""Dem A Go Tired Fi See Mi Face"
That line, from "Bad Card" has proven to be one of Bob's most prescient. As is the cases, globally, his image still resounds throughout modern Jamaica, even, as I had occasion to find out recently, on that booming, careening, microcosm of Jamaican society known as "the minibus."
To persons not raised in the Caribbean, or to those who have - for various reasons - denied themselves the experience, Jamaican long-haul public transport, like that of nay developing nation, is a some times breathtaking, sometimes bemusing microcosm of the society as a whole. Brash, reckless, and wholly dedicated to satisfying its own temporal ambition (in this case, getting from Port ANtonio to Kingston with as many people as possible in the shortest possible time) its manifest is peopled mostly by the working class, but with the smattering of the adventurous and the plain desparate.
So what does that have to do with Bob Marley and his legacy? Well, being such a microcosm of society, its almost always a "rolling debate" on any number of topics and with the Marley movie due in mere weeks (in advance, we're told, of its US cinematic opening, and rightly so ), the conversation inevitably turns towards the "Gong" and his legacy. Itsa legacy that is already the most documented of any Jamaican, and likely to grow further. Contrary to the general worldwide opinion and assumptions of a near-canonized "Third World superstar " there's more than a fair bit of ambivalence toward Marley, even among the generation that came immediately in his wake.
Firstly, there's the "race card". In a somewhat convoluted but wholly Jamaican mindset, there are a considerable number of persons, especially among the young working class who believe that Marley's half-caste origins are what paved the way and allowed him to be so enthusiastically overseas. In the chroma-centric Jamaican socio-political landscape that ,has become increasingly divided - and divisive - since Independence, its not hard to see this ethos taking root. it showed in politics, where one Prime Ministerial candidate was successful in using his darker hue as a talking point against his lighter-hued, (and US-born) counterpart. Never mind that his own party's predecessor was decidedly on the lighter side. The presence of Chris Blackwell as impresario in the Marley success story does not help in this regard, and the feeling is that if the late Dennis Brown, the oft-styled "Crown Prince" had had that kind of leverage (skin colour and international connections), he would have eclipsed Marley.
But race aside, there are other gaps between Marley's late 70s heyday and today. Marley and the Wailers (his mentione attheir expense is another, smaller bone of contention) sahped by the tensions of the Cold war and the Black Power movement, crafted messages of communal self-relaince, a message with its roots in a more agrarian society with less focus on materialism. The Jamaica of today, almost wholly encompassed in the go-go materialism of North America and maintaining a love-hate relationship with the United States (love the money, hate the lifestyle).Its an ethos that informs the present-day dancehall, with its crass commercialism, in-your-face sexuality and propensity for violence as a means of asserting one's identity and settling disputes. Its an ethos that Marley, though never materially deprived after his Island Records heyday, publicly eschewed, as viewers of the film's trailer will see and hear.
And separate from the ideals, there is also the down-to-earth matter of the sound itself, or more specifically, the conflict between the sounds. Though he was never one to stand still musically and displayed throughout his career a marked openess to external influences (rock, jazz, worldbeat), Marley's music was for Jmaaicans of the time and then the world, a bridge to the sounds of the generation preceding him, practiced by the likes of Don Drummond and Carlos Malcolm. It was, above all a "hand-made" sound, human instrumentation that was in and of its moment but achieved timelessness. Contrast that with today's largely push-button, Protools pre-recorded tacks, and - even more starkly - the stage antics of today's Jamaican artistes, and a huge chasm of sentiment appears. Could Bob Marley creditably hold a crowd of young Jamaicans today, a crowd of the type that flocks to Sting or any of the big dancehall-oriented shows? The jury is out on that one, even when one considers that his progeny continue to find favour among contemporary audiences, or at least one in particular - Damian "Jr Gong" Marley. Bob was certainly no "ivory castle uptowner" but its arguable whether he would have the inclination to incoproate the modern urban sounds the way his youngsters have.
Indeed, we'll never know the answers to that or many other questions, and its highly doubtful the new movie - despite the pedigree of its director Kevin McDonald ("The Last King of Scotland") will be capable off addressing or even seek to address them, Its arguable that he was taken from us at just the right time, lest his hard-won personal victories and values be assailed or compromised. On the other hand, as opined by roots reggae singjay Queen Ifrica, "We're missing our heroes." Indeed, the notion of Marley receiving the country's highest honour, National Hero, remains itself a very live argument across the society.
One thing is certain: wherever there are Jamaicans form various walks of life gathered together - even as precariously as in a careening vehicle at a 100km/hr, thoughts and words will inevitably turn towards Jamaica's favourite(?) musical son.