Bob Marley Day – No Woman, No Cry

February 6

“I don’t have prejudice against myself. My father was a white and my mother was black…Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.”     – Bob Marley

There’s a scene in L’auberge espagnole where the main character witnesses a guitar-playing American woo a European girl with his very white rendition of “No Woman, No Cry.”

“…I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in trenchtown…”

Strange how this song, co-written and immortalized by a Jamaican man about the ghetto of Kingston, would become an unofficial anthem for North Americans backpacking through Europe, to the point of cliché.

There’s a beauty that shines through Bob Marley’s music, despite the many impediments of the artists and tourists who try to duplicate his magic.

Officially, Marley shares credit for “No Woman, No Cry” with his old friend Vincent ‘Tartar’ Ford, a “bredda from Trenchtown.” Ford was a paraplegic who ran the soup kitchen in Kingston where Marley once lived and played. How much Ford actually contributed to writing the song, we don’t know. Marley once said he wrote the song while he was tuning his guitar in Ford’s yard; it’s been argued (in litigation) that Marley simply wanted to avoid contractual obligations by crediting songs to his friends and the Wailers. In this case, he wanted to send royalties the way of Ford and his kitchen.[Reggae Routes]

Of course, the creative process is never as clean-cut as litigators and music executives would like.

Marley’s biographer Vivien Goldman commented on the song-writing process:

“That song may very well have been a conversation that they had sitting around one night. That’s the way Bob’s creativity worked. In the end it didn’t matter. The point is Bob wanted him to have the money.” – NY Times, 1/4/09

Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford outlived his ‘bredda’ by over a quarter century. He lived to see Marley grow from being a music sensation to an international movement. Marley now has a greater following than even the man whom he, like other Rastafarians, revered as a prophet, the Lion of Judah: Emperor Haile Selassie I.

We’ll never know just how much Ford contributed to one of the world’s most famous songs. The 68 year-old former soup kitchen manager died five weeks ago, on December 28, 2008, in Kingston, Jamaica, from complications related to diabetes.

Good friends we have, oh, good friends weve lost
Along the way.
In this great future, you cant forget your past
So dry your tears, I seh.

Bob Marley & Vincent Ford, No Woman, No Cry

February 6 is Robert Nesta Marley’s birthday, and a national holiday in his homeland of Jamaica.

[published Feb. 6, 2009]

Bob Marley Day – Song of Freedom

February 6

How long shall they kill our prophets

While we stand aside and look?

Some say it’s just a part of it:

We’ve got to fulfill de book…

Redemption Song, Bob Marley

Most national and religious holidays commemorate the death (or the birth) of a martyr or martyrs executed for their beliefs.

And then there are the victory holidays, of battles and wars, which essentially celebrate the deaths of somebody else’s martyrs.

And then there are Poets. History teaches us that unlike political and religious leaders, artists need not die for their cause to have a holiday named after them, provided they die young.

The Scots have Rabbie Burns, and the Slovenes have France Preseren. Jamaica and the world have Bob Marley, born this day in 1945.

Hard to believe he’d be in his sixties if he were alive today. He died at 36 of melanoma cancer. He left behind, not a traditional bible, but a legacy of spirit in song.

Buffalo soldier,

in the heart of America

Stolen from Africa,

brought to America

Fighting on arrival,

fighting for survival…

If you know your history

Then you would know where you coming from

Then you wouldn’t have to ask

Who the eck do I think I am…

–from Buffalo Solider

In an industry where the vast majority of popular music revolved around repetitive and vapid love songs, Marley’s lyrics articulated complex social issues: race, power, politics, and God. He filtered these themes through his own unique view of the world, one which saw beyond the arbitrary borders and distinctions of the society in which he lived. He once said:

“I don’t have prejudice against myself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white…”

His first single, aptly titled “Judge Not,” was released in 1962, the year of Jamaica’s independence.

Marley spread the Rastafari philosophy around the world. His most famous concert may have been the 1978 One Love Peace Concert, during which he called the leaders of the ruling and opposing parties on stage to hold hands.

Exodus 20th Anniversary Edition

In 1999 Time Magazine called his 1977 album Exodus the “Best Album of the Century.”

The title alludes to the spiritual birth of the Judeo-Christian and Muslim religions. Marley’s lyrics consistently draw upon Biblical themes, Jamaican folk-lore, and his own experience to speak to the continuing struggle of the African Diaspora, particularly in the New World.

Open your eyes and look within:

Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?

We know where we’re going

We know where we’re from

We’re leaving Babylon

We’re going to our father land.

–Bob Marley, Exodus, 1977

Because of the timelessness of Marley’s lyrics and recordings, his legacy will continue to grow over the coming decades. The further we get from his death, the more people tend to recall the legend over the person.

In Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley Christopher Farley touches on the very human side of Nesta…

“…near the end of his life, when his dreadlocks had begun to fall out because of the cancer treatments, he would still summon the strength to play with his kids. He would put on a Frankenstein mask from off the kitchen counter and chase his sons and daughters around their house in Miami. “A lot of people know Dad the musician,” [Marley’s eldest daughter] Cedella says. “We’ve always known him as Dad–who could be corny, funny, serious at times, but would never spank. If he saw a tear in your eye, he would look the other way. That’s the person that we know.”

He was called the “first Third World superstar,” but as he said of himself…

“…I don’t think Third World. To me, I am of the First World. I can’t put people in classes.”

Think Bob Marley’s legacy is overrated? It’s okay to say it, we’re all friends here. But think of this: It is culture and tradition that sustain a people separated from their homeland. Unlike previous diasporas, the Africa Diaspora was so brutal and so widespread that descendants were cut off from an evolution of culture and tradition that had been passed down for a hundred generations.

Marley’s success at embodying, expressing and popularizing a unique cultural movement in the 1960s and 70s, specifically of, by, and for the African Diaspora, was the culmination of hundreds of years of adaptation and indomitable faith. The movement redefined core values of peace, unity, God, redemption, and the enjoyment of life.

Nesta Robert Marley died in 1981. At his request he was buried with a bible, his guitar, a soccer ball, his ring, and a bong.

Nesta Robert Marley :  February 6, 1945-May 11, 1981

Songs of Freedom: The Music of Bob Marley as Transformative Education

Bob Marley’s Legacy Lives On

Marley Videos

Haile Selassie I – Rasta’s Ras

July 23

Today Rastas around the world praise His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I — who was born this day in 1892, and who led Ethiopia through most of the 20th Century, until his death in 1975.

“Haile Selassie” means “Power of the Trinity”. He was born Tafari Makonnen, the son of an Ethiopian governor and former general, who led troops to victory at the Battle of Adowa in the 1899 Italo-Ethiopian War. After the deaths of his father and brother, the teenage Makonnen became governor in 1911. Then Regent of Ethiopia in 1916, and Emperor in 1930.

In the Rastafarian movement, Haile Selassie is considered to have been a living incarnation of God. His many titles, such as Lion of Judah and “Jah” (from the Hebrew Yahweh), refer to this.

The word Rastafarian itself comes from Haile Selassie’s title Ras, Ethiopian for ‘Prince’, literally, ‘Head’.

In North America and Europe, Haile Selassie’s fame spread via reggae music and Rasta culture. Bob Marley is often pictured wearing the late Emperor’s ring…

Emperor of Ethiopia
His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I: Emperor of Ethiopia

Marley’s song “War” quotes Haile Selassie’s 1963 address to the United Nations…

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained;

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.

In that speech Haile Selassie also alluded to an address he delivered 27 years earlier to the UN’s forerunner, the defunct League of Nations. It would be remembered as the most moving and prophetic speech in that bodies’ history.

In 1935 Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was determined to conquer Ethiopia to resurrect the glory of the former Roman Empire. Just as Selassie’s father fought against Italy in 1899, Selassie himself now found himself facing a first-world power with far greater resources, manpower, and technology.

The Emperor’s speech began…

“I, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, am here today to claim that justice which is due to my people, and the assistance promised to it eight months ago, when fifty nations asserted that aggression had been committed in violation of international treaties.

“There is no precedent for a Head of State himself speaking in this assembly. But..there has never before been an example of any Government proceeding to the systematic extermination of a nation by barbarous means, in violation of the most solemn promises made by the nations of the earth that there should not be used against innocent human beings the terrible poison of harmful gases.”

Haile Selassie addresses the League of Nations, 1936

After describing the heinous mustard gas attacks on his people–poisons that had been banned by the League of Nations, the Emperor appealed to the nations that had guaranteed Ethiopia its security…

“In October 1935, the 52 nations who are listening to me today gave me an assurance that the aggressor would not triumph, that the resources of the Covenant would be employed in order to ensure the reign of right and the failure of violence.

“I ask the fifty-two nations not to forget today the policy upon which they embarked eight months ago, and on faith of which I directed the resistance of my people against the aggressor whom they had denounced to the world. Despite the inferiority of my weapons, the complete lack of aircraft, artillery, munitions, hospital services, my confidence in the League was absolute. I thought it to be impossible that fifty-two nations, including the most powerful in the world, should be successfully opposed by a single aggressor. Counting on the faith due to treaties, I had made no preparation for war, and that is the case with certain small countries in Europe.

“…It is not merely a question of the settlement of Italian aggression. It is collective security: it is the very existence of the League of Nations…God and history will remember your judgment.”

His predictions were spot on. Mussolini’s actions–and the League of Nations’ impotence–inspired Adolf Hitler to expand his own German empire. And the League continued to appease the dictators at the expense of the smaller countries of Europe until a full-scale world war was unavoidable.

Haile Selassie’s 1936 speech to the League of Nations

Haile Selassie’s 1963 speech to the UN

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