(Bob) MARLEY movie review (and related thoughts)

I confess, I haven’t read the books about Bob Marley – preferring instead more immediate contact (with his and all of Reggae Music), including performing it (’cause I’m a musician too). When it came to reviewing the Marley movie (which I saw recently), I wanted to see what others were saying – to find any kernels of insight – so that I could contribute to the existing conversation. I Googled (of course) and all the big (mainstream) guns appeared: New York Times, Huffington Post, Metro UK, NPR, Time Out London, to name five.

I did learn a few things (that were not apparent from the movie)…these folks do their research! I found that the film was originally to’ve been directed by Martin Scorcese, and that the guy who ultimately got the job (Scottish Director Kevin Macdonald) had won an Oscar (Academy Award) for another documentary of his [per John Anderson with the Times].

I found an apparently damning hit on the written biographical canon (from the same article, all in double quotes): “ ‘This is what we wanted it to be’ [the movie] Ziggy Marley, a successful pop performer, said by phone. ‘I’ve never read one book about my father’ he said. ‘Who are they?’ [meaning the book authors] ‘They don’t know him.’ Rita Marley, Ziggy’s mother and Bob’s widow, concurred.” Rita is featured heavily in the film, well composed and quite secure in her position (and history).

Marshall Fine, in the Huffington Post hit another nail on the head (with his first line!). “Marley was a seminal figure in popular music in the post-Beatles era: not the first person to introduce Reggae to the radio but the first Reggae superstar — and one of the first superstars to emerge from the Third World.This made me think – yeah – who’s come up since, or before: Harry Belafonte, Carmen Miranda? Bob struck a different chord than them, or really, than anyone since (in terms of his revolutionary stance).

Although he seems pretty harmless now (to the establishment) – being no longer alive – and smiling handsomely through ubiquitous merchandising (seemingly everywhere: on t-shirts, posters, etc.), Bob Marley should not be construed as a walking tourist commercial. Sometimes I feel like The Legend album and people who love it, or support that aspect of his repertoire – it has only 2 militant songs out of 14 – miss the point. He was a lover, to be sure, but he was so much more than that!

I forget the quote (it was posted on the screen), or maybe it was an audio quote – at the end of the movie – to the effect that all Bob ever wanted, was for people to live together peacefully. It was more powerfully stated than that (but I couldn’t find it online). [I did, however, find a site devoted to Marley quotes.] 

I think of Bob Marley as more in-your-face than the passage of time (or even this movie) has allowed.

Maybe because of time and distance – perhaps the relative ‘safety’ of having him that far ‘away’ – maybe that has made it easier for people to get next to him, to be exposed to his message, and ultimately to ‘get it.’ He was a complex character, to be sure.

I’ve been speaking in overview, but I want to return more specifically to the movie itself. I ‘liked it’ – to the extent that I appreciated the painstaking attention to detail: dozens of interviews, integrating actual songs seamlessly (with thematic logic) into the story line, thousands of photos – no wonder it took years to complete. Kudos to the Director, and the whole team.

Ziggy Marley was co-Producer, and (interestingly) Bunny Wailer was listed as the Associate Producer (which was cool). The several clips of Bunny were elucidating – of the early days; the reason for the split (upon the first U.S. tour…of he/Peter Tosh and Marley) – and they represent him well – as a feisty survivor with integrity throughout. He, and several others depicted, were dressed to the nines for the occasion (of their interviews), yet as Bunny was explaining the gist of Reggae on his back porch, I couldn’t help noticing the broken down VW bus in his neighbor’s yard…

I felt mirrored, though, when Marshall Fine (of the Huffington Post) said “Why, then, even after almost two and a half hours, does Marley feel incomplete?” You can read his review to see why that held true for him. I, myself, did not feel any closer (after watching the movie) to Bob himself than I had been before. Granted, I’ve been on the Reggae scene since just after he died (so I know what’s up) – and I’m grateful for the education it gave my son (who’s 13, and came with me). But (and a few of the authors alluded to this) the record of serious, probing, and challenging interviews is scant. Yes, we do hear his words [and I strongly recommend ‘the Bob Marley interview album,’ which I could not readily find on iTunes…I had it only on vinyl], but most of what we know about Bob is relayed by those (selected few) featured, who knew him personally. This is a great strength of the movie – the combination of their statements into one place.

Also conveyed are some of the more powerful, public moments in Bob’s life (and legacy). There was the Smile Jamaica concert (he performed just after having been shot by unknown gunmen); the One Love Concert (when he returned to Jamaica from self-imposed exile in England); and the Zimbabwean independence celebration [whose PA/stage equipment Bob voluntarily shipped in from England at his own expense]. I had not seen all that live footage in one place, and each moved me – as it ought to move any sentient being – to tears.

Big stuff – but the archives (and the interviewees) do all the talking – the movie itself doesn’t ‘do anything more’ than (impressively) put all the pieces in order. Perhaps this was self-conscious, maybe the Director never intended to put his personal imprint on the story (or provide a take-home message). He may have seen his role – as a documentarian – being ‘merely’ a masterful librarian.

It’s a priceless statement, to be sure, but as a cinematic experience, it doesn’t – in itself – transport us somewhere new and different. ‘All it does’ (and this is no mean feat) is simply ‘open up the book’ and give us the cherished opportunity to look inside. I don’t believe the movie let’s us experience the message through more than vicarious means.

I’m not poo-poo’ing the flick. I actually don’t like armchair critics – and would hate to appear as one – most reviews are so impersonal (and often too academic). Their pieces are often cursory – if you survey them, even in this case – they’re too brief to explore any issues in great depth [‘thanks’ editors, and the reading public, for not clamoring for more…shame on us all for not demanding our authors dig deeper than the surface].

I consider myself lucky to have my own Blog, Site, and Newsletter…outlets to expound. And yes, there are also the Reggae sites out there (who generally can’t afford to pay writers). I didn’t find much of note on this new movie from my initial scan of them.

Also, all authors (myself included) are afraid to ‘lose the reader’ with extended verbiage. ‘It’s too long’ my colleagues complain, when they read anything that’s not just a few bullets ‘long.’ In these times, it seems like people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. To have an opinion or really explore any topic in depth is perceived as presumptuous and too demanding on people’s precious time.

It’s possible too (by way of my own critique of these various reviews), that the writers aren’t really versed in Reggae, per se. When do they get to write about it? I mean really – look at the list of media outlets above – how often do they all line up to provide coverage of anything other than Marley-pertinent news? I probably couldn’t get their collective attention if I tried – and nor could 98% of the Reggae Artists out there – who are in the trenches of this music every day of every year.

I tend to zoom out, try to incorporate more of the general scene, implications and extrapolations…looking at how a given news story (like the release of this film) can be seen in the light of what else is going on with the music. For those of us who think about this stuff all the time – who live it on the regular – any treasure trove (like this movie) bears picking apart and really scrutinizing.

The Marley movie does an excellent job of setting the stage – Bob’s childhood/youth challenges – and his rise during the Ska period (his first solo single “Judge Not” came out in 1962, when he was 17!) – living/working first with Coxone Dodd (at Studio One), then recording under the tutelage of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – joining up with Tosh & Bunny, embracing Rastafari and co-creating Reggae. These are all important developments in community…as are his becoming embroiled in Jamaican politics.

Somewhere along the way, Bob becomes his own context, and the rest of the Reggae world loses its relevance (or coverage, in the film).

Even Reggae aficionados who love Marley can’t help putting his primacy into perspective, given the the universe of other (to us) superstars out there: Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller, Gregory Isaacs…the list goes on indefinitely. We can’t over-stand (we already under-stand) why Bob Marley still makes up nearly half of all Reggae Music sales.

Why won’t the world wake up to the rest of the Reggae universe? Somebody put it cuttingly [I’m not sure if it was Peter, I did find some Tosh quotes online though] upon Bob’s demise they said (and I paraphrase): ‘now there’ll be room for the rest of us.’ All these years later, I’m not so sure.

Author Tom Huddleston, of TimeOut London takes us back to the movie (as English commentators are wont to) quite critically: “The big flaw in the film – and it’s perhaps unavoidable – is that, despite interviews with many of Marley’s closest family, including wife Rita, son Ziggy and longtime girlfriend Cindy Breakspeare, we never truly get a sense of his personality. Memories of him are conflicting and contradictory: to some he was a holy man, to others a scoundrel, and so the portrait which emerges shifts and fragments, reshaped with each new piece of information. By the end, Marley remains as much of an enigma as when it began.”

Huddleston continues…”From Kingston, Jamaica to Kingston Upon Hull [in the UK], from Boston to Brazzaville, Marley has been held in mystic reverence by millions of fans since his death in 1981. But those who worship the man and his music tend to overlook the fact that he was an adulterer who fathered 11 children by seven women, that his attitude towards those women was far from progressive and that his treatment of his children was equally problematic.”

While Stephen & Ziggy seem to’ve made their peace with their father, Cedella [CEO of the Marley studio & label Tuff Gong, and author of 5 books, per Wikipedia] has still got some clearly conflicting emotions, which are apparent on screen. These are the only 3 Marley children whose commentary was included…there may have been more spoken to (but who weren’t featured, for whatever reason).

While the language is strongest above, the authors surveyed, and some of his ex’s speak to this – there is some sense of moral indignation regarding Bob’s ‘womanizing’ (for lack of a better word). And yet this was one of the most brilliantly handled topics in the movie (to my mind). By his own words (Bob speaks in the film, and again, I’m paraphrasing): ‘I follow the law of His Majesty – and if not clearly stated by Him – I follow my own law,’ which I thought handled the topic summarily. What amazed me, was the capacity of the women themselves (as interviewed) to acknowledge the raw facts; see through to the larger mission and meaning of their lives with him; and experience (and still feel) the love and compassion that seems to’ve brought them (many of them) together in his last days.

Being a cancer survivor myself, I can relate Bob’s sense of lost control. I didn’t know that the first signs of his illness came 3+ years before his demise. Nothing was done about it – either due to his own busy schedule; possibly poor medical advice(?); and his not wanting to mess with his own body’s locomotion. Medical intervention does not feature highly in the Rasta philosophy. Natural healing and leaving the body be are preferable, as a rule.

Somebody comments in the movie that it was his ‘white side’ that made him susceptible to the melanoma. The physician at the time suggested amputation of toe – or leg – which would have kept him from dancing, or playing soccer, which he loved (and was fiercely competitive at). At one point in the movie, he self-identifies with his dreads, and it pains me to this day (having been a dreadlock myself, for about 5 years), to imagine having lost them through Chemo (as he did, pursuing a combined holistic and allopathic medicine treatment plan at the end – both of which ultimately failed – it was ‘too late’).

Bob also lost his country for awhile – moving to England (his first residence pictured here) – where he could work on his music without the distractions (and dangers!) of Jamaican politics. Apparently it took the top thugs of both parties traveling to the UK to convince him they were willing to set aside their differences if he could return and lend his palliative presence to the nation. He did return to Jamaica – in fine style – and was swarmed like His Majesty (who’s thronged arrival to Jamaica over a decade earlier is also captured in the film’s annals).

Another interesting tidbit revealed was Marley’s lament that he hadn’t captured the Black American audience. Although he’d already performed for crowds pushing 100,000 fans, Bob was a pragmatist, and had the humility to accept the opening slot on tour with the Commodores…an excellent gateway to begin reaching out to this next, intended market.

It’s sad to think Bob was given a hard time about being ‘half-castle’ (or half white) as a child, when later, he would become such a symbol of black power – not as such (because he’s quoted as saying he was neither black nor white) – but perhaps his racial ambiguity facilitated people (even till now – there are Middle Easterners featured in passing at the end of the film – presumably denizens of the ‘Arab Spring’)…people have increasingly been empowered by his message, whatever their background.

Little is said – or known about Bob Marley’s father – Norval Marley (click through to see his entry in Wikipedia). He was an older man when he met up with Bob’s mother, and didn’t stick around…dying of a heart attack at 70, when young Robert was only 10 (in 1955). The movie tells about the cold shoulder he got – about a decade later – when he approached the ongoing Marley family business (not directly his fathers’), asking for any kind of support. His half sister (or other, connected relative, I’m sorry I don’t recall) notes how he – Bob – is now THE Marley, and the whole of them have become inconsequential footnotes of  history. Indeed “the stone that the builder refuse…shall be the head corner stone.”

Another footnote – was something not mentioned in the movie – and delivers another coincidental similarity between myself and Bob Marley (on top of the Cancer and the fact I’m also an Aquarius – or the sign of Joseph – born 1 day apart, 20 years after him)…we both have some Sephardic Jewish origins. You can check his father’s wikipedia entry for more on this. I think it explains some things, though I won’t explore my interpretations of what they might be here (and now).

What I will do, is wrap up this review summarily – there’s nothing else I’d want to touch on – this is the whole of my perspective on it. I would never claim to be capable of doing a better job than the producers of this film…it’s an invaluable resource that will undoubtedly bolster long time Reggae lovers’ faith in the movement, as well as attract new enthusiasts.


About the Author: Kyle Russell was turned on to Reggae in 1979, when he heard “Kaya” wafting through the air in Brazil (where he went to High School). The music was so different, it seized his imagination. Later, on a college clean-up work crew, he was turned onto the “Harder they Come” album (also during High School). A friend’s radio show (at College) opened him up to the rest of the Reggae world – which led to an embrace of Rastafari – and growing dreadlocks (over the course of 5 years). Moving to Boston in 1986, Russell pursued a career in music, forming his own band, touring, backing hundreds of artists, and now providing Management Consulting and Promotional services. His efforts to share the music resulted in his founding & publishing Rhythm Music Magazine in the 1990’s, and developing a host of media assets since 2000: from the website Reggae4i.com to a substantial international Database, Newsletters, and now Blogs. He may be reached through his ubiquitous screen name ReggaePR@AOL.com.

About the Photos: many were taken from Wikipedia, others found on Google. None had the photographer’s name, so I apologize for not including proper credits for them. As their names become available, I will be happy to share them. The last photo is particularly interesting, because it portrays a performance on the Uprising Tour (at ‘Crystal Palace’), where the audience appears to be up to their torsos in water, much as Hindus on pilgrimage, or baptisms involve…drenching the body in holy water, to be anointed. Truly, Bob Marley’s music is a major contribution of Spirit to the historical wealth of human culture.

Posted in Bob Marley, Culture, Festivals, Jamaicans, Judaism, Music, One Love, Peoples/Nationalities, Philosophy, Politics, Rasta, Rastafari, Rastafarian, Reggae, Reggae Artists, Reggae Music, Religion, Roots Reggae | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s Reggae Got to Do with It: Between Nature’s Explosions and Human Implosions

What’s up with all THIS?

I was very disturbed by Amy Winehouse‘s “passing.” Of course it wasn’t as simple as that – she burnt out. I didn’t know her. Heard family and friends did all they could…but did they?

Amy Winehouse at Awards event

Amy Winehouse at an Awards event

She’s so confident in this picture: self assured, and in others (easily Googled, unfortunately), she’s such a mess. What a shame.

I watched her live videos and WOW: what soul! She was channeling for some pretty heavy forces. That’s why people liked her (plus, at her best, she was a gorgeous, universal woman…evidence left).

Sometimes descending to the depths and reaching the highest heights takes you away from the world we know. I’ve done that – a couple of times in my life – and come back from the brink. It’s been worth it.

Back to the case in point. With Amy, there came the usual blame game: fame, drugs – it’s always something else out there. But the human being is very damn complex, and when you get down to it, hard to handle. It’s easy to give up – hard not to give in temptation – succumb to your own, lesser self.

Joel Chin (part of the VP Records‘ royal family of Reggae) succumbed to others’ lesser selves. He was gunned down in front of his own house – how low is that! And leaving behind a newborn daughter(!).

Joel Chin in the studio

VP Records' Joel Chin, in the studio

Why is it that so many Rock (or Pop) stars have killed themselves, while the Reggae & Hip Hop community are happy to take down their own? I’m sure his attackers were known to him, maybe disgruntled artists. Do we really know…so much hearsay out there. Who to believe?

So many hypocrites and back stabbers. As if life weren’t hard enough without naysayers nipping at your heals and trying to take you down. People you trust double cross you, make promises they don’t keep, and the big bad world just keeps on coming at you. No pity.

And then there’s an Earthquake. Hurricanes follow. And vicious doubters are trying to take down one of the wisest Presidents the U.S. has boasted in years.

Obama, thinking

President Barack Obama, contemplating

Sure Obama‘s connected with the powers that be – he’s one of them (for now) – but he’s trying to do the right thing. Which one of us could do better?

He’s berated for his whiteness, rejected for his blackness, told he’s “not supporting his base,” an “enemy to the nation.” Which way is it, really?

At the end of the day, we all have to face our demons and stand before the Lord in Judgement. Annually (and coming up in a matter of weeks), Hebrews face the new year and the Day of Atonement.

Bob Marley illustration (face left)

Bob Marley - uncompromising meditation (an illustration)

As Bob Marley said: “leave all judgement unto Him.” How many of us truly heed that, or the best words of the Good Book? “Who G*d bless, let no man curse.” Quotes are bandied about as weapons, convenient self-justifications. Where is the “One Love” people preach, but don’t teach(!?).

Wrapped up in their self righteousness, a meaningful portion of Reggae Artists pose as the only true believers. A new Christian movement “Dominionism” stages spiritual warefare against places and whole peoples. Islam is vilified while it provides solace and a direct connection with G*d to millions.

Co-Exist: Islam, Judaism, Christianity

Co-Exist banner: Islam, Judaism, Christianity

Across the Arab world, people yearn to be free like you and me. Yet how many would like to see tiny Israel’s right to exist denied. The bad intentions and misbehavior of the few poison the drinking well of the many.

So where does Reggae fit in?

I wrote an editorial at the start of the year (featured as an earlier Blog) called “What is Rasta?” in which I explored the central theme of what “the Faith” is, or means.

I think any religion serves the primary function of guiding its flock in the right direction.

They all offer a moral compass. Some are more rigid than others. Alas (too often) these various traditions lead us against each other. At their best, and at least internally – to each one’s adherents – religions provide us ways of understanding reality, and interpreting the messages of G*d, which are manifest daily.

Reggae logo (all caps)

Reggae: Spirit in Music

As one of the most oral traditions among modern belief systems (ie. there’s no clergy or specific place of worship for most), Rastafarianism is conveyed primarily to the general public (as it was to me) through the music: Reggae Music to be specific. So what people say in songs, what you hear on your radio or iPod…that’s your gospel. Is it helping you to overstand the situation? Is it providing comfort in the storm? Does the message speak to you?

Even Jamaicans lament where the music’s going, with conscious, cultural lyrics taking a back seat (at least in the public & sales arenas) to slackness. American rock-Reggae bands tower in attendance over traditional Jamaican acts (at least Stateside), why? Could it be that they’re carrying the new torch of meaning in their message? Could it be that the old tried-and-true no longer rings as true for most? Is there a reinvention afoot, a transmutation of the Spirit?

One things’s for sure, regardless of how popular you are, your music has to be relevant. It has to convey Spirit, even apart from the lyrics. That’s one of the great things about  Reggae…the sound itself has value, and few are the people around the world who’d say they’re not drawn to it (even if they’re occasionally turned off by the lyrics: love of Jah, & ganja on the one side; and mysogyny/homophobia on the other).

So why isn’t it bigger than it is?

Why do some say Reggae’s going the route of Blues, and becoming an outmoded music form?

I disagree with them: I think there’s a lot of hope, and a lot of great music coming out daily. My renewed mission is to share it with you, and make sure that what is old is new again, and that what is new remains pertinent: showing the way, elucidating what matters, and providing inspiration in troubled times.

We don’t want Amy Winehouse or Joel Chin to have died in vain. They are the foot soldiers in a struggle that continues: to provide a powerful, transformative sound track to our day to day living.

PS. this Blog/Editorial first appeared in the Global issue KRucial Reggae Newsletter entitled “Signs & Wonders…What’s it All About?” (sent out to over 14,000 people worldwide). Click on the the quoted link above to see it, and Click here to Subscribe to our Newsletters.

Posted in American Reggae Bands, Biblical References, Blues, Bob Marley, Christianity, Countries, God, Islam, Israel, Jamaicans, Judaism, Lord, Music, Muslim, One Love, Peoples/Nationalities, Politics, Pop Music, Rasta, Rastafari, Reggae, Reggae Artists, Reggae Music, Religion, Rock, Roots Reggae, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What is Rasta?

You’ve heard: “underneath our skin, we all bleed the same red” (or words to that effect). How about the song: “Don’t have to be Dread to be Rasta.” Some would vehemently object to that idea, or the possibility of being Rasta if you’re not of explicitly African origin (ie. sub-Saharan).

...one of the band Culture's lesser known album covers

Scientifically (if you go in for that sort of thing), it’s been verified that we all hail from Africa – genetically – and geographically. But does this mean the later, disparate traditions of Europe and Asia – the native Americas (or Australia) – have nothing to contribute to our overstanding? Or that non-Africans have no worth as human beings? I think not (and I hope nobody would be so racist as to assert so).

In fact, many non-Afro traditions (and individuals) have both contributed to, and played an important role in magnifying the reach of Reggae and Rasta philosophies. “One Love, One Heart” is not (nor should it be) exclusive. To make it so would be like tying the legs of race horse before the gate opens. We have enough to fight down as it is.

When will we (as Rasta/Reggae lovers – and human beings) realize that we have more in common than separating us (especially in our so-called “community”)? Don’t we know that “until that day…everywhere is War!” (as His Majesty said).

Bob Marley's Exodus album cover: although a reference to the flight from Egypt, the Exodus theme is integral to Rasta philosophy

“Burn Down Babylon” – the philosophy of fire (or destroying one’s enemies) – is that Rasta? Happens a lot in the Bible, and dominates current events. The sentiment has been around from early on in the Reggae tradition (including in Bob’s lyrics). Did you know the whole Babylon theme originates in the Jews’ conquering and forced migration to Babylonia (now Iraq)? “Their” fight was the same as “ours” – to resist and/or make a separate peace – to survive in spite of the odds, create our own homeland, or reality, that works better for us than the prevailing “system” of the time.

Ital (vital, earth-based, natural) eating and living (to the extent that it’s possible, given our living situation and will-power), as well as the treatment (and respect) of our own body as our temple is (I believe) integral to Rasta.

Righteousness is key, but there is a fine line between it and “self-righteousness” – which is actually vanity. Humility is the foundation, fear of (or respect for) G*d is prerequisite. That means YOU (alone) are not G*d. As Bob said: “leave all judgment unto Him.”

the Itals' album: Rasta Philosophy

Much as I appreciate the homage and respect due each of us, recent years’ address of men and women as King and Queen (to my mind) detracts from the fact that there is but ONE King (and His Queen is THE Queen). “Ras” or prince feels more appropriate, as we are all servants (or ought to be), seeking to manifest His will (to the best of our ability and opportunity).

Still, any philosophy and overstanding has a right to evolve. No religion can survive being static, without allowing new generations to make and espouse their own interpretations of faith.

One of the things about Rasta that makes it unique is that it’s fiercely individual – ask any avowed Rasta “what is Rasta?” – and you can be sure to get as many answers. Lack of any central organization or authority has been a relative constant.

Burning Spear's "Hail H.I.M." album cover

Is Rasta the abiding acknowledgement that Jah Ras Tafari (Emperor Haile Selassie I the 1st) is G*d, or at the very least is the face and personal embodiment of G*d? These are two very different, though related concepts. However you slice it, I think the answer is YES.

How can you call yourself Rasta unless Rastafari is somehow front and center in your life?

Many so-called Rastas “deh pon” some other trip (“fashion dreads” not withstanding).

Holy image of Jah

Often Jesus is given the throne foremost. Even Jah himself – while holding all the titles befitting The Lord – was humble and did not boast of his deity. He, as others, put Christianity first. Ethiopians (and Jah) trace their prime lineage to Sheba and Solomon, and incorporate the “Old Testament” or Torah into their holy scriptures (as do the Muslims, consider themselves part of the Abrahamic tradition). Others may be Jews for Jah, so to speak, sidestepping the Christian piece, and awarding H.I.M. status as personal representative and human  incarnation of Adonai.

Truly – and to be fair – the oral gospel that is Reggae, and all the best that being Rasta has to offer, must be laid at His Majesty’s feet, as an offering: “so that the words of our mouth, and the meditation of our heart, be acceptable in thy sight, over I” (from the popular song & Psalm 137).

Posted in Bible, Biblical References, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Jah, Music, Old Testament, One Love, Philosophy, Rasta, Rastafari, Rastafarian, Reggae, Religion, Roots Reggae, the band: Culture, the Itals, The System, Torah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Isn’t Roots Culture?

I was talking to a long time Reggae radio-industry pro, and he said matter-of-factly: “Roots and Culture are two different things.” I was taken aback: isn’t Roots necessarily Culture. He explained: “Culture is what they call conscious music, usually Reggae, that’s made by Dancehall Artists” (he mentioned Sizzla, Lutan Fyah, Gyptian, and a few more). The idea – he thought – was that Dancehall was getting too shiftless, featuring too much violence and “slackness,” and the artists/producers vowed to cool things down with some meditative lyrics. Hence: the “Culture” genre by which contemporary Reggae with a message – out of Jamaica – is called.

Do we call Groundation or John Brown’s Body, who are also making conscious Reggae: Culture as well? Well, aside from the fact that a fair amount of “foreign” (what Jamaicans call everywhere-else-than-Jamaica) Reggae is heavily influenced by (and infused) with non-Reggae, I’d think it might better be called “International” the way the English bands Steel Pulse and Aswad were so-called (and even groups like Third World – who are from Jamaica – they were labeled International).

Then you have (and it’s confusing): International Night at Sumfest,  during which a smorgasbord of not-necessarily-international acts are showcased…so names and titles, even within the genre, can get hazy.

All of it’s cultural, to the extent that it extols the values and meanings of a specific subculture (or group of people with somewhat common interests and overstandings), however any given band or Artist may conceive of it. Many cultures, really, are being represented. And so it’s fair to call Jamaican conscious straight Reggae “culture” as well as Gentleman, from Germany being “culture.”

But Roots is just that – the foundation – which means the music and musicians “of the time:” that blessed decade in Jamaica during the 1970’s. Many modern bands are modeling their sound after that original feel, and so they can call their music Roots (even if they, themselves, may not be of that generation or background).

Culture has Roots though it may not be Roots, but Roots automatically has culture. I get it.

What conversation on the matter could be complete without mention of the seminal group Culture itself. When I saw their records in the bin at the corner record store (I’m dating myself), I had no choice but to buy them. What band could name themselves such an over-arching, enormous title, and NOT be great. I was of course well impressed: the International Herb album delivers relentlessly cultural AND roots music…you can’t go wrong with every re-listening.

So whatever you call it, whether it’s from JA or JP (Jamaica Plain, Boston), it CAN be Roots and it CAN be culture. It’s up to you whether you dig it, or to “know yourself” – your own roots and culture – and  you’ll be sure to find music to match.

Posted in American Reggae Bands, Aswad, Culture, Dancehall Artists, Festivals, Foreign, Groundation, Gyptian, John Browns Body, Lutan Fyah, Roots Reggae, Sizzla, Steel Pulse, Sumfest, Third World | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blogosphere Welcome: KRucial Reggae in the house

I wrote in my KRucial Reggae Blog Profile that I’ve been promoting Reggae for many years, and it’s finally time to step into the Blogosphere. I have an opinion, and this is a new way to share it and get feedback. I used to mail out postcards, call people personally (and I still do – those that I know like that). Then there was my website: http://www.Reggae4i.com, followed by my ongoing mainstay: content-rich Newsletters with regional, global, and niche industry focus. I’ve done MySpace and Twitter (still figuring out), and last but not least Facebook (which is my favorite Social Networking medium right now). Now to learn the joys of Blogging.

What’s my point? Twofold: as always, I’m trying to promote projects & artists I’m working with, and I’m always looking for new ways expand my contact network in search of more synergistic collaborations.

ALSO, I want to use this as an editorial outlet, evolving from monologue to dialog with people who actually care. What do they care about? Reggae Music, what it really stands for: One Love, Spirit, Rastafari, life affirming, and soul searching.

I just spoke to someone who said (at least some) booking agents are hungry for new talent, as the old guard is retiring (note the recent deaths of giants Sugar Minott and Mikey Dread). Who this new guard is and what they’ll do with the mantle is very key. It seems nowadays that a lot of the original energy has been lost or transmuted: I heard Damien Marley got no applause recently (in Jamaica), but now that he’s showed up with a Hip Hop artist (Nas), things are different…Jamaicans want to hear American music, and Americans want to hear Jamaican music. I call it colonial nostalgism: where the grass is always greener at “the source.” But guess what: once grass is growing, it’s growing, and if it’s green it’s green, and if it has roots, it has roots (wherever they are).

Posted in Blogging, Colonialism, Facebook, Hip Hop, MySpace, New Music, Newsletters, One Love, Reggae Artists, Social Networking, Soul Searching, Twitter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments