On the eve of the Tuff Gong's 63rd birthday, there was a book launch and a dancehall lecture at the Undercroft of the Senate Building, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus.
The book was Vivien Goldman's Writing the Book of Exodus: The Making and Meaning of Bob Marley and the Wailers Album of the Century. The lecture was the 11th Annual Bob Marley Lecture, delivered by Dr Donna Hope, 'The Full Has Never Been Told: Exploring Dancehall's Moral Conscience'.
Goldman was first up at the well-attended function put on by Reggae Studies Unit of the UWI in association with the Bob Marley Foundation and hosted by Professor Carolyn Cooper. Goldman was introduced by Maxine Walters, who outlined her friendship with Goldman, whose love and passion for Jamaica continue.
And Goldman gave the background to getting into the position to write the book, starting with a job for seven months doing public relations for Bob Marley and then becoming a full-time writer.
Among the songs on Exodus, named 'Album of the Century' by Time Magazine in 1998, are Jammin, Natural Mystic, The Heathen, Guiltiness, Three Little Birds and One Love/People Get Ready. Released in 1977, much of it was recorded in London, where Marley went to after the attempt on his life at his Hope Road home on December 3, 1976.
It was this shooting that formed the background to the book, as one week before, Marley had said: "Jamaica is a funny place. They love you so much they want to kill you." And as for his time in England he told Goldman "I was a stranger in a strange land."
In that 'strange land', Goldman read, "the whole scene fascinated Bob, with the punks coming up". With Emperor Haile Selassie deposed, a plan was formulated to flood Marxist Ethiopia with pin buttons of his image. One button which caught Marley's eye was red, green and gold with the words I Shot the Ferret.
Goldman read about encounters between Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Bob Marley, the similarities between the punks and Rastafarians and the Gong's reaction on hearing a particular album by The Clash.
The next week she was in the studio listening to Punky Reggae Party.
Goldman ended her fast-paced reading with Marley's observation of people in England with multiple body piercings he said he would not do it, "me love see a man can suffer pain without crying".
When Professor Rupert Lewis introduced Donna Hope, he said: "We are in for a thought-provoking lecture with the intriguing title 'The Full Has Never Been Told: Exploring Dancehall's Moral Conscience". And it was. After giving a brief background of dancehall, Hope examined the themes of contraception/family planning, anti-paedophilia, anti-jail, peace and poverty/survival against the odds/inequality in the Jamaican society.
A number of songs were utilised, Hope deejaying as required as technical difficulties prevented the use of the songs themselves. Ninja Man and Courtney Melody's Protection and Buju Banton's Willie were used for the first theme, Beenie Man's Straight Prison and Queen Ifrica's Daddy for the second. Hope pointed out that at the 2008 Rebel Salute festival in mid-January, Ifrica started Daddy but did not continue it, noting that a female representative of a sponsor thought it inappropriate to perform the song at that time.
Baby Wayne's Mama and Busy Signal's Nah Go A Jail Again were the songs which illustrated the anti-jail theme, Hope saying that one woman said to her that the song contained the line "nah have sex tru rail again". It does not. "Many of us are downplaying the practices in dancehall culture because we do not listen to what is being said," Hope said, to applause.
Spraga Benz's Peace was used for the dancehall theme of the same name and songs from Bounty Killer and Baby Cham to illustrate the concern with poverty, many voices joining Hope's as she sang the first lines of Cham's Ghetto Story.
After contrasting the simultaneous sheer entertainment and moral concerns of dancehall, Hope closed à la Buju Bantons: "I could go on and on; the full has never been told." And after a 'Tribute to Bob Marley' by the Squad One Dancers, a number of queries, some of which often bordered on attacks with one young woman going into a broadside against dancehall but which largely did not address the topic of her lecture, went on and on.
Near the end of it all, Hope said: "in 30 years time, those of who are around will say 'I long for the days of dancehall'. ... The tide of time has a way of sanitising everything," she said, pointing out that initially, Bob Marley and reggae were not accepted because of their social origins.
"Today's youth culture is tomorrow's culture," Hope said.
The artiste brought the house down with 'Bob Marley Story' to end the presentations from the stage.
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