NYU Black Renaissance Noire Spring 2015 - Page 44

Chinee man,’ where he castigates singer Derrick Morgan for leaving his stable to go and record for a Jamaican Chinese producer. During the short rock steady period between ska and reggae 1966-68, we begin to get songs like Desmond Dekker’s ‘Pretty Africa’ expressing the sentiments of Garvey’s ‘Back to Africa’ movement and the Rastafarian demand for repatriation. In the song Dekker describes Africa as ‘the land of our fathers … where we belong.’ The growth of the Rastafarian movement and the alienation felt by the poor and marginalised youth of urban Jamaica ensured that the theme of repatriation would become a consistently restated theme in many reggae recordings. ‘Send I back to Ethiopia land/it is our fathers’ land/ Selah’ sing the aptly named Ethiopians in one of their early recordings. In another song from the rock steady period, Bob Andy declares, 42 I’ve Got to Go Back Home Jamaica couldn’t be home ‘cause I can’t get clothes to wear/ can’t get no food to eat/ I can’t find a job to get bread/ … nothing like a future here’. The persona of the song threatens to commit suicide unless he leaves. This sense of alienation/unbelonging and hopelessness is rooted in the shortcoming of the abolition — that is to radically transform the lives of former slaves and their descendants. The disillusionment with the material conditions of postcolonial existence finds expression in many reggae songs. Over a decade after Jamaican independence, during the turbulent 1970s, Rastafarian singer Fred Locks still finds inspiration in the ill-fated Black Starliner shipping company which Marcus Garvey’s unia had established to transport new world blacks to Africa. ‘Seven miles of Black Starliners coming in the harbour’… For Fred Locks this is a vision of the fulfilment of Garvey’s prophesy of freedom, a vision that persists amongst some Rastafarians. ‘It’s repatriation/ black liberation’ chants Fred Locks. BRN-SPRING-2015.indb 42 Marcus Garvey’s currency had declined by the time of his death in 1940. As Colin Grant tells us in his book Negro With A Hat, “It wasn’t until […] when crises hit the black world with the rise of the militant Black Power Movement in the usa in the 1960s, and the emergence of black leaders in Africa and the Caribbean seeking to forge new national identities that people started to think again of Garvey.” Burning Spear’s ‘Old Marcus Garvey’ was released around the same period as Fred Locks’ ‘Black Star Liners’ in the early to mid 1970s. By then, Garvey was not only one of Jamaica’s national heroes, he was back in currency. But whilst Fred Locks reaffirms the Garveyite vision of African redemption, Burning Spear laments its betrayal. All of Jamaica’s male national heroes are being talked about, sings Burning Spear, but ‘no one remembers old Marcus Garvey’ is the song’s paradoxical refrain. Nanny of the maroons, Jamaica’s only national heroine is not mentioned in the song. Some expressions of African consciousness in reggae take the form of statements of pride in African ancestry like Johnnie Clarke’s ‘African Roots,’ for example, where he sings We’ve been taken away from Africa/more than five hundred years/ but one thing they couldn’t take/ was the roots out of my mind/ African roots/Just call me African roots At the heart of African consciousness in reggae music is the historical experience of slavery, its legacy of brutality, exploitation, marginalisation, hopelessness and centuries of colonial indoctrination of black inferiority. A common theme of many expressions of African consciousness in reggae music is that of remembering. ‘Do you remember the days of slavery?’ asks Burning Spear rhetorically in his song ‘Slavery Days.’ In the song ‘Africa, ’ from their 1976 album Right Time, the Mighty Diamonds not only declare that Africa, their ancestral land, is calling them home, but also memorialize and re-member slavery: I remember those chains/ how my people was in slavery/ time and time ago Bob Marley sings, ‘I remember on the slave ship how they brutalise our very soul.’ Marley’s remembering in this song is like an invocation and intergenerational re-remembering of slavery. ‘Slave Driver’ is about retributive justice: slave driver/ the table is turned/ catch-a-fire you gonna get burn Fire, of course, is still a potent metaphor of retribution in Rasta discourse. Like Marley’s ‘Slave Driver,’ songs like Peter Tosh’s ‘Four Hundred Years,’ Burning Spear’s ‘Old Marcus Garvey’ and Bob Andy’s ‘I’ve Got to Go Back Home’ are not just expressions of African consciousness, but also critique of postcolonial Jamaica. Sometimes expressions of African consciousness in reggae happen in the act of naming in relation to the word — sound — power principle. Think of the Abyssinians, the Congos, the Ethiopians, Burning Spear, Queen Ifrica, Sizzla Kolanje and Mutabaruka. Cedric Brooks names two of his instrumental compositions ‘Tales of Mozambique’ and ‘Nigerian Reggae.’ These are all direct references to African experience and experience in Africa. Some songs lament the loss of name, loss of identity and loss of connection to Africa. In ‘Give I Fe I Name’ Pablo Moses demands of the coloniser the return of his original African name. He argues that Chinese are called ‘Chin and Chung,’ Scots are ‘Mc Intoshs’ and Indians are called ‘Raja and Gavaskar,’ but Smith is not an African name. 3/29/15 11:41 AM