Bob Marley and Africa : Marley Music Was Not Only Admired But Was The Source Of Inspiration For Many African Musicians.
Bob Marley and Africa
Bob Marley Birthday Celebration
On February 4th 2005 over 200,000 people flocked to Addis Ababa Ethiopia to celebrate the birthday of the late great Bob Marley.
The celebration was held under the theme “Africa Unite” and was organized by Bob Marley Foundation, African Union and UNICEF. This year marked the 60th birthday for one of the world’s greatest musicians.
The program is a part of the Bob Marley Foundations attempts at trying to reconnect with Africa, thus the next birthday celebration is slated to be in another African country in 2006. This year’s celebration speaks to a major philosophical thrust on the part of Bob Marley, which is Pan-Africanism.
Bob Marley and Africa :The Pan-African freedom fighter
It is important that as admirers of Bob Marley we acknowledge a major part of his musical inspiration, which was his love for Africa.
In many instances due to the transformation of Bob Marley from a humble Rastaman to an international commodity the Pan-African element of his music is in many instances ignored.
Thus songs such as “One Love” have become symbols of Marley’s commercial image friendly to European audiences while singles such as “Africa Unite”, “Chant Down Babylon”, “Buffalo Soldier” and “Zimbabwe” are placed on the periphery.
Bob Marley was not only a humanist he was a Pan-African freedom fighter and one of the major challenges for black people in the 21st Century is to rediscover the Pan-African element in Marley’s music.
Marley is a part of a long line of African musicians who fought the struggle for African liberation through his musical genius and as means of confronting the corrupt social order.
Marley is a part of this tradition that includes such notable acts as Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambaza and Hugh Masekela. Marley was a part of this elite group of musicians and was not only admired, but was the source of inspiration for many African musicians.
Marley was part of generation of musicians and activists such as Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear and Mortimmo Planno who sought to fight the forces of imperialism and liberate Africa.
The political project of pan-Africanism was central to all of their activities and it is important to look at the lessons learnt by that experience in order to develop pan-Africanism in the 21st Century.
In an early interview in his career Marley spoke of the importance of Africa in his worldview stating:
" Too many people going on like England and America are in the world.
But there is a better life in Africa. I feel for Africa,
I want to go there and write some music. Instead of New York
Why can’t we go to Ghana? Go to Nigeria-meet some people, learn
A new language. You see, people are only seeking material vanity.
Black People are so stubborn. They stay here because white people give
Them a big hotel and a floor to vacuum."
Africa was not only a dream; it symbolized a place where the black man could live in dignity and prosperity.
Bob Marley and Africa : Visit to Ethiopian
It is through the economic benefits that came through the music that Marley was able visit Africa and tour Ethiopia as a Rastaman .
Marley stayed in Addis Ababa and visited many of the sites dealing with Haille Selassie and ancient Ethiopian history. During his stay in Ethiopia he lived on a communal farm named Shashamani and was feted by the Marxist Ethiopian government at the time.
Bob Marley and Africa : Zimbabwean Liberation front
It is through this experience that Marley became abreast of the wide array of issues facing Africa and in particular realized the importance of the liberation struggle taking place in Zimbabwe.
In fact by the time Bob arrived in Ethiopia in 1978 the struggle had reached its climax.
The time for Zimbabwean Independence was near and it consumed the heart of Bob Marley.
While Marley loved the thought of performing in Zimbabwe the first performance of the band was in Gabon. The occasion was to celebrate the birthday of Gabon’s President Omar Bongo. Marley as a populist musician was however disappointed with the fact that he only performed to the members of the Gabonese elite.
In the hopes of helping to steer Zimbabwe into independence Marley performed in a benefit concert in Boston to raise funds for the freedom fighters in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The title of the concert was Amandla, which was a short version of the phrase Amandla Ngawetu meaning ‘power to the people’ in the Shona language of Zimbabwe. The concert was a success with over 25,000 people in attendance and it featured Bob straying from the script and giving a heartfelt speech on African Unity.
The lesson that Marley has taught us,that is benineficial particularly to the new generation of musicians, is the way in which he mixed musical creation with activism. Marley not only wrote songs about Africa but also backed that up with activism on the ground. One of the most potent examples is shown in his musical performances in Zimbabwe to usher in their independence.
On Tuesday 18 April 1980, the newly independent Rhodesia changed its name to Zimbabwe.
Marley as an avid follower of the Zimbabwean Liberation front wrote the song Zimbabwe in honor of their struggle for liberation. The lyrics of the song speak to the right of all people to self-determination in the song Marley states:"
Every man got a right to decide his own destiny
And in this judgment there is no partiality
So arm in arm we’ll fight this little struggle
Cause that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble."
These lyrics were an essential part of the motivation for the army in the fight for national liberation, which speaks to the inspirational power of popular culture as a transforming agent.
Bob Marley and Africa:Zimbabwe’s Independence Day Celebrations
Marley felt that as a supporter of Zimbabwe’s national liberation struggle that he would be a central part of the Independence Day celebrations. In order to ensure that the preparations were adequate Marley personally financed all the arrangements of the band and crew.This cost him over US$90,000.00. It is this commitment to pan-Africanism that needs to be emulated by the new generation of musicians. Marley made himself a central part of African liberation movements through music and was rewarded when the first official words after Zimbabwe’s Independence were “Ladies and Gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers”.
One of the great moments that touched Marley deeply while he was in Zimbabwe was the discussions with Edgar Tekere who was general secretary of the ZANU party. It was Tekere that asked Marley to stay in Zimbabwe, commenting on this experience Marley stated:
"That was the best invitation you could get
Man who fight for the land tell you to stay.
Its your home. Plenty people shoot after him and
Him still alive, come tell me to stay in Zimbabwe.
It’s the best."
The song “Zimbabwe” not only affected the people of Zimbabwe but also was a hit throughout Africa. All over Africa in places such as Dakar, Abadjan and Lagos had recorded cover versions of the song.
Bob Marley and Africa Unite
Marley is a part of a long line of African thinkers who have not only advocated the freedom of Africa from imperialism but also the imperatives of African Unity, symbolically articulated in his song “Africa Unite”.
The song is important not only as an indication of the philosophy of Marley but highlights an intense connection with the politics on the ground. In particularly the calls by African Leaders at the time such as Haille Selassie and Kwame Nkrumah for a United African continent.
In a sense Marley was able to function as a mediator between the various scholarly and intellectual discourses and make the connection with grassroots people both on the continent and in the Diaspora.
Bob Marley and Africa:Challenge for Musicians and Pan-Africanism
The legacy of Marley and Pan-Africanism poses serious challenges to the new generation of musicians espousing pan-African principles. For many young musicians the concept of Africa is a mystical place with hidden powers, it has reached to the extent where Africa is being fictionalized.
The real issues facing Africa needs to be articulated by our musicians so that it reaches the people on the ground instead of the halls of the UN and boardrooms of governments. The great moment of cultural and political awakening that took place during the 60s and 70s needs to re-emerge in order to re-position pan-Africanism in the 21st century.
Kwame Dawes and his discussion of the nature of Marley’s pan-Africanism importantance nderstanding the relevance of the music to Africa. Dawes in this discussion states:
" In “Rastaman Vibration” Marley takes on the world as his thematic concern and
Establishes himself as a voice of international relevance. Mozambique, South Africa
And Angola are some of the first countries outside of Jamaica that he mentions by name.
….he positions himself comfortably from the system of political intrigue."
A major challenge of Pan-Africanism in the 21st Century is to bridge the gap between the African Diaspora and the Continent.
It needs to be taught that the development of the continent and the diaspora has to go in unison and the most important vehicle for the distribution of information is through musical creation. Marley was a part of a generation of musicians who recognized their responsibility to society and in particular there importance in the pan-African struggle.
Bob Marley and Africa:Aims of the Bob Marley Foundation
It is recognizing the importance of stronger connections with pan-African organizations that the Bob Marley Foundation has...
The new challenge for musicians in this current era of Pan-Africanism is to be more closely connected to the organizational expressions of Pan-Africanism and to take a more active role in the decision making process.
An essential part of the thrust for pan-African unity is the recognition that all the players need to be working in tandem with each other; African people cannot afford disconnectedness and haphazard approaches.
It is recognizing the importance of stronger connections with pan-African organizations that the Bob Marley Foundation has instituted relationships between the African Union and African governments.
The Bob Marley Foundation has the ability to bring the concept of Pan-Africanism to a wider international audience through its Bob Marley Birthday Celebrations.
The aim of the Bob Marley Foundation is to contribute to the development of Africa and Jamaica through the issuing of grants to various NGO’s.
The focus is on community development, education and the development of entrepreneurship among people of African descent.
It is fitting that in life and death Bob Marley still has the ability to bring African people together towards a united cause.
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