Reggae artists make constant references to fire. The word fire adorns many an album cover and is included in countless song titles. Reggae artists refer to burning everything from herb in their fonta leaf, to the Babylonian system as a whole. But the question on the mind of the vanguard of Caribbean culture (if there is such a thing), is, ‘Who is carrying the torch first hoisted by Robert Nesta Marley?’
It is evident that since the passing of Bob Marley, Reggae music has produced a slew of notable artists, all of whom have delivered respectable musical offerings tinged with social commentary and spiritual musings. However, the seizing of the time and circumstances as exemplified in Bob Marley’s political bravery and championing of his lifestyle has yet to be rivaled. The ever-changing human mood produces a yearning for a variety of music and the messages contained therein. Music thereby, can and should span a wide variation of rhythms and subject matter. Again, this is perfectly exemplified in Bob Marley’s catalog. In one performance Bob could wail about the pirates that robbed him, demand that we get up stand up and fight for our rights, tell our woman not to cry, and yet still instruct us to lively up ourselves and not be drags.
Arguably, one can contend that the times were different during Bob’s era; that the political fervor of the period and newness of the culture he defined provided the impetus for his rise, which was instrumental in garnering the influence he claimed. But in light of dancehall’s current direction and its overwhelming desire to reach sales worthy of piquing stateside interest, a toxic sludge of market product has been created in reggae music reminiscent of disco, replete with synthetic under and overtones. Yuk!
Ok, I wont event go down the road of persecuting the new generation of artists, nor will I point out the superiority of the older sound, lest I fall into the generational gap trap (well, I’ll try. But I wont make any promises. LoL). But damn it, with the whole world competing for what resources they can muster and snatching what they can from the ever wanting teeth of the super rich, these dancehall dudes will have us Willie Bouncing barefoot, flagging the military planes of the conqueror, and rowing imaginary boats where real ones were needed during Hurricane Katrina.
Look, we can chew bubble gum and walk. We can also party and be aware at the same time. Regardless of what Viacom and the other super conglomerates think, or want us to think, we are facing a peculiar struggle today that exceeds what we can reference in the legacy of Bob Marley. In the time of Bob Marley the war for freedom of the oppressed was fought on clearly discernable lines. The issues of Africa’s children were clearly defined along the lines of what was termed ‘civil’ and eventually ‘human’ rights. The limitations and denial of life’s necessities and dignity in certain sectors of the world community were blatantly enforced along racial and color lines.
The current power structure has enveloped the designs of the original Rastas in an almost imperceptible stratagem that doesn’t bear the same ugliness of the blatant race question of their time, but has achieved the same ends for those who have an interest in maintaining these particular social orders.
So we have to stop romanticizing the past and acknowledge that in history, the only constant is change. In order for the torch to be passed to another generation one has to clearly assess the battlefront of today. This is not necessarily the picket lines, sit ins, and marches of Bob Marley’s time. Instead, the airwaves, imagery, conspicuous consumption and mass appeal are the new fronts in the battle being waged on the psyche and in the hearts and minds of the masses.
The industry cannot continue in the same manner as in Bob’s day, despite the fact it was the studios, producers, promoters and the like which shaped the climate that shaped him.
Likewise, in defense of the contemporary artists who have blessed us with their releases, it is not incumbent on them as individuals to hold the torch, but on the Reggae/Dancehall industry as a whole to develop a language and way of doing business that will affect change in a way that is more conducive to the affirmation of dignity for the people. This is one of the advances achieved by the greats like Bob Marley.
So the next time your favorite deejay screams for you to brandish your Bic and light a flame, be sure to use some of the lighter to fluid to illuminate the waybefore you light that spliff.