None but ourselves…
Bob Marley and the emancipation of black people
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds…” go part of the lyrics from one of the most famous songs ever to be released.
This song, as you probably know – and if you don’t then you should – was by the late great legend, Bob Marley, who breathed his last on May 11 of 1981.
May 11 of this year marked the 32nd anniversary of Marley's death and the world over, and particularly in Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean in the Caribbean, many people celebrated the life, times, achievements and contributions of the man who straddled the world like a colossus through his music.
Marley sang about human rights for black people and that we were all equal as God’s creation. Above all, he was passionate about the emancipation of black people. And in that way, he was probably the greatest ever ambassador for our global liberation as people of colour.
For many people in Zimbabwe, May 11 holds a special place in the heart because Bob Marley was in the country for our very first Independence celebrations.
In the hours leading up to the historic day of April 18, 1980, Bob Marley was there to sing his massively inspiring song “Zimbabwe”.
In that song he not only celebrated Zimbabwe’s victory over colonialism, but he also warned of the hard days ahead as mercenaries from home and from abroad would seek to sabotage the revolution.
As is the norm every year, Zimbabwe held its Marley commemorations, with the most notable being that organised by Trevor Hall. Hall is from the Caribbean and has made his home in Zimbabwe, taking up the name Ras Jabu and consistently being at the forefront of not only keeping the music of Bob Marley alive in the country, but also popularising and developing reggae music.
For people like Ras Jabu, the annual Marley commemorative shows are not just about music: they are a time to take stock of where Africa has come from, where it is, and where it is going.
Coming from the poorest ghettos of Jamaica, Marley identified with the needs, pains and aspirations of the downtrodden and the poor. He understood that the only reason they were oppressed was because of their skin colour, and he set about trying to correct that through his music.
As such, Bob Marley became the voice of millions of people of colour from across the globe who found solace and inspiration in his powerful lyrics.
Getting deeper and deeper into matters spiritual, Marley was able to infuse his music with greater meaning as he sought to both get closer to his Creator, as well as draw others closer as well.
In that way, Bob Marley provides us with a moral compass as we go about building Africa into the kind of land that we would want it to be.
Let us not shy away from pointing out where we are failing as a continent. Let us not fall into the trap of thinking that just because we now have our own flags and national anthems we have “arrived”.
Because we have not. And we are still far from the promised land.
Corruption, war, plunder, rape, diseases, hunger and homelessness are still very much features of Africa.
Is this the Africa that Bob Marley envisaged? We all know the answer to that!
Bob Marley saw an Africa that was not just free, but one that was free indeed. An Africa where we would all be treated with human dignity and have equal opportunities.
Marley was not just a musician. He was a unifier. Some readers will remember how in 1978 he made a significant step towards reconciling warring political parties in his homeland of Jamaica.
So the best way to honour Bob Marley is to be unifiers, to be lovers of peace and proponents of human dignity.
Playing Bob Marley’s music, smoking weed and growing dreadlocks is not what honouring Bob Marley is about.
Honouring Bob Marley begins with us emancipating ourselves from the many bonds that hold us back and keep us in poverty.
Honouring Bob Marley is about building an Africa that we can all be proud of.