In Bob we trust
Niall Stokes' classic 1978 conversation with Bob Marley...
Niall Stokes, 16 Mar 1978
Take this as coming from one who possesses not an intimate knowledge, but rather a growing affection; from one, who has moved from an initial distrust to a developing fascination, but for whom something like Two Sevens Clash is still an obscure and largely impenetrable artifact. Take it as coming from one who does not understand but sympathises; who sympathises but cannot agree. Take it as coming from one who is of Babylon.
I was always into reggae, but only as much as it came my way. I never sought out the roots or followed it up to the point where it’s life outside the contemporary pop mainstream became evident. I knew that it originated in Jamaica – but little else.
Then came Bob Marley and that initial distrust. The fact that the Rastafari religion dominated his material threw up my defences.
Which may be a quintessentially Irish reaction: because we’ve had religion stuffed down our gullets from so early and for so long, it’s that much harder to take proselytising with any kind of equanimity.
The realisation that something of value – of real value – burns through Marley’s work irrespective came slowly. But it came. I still feel there’s a degree of naivety in some of the sentiments and beliefs expressed, potentially completely off-putting in the long term – but there is something being articulated also which transcends such specific quibblings. Something vitally important.
For the moment, let’s just say that Rastafari and Reggae, intimately inter-related one with the other as things stand, are both also essential to the emerging identity of the black people of Jamaica.
While it would be fine to expect more in a European nation evolving a workable democracy – that they might find their identity through a collective political stance or realisation – there is no background of educational sophistication to inspire political insight among Jamaican blacks.
Their response is simpler – in that sense of being less sophisticated. More primitive, if we accept that adherence to totally specific religious answers is being gradually discredited as science, anthropology and increasing cross-fertilisation of cultures reveal such singlemindedness as being too ridiculously commonplace to be defensible.
But the Rastafari religion has given the Jamaican people a pride they never previously felt. It has given them a direction and a sense of communal purpose. It is taking them out of their immediate misery, giving them the strength to build up and away from their ghetto past.