradictions.

now, as far as pothead goes, let’s go all the way there. his religious use of sensi in the context of being a rasta is obvious, but what is not so obvious is the question of why did/do a significant percentage of "whites" embrace reggae (some even going to the extent of attempting to dread their hair)?

in america, the initial audience for reggae was overwhelmingly white. bob wanted to break through and reach his black american brethren and sistren. that is no secret. indeed there was a conscious effort to do so. for those who are interested, if you read the critical literature on reggae in general and bob in particular, you will find that issue discussed in great detail.

i would like to ask just one question: regardless of the intent of the individual embracer or the stance of the individual embracee, why is it that a white embrace of a non-white other so often ends up being an appropriation?

the answer is simple: capitalism.

or, as many jamaican brethren say: whitewell is a vampire (refering of course to chris blackwell, the white head of island records), the same capitalist who created bob marley and the wailers, thereby forever dispersing the wailers as a collective trio of bob, peter tosh and bunny wailer. bunny refused to tour, and peter and bob had a falling out. blackwell got his wish, one black man to push, who, only coincidentally (?), was racially the mulatto of the trio. was bob priviliged by blackwell because bob was 50% white, was bob receptive to being priviliged because bob was 50% white, or was bob too stoned most of the time to give a damn? it sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? but those are real and difficult questions. from a "white" perspective you can ask those questions and there is no pain associated with it—if you black, it hurts to deal with those contradictions.

you want to know what’s easy? it’s easy to be white and cavilier about race and all the implications of race, about capitalism and all the implications of capitalism. precisely because both race and capitalism as they have existed for centuries are driven by white appropriation of people, land and resources. the only reason we’re having this particular discussion is because "some" whites decided that the world was their’s for the taking and most whites went along with that bullshit.

you know what’s not easy—being black in a white-dominated world.

put that (the ease of whites/the difficulties of blacks) in your chalice and smoke it.



kp Says:
October 11th, 2005 at 2:15 pm

put that in my chalice and smoke it, huh?

let me clarify a few things:

first, i wasn’t trying to be cavalier about race in my comments. perhaps that’s what came across in my attempt at simplicity, but it’s not what i intended.

despite my comment that i was white, i don’t believe that word defines or encompasses me either. (call it a lazy disclaimer).

i’m fully aware of the capitalist forces at work, both amongst the original wailers, in the music industry, and in western imperialism. though it always disappoints me to be told that i can ask these kinds of questions free of pain, i’m not going to suggest i know what yours, or any other man’s, feels like.

what bothered me most about your original post was not a failure to discuss bob’s contradictions, but that the “white pothead” comments seemed directed at the individual with the target t-shirt, not the capitalist appropriation machine behind the screen printing.(have you seen the latest tuff gong fashion line? “inspired by bob” clothing with prices that only flossers – like…. damian?- can afford). it just felt, to me, like a finger pointed in the wrong direction.

i’ve been plenty guilty of the same. as i briefly mentioned before, i have “white” friends who refuse reggae because of the “hippie effect” or because it reminds them of “mai tais on the beach.” now that shit pisses me off, and i often find myself defending the music without defending the hippies (fuck a mai tai tho), which is a bit wrong, i think.

see bob’s music is personal to me, largely for the same reasons that kalamu mentioned in his post: “One—Bob was a masterful musician, who poured the best of himself into his music. Two—Bob was genuinely committed to the uplift of the downtrodden.” i don’t suggest that i can listen to his, or any other racially-charged, music in a bubble of ignorance to my own whiteness. hell, i probably have bob to thank for that. but i also refuse to believe that i can’t feel it as much, that it should mean less to me, because of my “ease” in walking through this world. but at the same time, i don’t want to knock the red-eyed gringo in dreads because of what i think he represents.

anyways, “important” figures and messages get perverted into caricatures all the time, whether by placing their likeness on a t-shirt or their music on a commercial for tourism.

i visit this site often and respect what you guys are doing. but this one time i thought you found the answer to your friend’s question rather quickly and felt compelled to see it fleshed out, perhaps selfishly, but well, there you go………..


Mtume says:                                             


Whassup K.P.,

I have a little bit of a different take on this than Kalamu’s.

First, I don’t think your question was illegitimate or cavalier. That’s that.

Second, the phrase ‘white pothead appropriation’ wasn’t mine, as you know, so it’s a little hard for me to defend the specific phrasing when it wasn’t mine to begin with. That given, what a think Paul had in mind (and I think you’re well aware of the phenomenon) is the youngish people of any race who latch on to Bob’s image while knowing little or nothing about his music or his message. If such a kid happens to be black, I don’t think I or Paul (or you) would consider that a contradiction of Paul’s point. Sometimes we speak in shorthand.

Third, there is definitely a sort of smugness at work in both Kalamu’s attitude ("the ease of whites/the difficulties of blacks") and in black folk’s attitude in general towards ‘the race issue.’ Just as you can’t know what I feel, I can’t know what you feel. For example, I feel guilty quite often about having ‘made it’ out of the Lower Ninth Ward while nearly all of my friends (and ‘nearly all’ is not an exaggeration) are playing out the stereotypical ‘dead, in jail or on drugs’ scenario. I know it’s not my ‘fault’ that I’m where I am while the friends I grew up with are where they are, still, it hurts and it actually impacts my day-to-day decision-making. Following that line of reasoning, if I were a white male, would I feel guilty quite often about the inherent advantages of being a white male in America? Or would I be angry that I’m ‘made’ to feel guilty? Or would I feel no guilt whatsoever? Should I feel any? Or should I think of myself as simply one individual who can’t be responsible for the ongoing problems of an entire race of people so many years after the fact? I don’t know. I can’t know. Therefore, I don’t think it’s fair to conclude (even partly in jest): whites have it easy, blacks have it difficult.

Fourth, the reason I mentioned Target is precisely because I was critiqueing the capitalist system that makes this appropriation possible.

And last, I think you know what I meant in the first place and you just felt like throwing a fit.

Peace, you non-potsmoking, Bob Marley-loving-for-all-the-right-reasons white guy you,


jb Says:
October 11th, 2005 at 2:48 pm

Excellent post. On a related note: my relationship to Marley and his legacy was increasingly troubled by Rita’s revelation that Marley beat her.

And also The Onion humorously addressed Marley’s prominent demographic in an article entitled:
“Bob Marley Rises From Grave To Free Frat Boys From Bonds Of Oppression”

Manuel Says:
October 12th, 2005 at 10:28 am

“Una estampita de Bob Marley puede salvarte la vida en cualquier ghetto del mundo”. Manu Chao

Bob Marley is universal

Suman Says:
October 12th, 2005 at 12:00 pm

Appreciating all of this: the tracks you posted, your essays, and the ensuing dialogue.

Getting back to the Curtis Mayfield/"People Get Ready" thread: it ocurred to me that this, and more generally the Wailers’ and other early ska groups taking inspiration from American R&B, is another example of the hidden influences of American black music, which then bounces back to us.

Other examples are Detroit techno and Chicago house going to Europe and coming back to us as "electronica", or funk going to West Africa and becoming Afrobeat. (Does Gilroy talk about this in "The Black Atlantic"?)

A New Yorker essay about African music in western Europe had a few paragraphs about this idea of music bouncing back and forth between continents.

Mtume says:                                            


The phenomenon is indeed wonderful. Black Jamaicans heard American R&B via New Orleans R&B stations. Their imitation of R&B morphed into ska, which morphed into rock steady, which morphed into something they called ‘talk over.’ A young Jamaican named Kool Herc brought the ‘talk over’ and DJ culture of Jamaica with him to the Bronx. Which is how we ended up with hip-hop. Only the hip-hop kids weren’t listening to reggae, they were raiding their parents’ record collections to play the breaks on 10 year-old soul and funk records. It’s a beautiful thing.

By the way, there’s been a lot of scholarship devoted to documenting/investigating/celebrating the give and take of Africa-derived music. My favorite book on the subject (by far) is Christopher Small’s Music Of The Common Tongue. If you can find it, do yourself a favor and buy it. It will change the way you listen to music. For the better.

Later on…


kp Says:
October 12th, 2005 at 5:29 pm

sometimes a man just wants some impassioned, intelligent conversation……….

peace mtume & kalamu

Mtume Says:
October 12th, 2005 at 10:51 pm

OK folks,

I’ll let the man who started all of this have the last word. I sent a note to Paul apologizing for using a quote of his that was actually part of a private conversation. To which he responded (and said it was OK to reprint):

* * *

I stand by the phrase. I didn’t meet one white kid in college that smoked excessive pot that didn’t have a Bob Marley poster up or have a Marley T-shirt. However, I in no way implied that a white person that smokes pot is not allowed to listen to or love Marley. I just meant that that guy seems to now be the dominant perception of who listens to Marley’s music.

And I think the racial dimension is important. White people get so defensive if anyone uses the word white to describe an audience. The dude responding to your post immediately got defensive like “I have every right to like Marley.” Of course he does. And White potheads have every right to put up posters and wear Marley shirts. But that doesn’t change the observational truth that the perception of Marley has changed.

And for the record my friend who commented that Jamrock was hotter than any of Bob’s work was Black. And that is my point. To him, Bob has lost his relevancy. He has grown up around a culture that included only a simulacrum of Marley – he has never actively seeked out information about Marley and his music and words and life – so to him the dominant image of Marley is not of a man sweating with passion in his denim shirt as he sings about freedom and opression. To him, the dominant image of Marley is holding a spliff looking down from a white pothead’s dorm room. No one person is to blame – as you point out. It is the product of a system that we all play a part in. But I guess “White” has become too loaded of a term for some people – it isn’t always accusatory.

[End of Paul’s response.]

* * *

OK. After that, all I can say is: I agree.

Later, all.


Rosalind Says:
October 17th, 2005 at 12:10 pm

I think this whole topic touches on the larger issue of the appropriation of Black music and culture and what happens when Black people do not inform themselves about our history. I teach at a communications college and I force my students to analyze the most political of Bob’s wellknown-songs–‘Get, Up Stand Up” and “Buffalo Soldiers.” I say force because as it’s been pointed out, all of my mostly white students knew Bob and his music for only the ganja image and the rasta posing. None of them had taken the time to go beyond that and never would, if I didn’t make it a class requirement. What bothers me is that Bob is just one of a long line of politically potent Black musicians who have become lost to a whole generation. They’re not lost just because of appropriation but because we allow who listens to certain musicians to decide if they are approriate for Black people to listen to. We have abandoned Bob and Jimi and Chuck and a host of others because we don’t want to be associated with the masses of silly white people who listen to them. We have the power to take them back and place them in their rightful positions within Black culture. We just have to be interested and informed enought to do it.

Suman Says:
October 25th, 2005 at 11:33 am

Mtume, thanks for the followup–fascinating stuff about the roots of ska in New Orleans R&B radio broadcasts going out over the Caribbean. I hadn’t read about that before. But it reinforces something I did read somewhere in a recent post-Katrina essay about NO–that rather than US-centrically thinking of it as the southernmost metropolis of the US, it has historically been the northernmost metropolis of the Caribbean.

Thanks also for the book rec–I will try to track down a copy of Small’s book.

Finally, a few days after reading your essays, I looked down…and realized I was wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt! Memorably, I bought it in a shop in Bariloche, Argentina…the teenage girl working the store was super-excited that my wife and I were into reggae, and started playing a tape by a reggae group from Buenos Aires for us…

Big Tub Says:
January 16th, 2006 at 4:17 am

I’m coming back, but for now i just wanted to post myself into the network that drew my eye to the page from the first word to the last on this discussion forum. I am a Bob Marley fanatic and i find it almost hard to listen to him anymore because of the overwhelming passion and pain in his lyrics. I am not referring to all of his songs, but the clear contenders containing expresions of his oppression are clear to all those who know Bob’s musical repertoire. I also wanted to comment on the poignancy and intellectual grounding of many of the previous points raised. Most people on this sight seem to be of a concious disposition.

’til soon

Anonymous Says:
January 21st, 2007 at 8:57 pm

is rastafarian a religion ? what about rastaman!!!!

Kieron Says:
February 16th, 2007 at 1:26 pm

A great initial post and some interesting following ones. Currently researching Bob Marley the ‘icon’ and your opinions have helped greatly. Not sure if any quotes from the page would be acceptable in an essay but if they are would appreciate being able to use them (just for uni not commercial use of course). bigLOVE K

         Feel Free       

feel free to quote from bol. all text is always available online. one love.


fay boi steve Says:
September 13th, 2007 at 3:14 pm

Bob marley is the best man in the world respect him or suk balls Bob R.I.P.BRAPPPPPPPPPPPPP

Brown Boy Blues : JahWorks.Org Says:
February 28th, 2012 at 7:19 pm

[…] 6) Mtume ya Salaam, Kalamu ya Salaam, Paul Roberts, et al., “The white-pothead appropriation of Bob Marley,” October 9, 2005; […]

bob marley pesta pantai Says:
June 9th, 2014 at 10:17 pm

I savor, cause I discovered exactly what I used to be looking for.
You have ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man.
Have a nice day. Bye

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