One Love, One Bob
This will sound cynical of me, and I’m sorry, but if there’s anything I’ve learned repeatedly, it’s that relationships have the knack for using up everything that we are and by the time we finally realize this, we’re either in a relationship or by ourselves—and feeling miserably alone. Strangely, it really is the little things that can save you. In this instance, that little thing for me was Bob Marley.
Today, after being mysteriously re-directed by my browser to a website on the RME Babyface, I found myself looking at a video made by the group Playing for Change. It’s part of their Song Around the World project, and it made my day completely.
One Love is a song by Bob Marley. I was at the premiere of the documentary Marley in Berlin, and I almost fainted during the Q and A before the screening. Bunny Wailer, one of the original members of Bob Marley and the Wailers, and Rohan Marley, one of Bob’s 11 kids by seven women, came. Bunny’s greeting alone did me in:
“Greetings in the name of the most high Jah Rastafari. His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I.”
Needless to say, I kicked myself soundly for choosing not to bring my camera that day.
I’m a big fan of Bob Marley—I’m probably the biggest Marley fan there is this side of the hemisphere. It’s not just growing up in Cebu and going to the University of San Carlos where rasta is as big a part of the college experience as, say, the annual Sinulog. I love Marley’s philosophies. I love how he saw music as a tool for activism, for unification, for reminding people of their proud heritage and why they shouldn’t take oppression sitting down. I love that he believes that all people are inherently good; that even after unknown gunmen stormed his house and wounded him, his wife, and his manager, he performed at a concert two days after, despite his injury. “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off,” he said. “How can I?”
Marley wasn’t just a musician; he was an activist. He was a ghetto kid who, growing up poor, dreamed of the Black Panthers and Che Guevara. He believed in freedom and in fighting for it, but he wasn’t your average pavement-pounding militant; he was far more interesting. His God was Ras Tafari, his heroes were Muhammad Ali and James Brown, and his sacrament was marijuana. (He also had many kids by many women, but that’s another story hahaha!) More importantly, his were the songs and stories of people who have been wretched for too long.
I Shot the Sheriff is the story of a man who killed the local sheriff and admits it, but denies having killed the deputy, too. He says he acted in self-defense—the sheriff tried to shoot him first.
Get Up, Stand Up rings out loud and true as a reminder to, what else? “Get up, stand up for your rights.”
Buffalo Soldier is a little lesson in history. Buffalo soldiers black cavalry fighters used by the Americans to defeat the Native Americans, so they could usurp their lands. Many of these buffalo soldiers were slaves taken from Africa. The song is a protest about the black man’s role in building the country that continues to oppress him.
“There was a buffalo soldier in the heart of America. Stolen from Africa, brought to America. Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.”
As for my favorite Marley song, it’s got to be Redemption Song. Curiously, Marley director Kevin McDonald used this in the opening of his film. I guess he thought the same thing as I: the tune is at once simple and haunting, and the lyrics—when taken in the context of why they were written thus—compelling. A few of the lines that I like:
“How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?”
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our mind.”
Redemption Song was Marley’s last single before he died in 1981. He was 36 years old. Interestingly, he couldn’t have picked a better song—it summed up his life and what he stood for in his songs: freedom and redemption.
“Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom? ‘Cause all I ever have: redemption songs.”
Yep, Bob is right. “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” And in the end, maybe that really is all we’d have left: songs, memories, and a deep and secret hope for redemption in all its forms.