June 14, 2024

Bob Marley: Still in our living memory 43 years after

  • May 12, 2024
  • 14 min read
Bob Marley: Still in our living memory 43 years after

By Aj. Dagga Tolar

HOW significant is music to the task of liberation and making a revolution? We can argue all day round the clock without all not agreeing for or against. There are so many that will choose to stand with the two sides. But Fela Anikulapo-Kuti says outright that “Music is the weapon”. Does he mean a weapon, as in a weapon with which any combatant can employ to eliminate the opposite combatant? But truly no matter the creativity exhibited by art in whatever form as a weapon, it must, like all weapons, be destructive. Is art, in this sense music, destructive? Is destruction evil? Certainly not when it seeks to pull down a wrong order. But are women and men not the real agency of destruction? Are they not also the agency of change, of revolutionary transformation of a destructive order? What then is the role of music in the lives of human existence? Can it really pull down a wrong order? Can music, in the words of Bob Marley in reality, ‘Chant down Babylon’? Can the beloved ‘Reggae Music, chant down Babylon!’?

Yet Bob Marley, who passed on today on May 11, 1981, some 43 years ago, has earned all his fame more or less on the basis of the above claim. The Biopic released on February 14 tries to belittle this fact, hiding behind the moral claim of a universal appeal of the theme of the song: One Love. The biopic earns its title from the song. And behold a Bob Marley that is made out to be loved by all, unmindful of race and class. And this is where the injustice begins against the fact that music, as delivered by Bob Marley, is a weapon and a tool for liberation and revolution. Certainly, this is not Ziggy Marley’s interpretation of his father in the biopic he directed.

The real Bob Marley is too dangerous to this disorderly universe. Indeed, isn’t his life and lyrics obstacles to the big business craving and status that the biopic aims at and aspires to attain? The goal of the biopic is simply to reshape and build a new Bob Marley that will be more business-friendly and amiable to this Babylon system. Of course, this new image of Bob Marley is not expected to encourage new voices in the direction of issuing a cry of ‘Redemption Song’ for I & I to ‘emancipate ourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds…’ We are face to face to a Bob Marley’s biopic deliberately crafted to fit squarely into the demand of running a business empire on the legacy of Bob Marley’s music of activism for a revolutionary change. The idea that a people can bond themselves together and, by so doing, orgainse to free themselves, both mentally and then physically is not something they want to get into the consciousness and mind of the oppressed working masses world wide.

Is Bob Marley in REALITY a PACIFIST CAMPAIGNER, who puts forward moral platitudes of love, calling on people to love themselves? Can the oppressor and the oppressed, the ruling class and the working masses without first abolishing the class divide between them, fall in love with each other outside of a master and slave status? Is this condition of oppression not the essence defining Bob Marley’s status as a rebel? Can we dare to side with the bloodline since they offer us a distinct definition different and faraway from the claim that Marley was a rebel?

So what then is Bob Marley? What is Bob Marley’s Reggae music? How can it truly be classified? But let’s hear from Marley himself. In Rebel Music, Marley queries:

“Oh, why can’t we roam
This open country? (open country)
Oh, why can’t we be what we wanna be?
We want to be free, yeah (wanna be free)”

This is the real MARLEY, with his all out cry for freedom. For the freedom for humans to be what they want to be. If this doesn’t make him a rebel, then hear him out in ‘Get up/Stand up’:

“We’re sick and tired of your ism-schism game
Dy’n’ and go to Heaven in-a Jesus’ name, Lord
We know when we understand
Almighty God is a living man
You can fool some people sometimes
But you can’t fool all the people all the time”

Img 20240511 Wa0009

Bob Marley

In clear crystal words, the Wailers come out railing against religion. Indeed, there is no greater insight into the destructive role played by religion in subjugating the working masses to their dehumanised living condition than this song. It completely knocks the bottom off all versions of messianic grandstanding as put forward by religion calling on the working masses to see the light and get up and stand up and fight for our right to live in a better world. And make no mistake. It is also a knock against all of the messianic titles now worn on Emperor Haile Selassie I, who within the framework of Rastafari has become transmuted into a deity that some refer to as ‘God Almighty’. Some others come down a rung lower to present him as the ‘Christ’ in his kingly character or is it Jesus Christ in his second coming? Whichever, we must be bold to say that what we condemn in other religious philosophy cannot now be correct if it is now robed in black skin and no longer a white skin. Whether Rasta like to hear this or not Bob Marley validates Marx’s maxim that “religion is the opium of the people” when he states that:

“Preacher man don’t tell me/Heaven is under the earth
I know you don’t know/What life is really worth”

Again, he sings:

“Most people think/Great God will come from the sky
Take away everything/And make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth/You would look for yours on earth”

How blunt are these lines. It dismisses all the illusion in life after death. Call heaven. Call it Zion. It calls on humans to seek for their worth on earth in this physical, material realm of existence. This is the light he refers to and calls on the working masses to ‘Get up’ and ‘Stand up’ to: Get organised and mobilised. For he states that there is no way these two classes of oppressors and oppressed can work things out.

“We no know how we and dem a-go work this out,
We no know how we and dem a-go work it out
But someone will have to pay/For the innocent blood
That they shed every day/Oh, children, mark my word”

There is no redemption of sin for the ruling class for their crimes against the humanity of the working masses. And those who think that the big business and capitalist bosses and the employee can ever be friends, Marley’s song educates the working masses on this account, categorically stating:

“But we no have no friends/Ina high society, yeah
We no have no friends/Oh, mark my identity
Oh, we no have no friends, oh-oh, yeah”

Where then is the lie coming from that Bob Marley is a friend of all? Of course, we know where this is coming from. It is coming from quarters of the rapacious desire of private capital and their merchants of Big Business to control everything and transpose everything into a commodity from which to profit from. This is what has transformed Bob Marley and his music to a mere commodity. But hard as they try, they fail. Marley’s rebel status stands. There is no taking it away from him that he was an artist for the revolution. For black liberation. And a renewed order of existence for the working masses world wide.

“It takes a revolution (revolution) to make a solution”. And it is not a task that can be accomplished by any category of politicians. In the same song: Revolution, Marley says:

“Never make a politician (aaa-aaah) grant you a favour (Doo-doo-doo-doo)
They will always want (aaa-aaah) to control you forever, eh (Forever, forever)”

To not know this is Bob Marley is simply to not know Bob Marley. Even too many Rastas, there are those who simply robe him up and present him as a symbol of the Rastafari faith. A religious icon. No more no less. Yes, Marley held up his belief in the Rastafari and a religious practice. Confessed it unendingly, and bore all of the features of this faith till he died. But there is no denying the fact that Marley cannot be boxed in a religious cocoon. “The criticism of religion is the basis of all other criticism,” says Marx. And Marley had already necessarily overcome the contradiction that religion constitutes in the quest for a better universe. For like Leon Trotsky rightly pointed out, one cannot hope to want to go to Heaven/Zion and at the same time be an able fighter for a better world here and now.

This is for me is My Beloved Bob Marley, who played no little part in urging me to step out of Ajegunle on my own in 1985 to go look for what is Rasta and met the likes of Black O’ Rise, Ras Kimono and the whole of the Jahstix Crew inclusive of Majek Fashek, Amos McCroy, George Orwells, and others like Judah Levi, Ehi Duncan, Ras Farmer into the fold of The Rainbow Organisation of the Rastafarians of Nigeria (ROOTRON). The whole of 1984 and thereon handed me all the free time to explore reggae music to its heights, and coming top for me then was King Yellow man. Of course, U-Roy, I-Roy, Peter Tosh, Mutabaruka and many others were to leave their imprint on me. My journey to becoming a song writer, a lyricist and a poet where laid at this period. That music is nothing more than a tool and that it cannot on its own transform society is not in dispute, given the fact that its major preoccupation is entertainment; that it can now become educative does not now automatically transform it into a tool for revolution.

The revolution next time
First and foremost. A revolution calls for a revolutionary party to be built for revolutionary programme to be articulated detailing how the society with regards to the key sector of the economy and the polity can be reorganised to function for the benefit of the working masses. And not less important is the class, the alliance of classes of the oppressed that must accomplish the task of making the revolution. And indeed the leadership of the revolutionary mass of oppressed classes belonging to no other class than the working class, a consequence of the fact that the meeting of the needs and aspiration of the working masses in all spheres of their existence cannot be accomplished without the outright development of the means of production to the greatest of height that science and technology make possible in the best and friendliest environment.

What can, however, not be debated is that music is a tool and vehicle with which consciousness can be impacted. I need not search too far than myself to bring this point home. It was this same reggae music that set me on the course to embracing Rastafari as a philosophy, and from there onto Marxism. I have Bob Marley, and indeed the Wailers to thank for who I have become today – a poet and a Marxist. Bob Marley helped in shaping me for the whole of the 1980s and setting me about to ask the right questions, began for me the journey to break free from religion which was wholeheartedly accomplished by Marxism. Reggae music, with all of its accomplished, valid protest lyrics, won me over completely to the idea of revolution. But it is to Marxism, through the instrument of university education and through the encounter with Adewale Barshar in 1991, exactly ten years after the exit of Bob Marley that I fully joined the fold of Marxism in what was then known as Labour Militant.

And finally I got the answer to the question of how the revolution can be accomplished. This is where music, indeed all art forms become not enough. The best of revolutionary music on it is own cannot and will not transform society. Yes, it will provide level of excitement both in terms of feeling and good moods. But the fact remains that the task of dislodging Babylon, of bringing an end to Capitalism and its monstrous quest for profit and more super profit at the expense of the wellbeing of the working masses cannot be accomplished by a song, a poem, no matter how militant.

Revolution can only be accomplished through the instrument of the working masses themselves getting organised in their millions as a single unit in a revolutionary organisation of their own and therein posing the question of power. The working masses must themselves seize history and come into the arena of struggle and accomplish a revolution. All of the issues touched by Marley in his songs are still here plaguing the universe more than ever before. War, in the quest for liberation and self-rule by Palestinians against the Israeli state backed by the bombs of US imperialism ever so desperate to want to dominate the Middle East and Israel, as its major bargaining chip in the power play of Arab dictators. And a Hamas that subscribes to counterproductive means of terrorism as its tool of liberation as opposed to uniting the working masses in Palestine, seeking for unity of the working masses across the Palestine-Israeli divide to take on both Netenyahu and the Israeli ruling class, as well as US imperialism. Of course, there is Ukraine transformed into a battle ground for the proxy war of domination between US Imperialism and its NATO against its quest to bring Russia completely under its control or weaken it as much as possible as part of its preparatory scale of hostilities against the rise of China. It is the same Rat Race all over again that Bob MAELEY warned against:

“When you think is peace and safety
A sudden destruction.”

The question of humanity’s “collective security for surety” is suspended. In the song the “Real Situation”, he re-echoes the same sentiments:

“Check out the real situation/ Nation war against Nation
Where did it all begin?/Where will it end/
Well it seems like: total destruction the only solution”

The universe is still alive with all of the issues raised and sung by Bob Marley, and he continues to be a symbolic representation of the cry of the working masses to rid their lives of misery and poverty in a world so richly blessed, but also polarised into divides of rich and poor and into rich nations and poor nations. And the working masses come into full consciousness of themselves as a class of their own and break with all forms of sentiments and premordial attachment to religion, birthplace, ethnic or national origin to uniting all of their numbers into a single unit to contend with the ruling class and dislodge them from power and take full responsibility of governing society on its shoulder and, by so doing, ending Capitalism (call it Babylon, if you like). Do otherwise so long will the vampire continue with “Sucking the blood of the poor sufferers”. So long will poverty and war continue on the face of planet earth and don’t be deceived:

“You can’t educate I/For no equal opportunity:
(Talkin’ ’bout my freedom) Talkin’ ’bout my freedom
People freedom (freedom) and liberty!
Yeah, we’ve been trodding on the winepress much too long:
Rebel, rebel!
Yes, we’ve been trodding on the winepress much too long:
Rebel, rebel!
Babylon system is the vampire, yea! (vampire)
Suckin’ the children day by day, yeah!
Me say: de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire
Suckin’ the blood of the sufferers, yea-ea-ea-ea-e-ah!
Building church and university, wo-o-ooh, yeah!
Deceiving the people continually, yea-ea!
Me say them graduatin’ thieves and murderers
Look out now: they suckin’ the blood of the sufferers (sufferers)
Yea-ea-ea! (sufferers)”

Aj. Dagga Tolar, poet, musician and Marxist revolutionary, wrote in this piece from Lagos

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