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Reggae biography time

by Michel Conci

Several biographies have appeared on Bob Marley by now. The recent work titled ‘I & I : the Natural Mystics: Marley, Tosh and Wailer’ (2011) by Colin Grant, is partly another one, moving thus on a well-trodden path. Yet it is more than that, and is more original.
Actually, it’s a biograhy of the Wailers, all three original Wailers: including Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh – to an equal degree – elaborating on the developing relationships between Bunny, Bob and Peter, as well as of these three with other influential persons in Jamaican music and society, such as studio owner Coxsone Dodd, Rasta ”leader” Mortimmo Planno, Joe Higgs, Chris Blackwell and others.

Thus, you get the combined life stories of the three original Wailers who met in the ghetto of Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica, up to international stardom of Bob and later careers (and lives) of Peter and Bunny. The author, Colin Grant, knows how to write. He has the ability to write engagingly, humourously and at the same time educationally. I noticed this already with one of my favourite books, also by Grant: ‘Negro With a Hat : Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey’ (2008), a biography of Marcus Garvey.

A difference with the book on Garvey is that in ‘I & I’ Grant interchanges information and stories on the Wailers’ lives with his personal travel experiences in Jamaica. A great skill of Grant is further the way he elucidates the essence of human relationships, in such a way that all dilemmas and complexities of human beings come to the fore in an insightful manner. Jah knows that all three Wailers are/were interesting, strong personalities.

He furthermore places these personal stories in the context of Jamaican history, culture, and Rastafari’s development in Jamaica, including in Trench Town. Rastafari is mostly discussed socially and less spiritually. How the three Wailers “converted” to Rastafari gets attention, but less why. That is a criticism I can give to an otherwise outstanding work.
Bunny Wailer’s and Peter Tosh’s fathers were both ministers of local (Protestant Christian) churches, and were generally raised in a Christian context, as was Bob Marley. The social dilemmas of turning Rasta in conservative Jamaican society are well-described in the book. Rastas were often seen as undesirable outcasts, made to pay social prices for their alternative, rebellious thinking and way of life.

There are thus various threads in this work, skilfully intertwined and combined by Grant, and based on various sources, biographical, press, archival, strictly scholarly etcetera.

(video underneath:on Bob Marley from 21:45, interview with Colin Grant on book from 25:35)
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Especially on Bunny Wailer’s and Peter Tosh’s lives and backgrounds not much is widely known. The information on Bob Marley is more known to more experienced “reggae readers”, but is presented from another perspective.

I considered the most interesting parts the Wailers’ dealings with producers, such as Coxsone Dodd, the depictions of ghetto life in Trench Town around the 1960s, as well as the added background knowledge on Jamaican history and on cultural and social customs, such as the value placed on having many children or several women. Information on or anekdotes illustrating Bunny’s, Peter’s, or Bob’s personal character, attitude or temperament are very interesting to read as well, as are Grant’s memoirs while travelling. How growing up in the ghetto necessarily “roughened” the characters of the Wailers becomes clear, as do influences from other life experiences, such as gaol time for Bunny Wailer (accused of ganja possession).

Rastafari reference in Trench Town, which I visited in 2008. Not far (around the corner) was the “yard” where Bob Marley lived

A well-written and insightful work that may be interesting for Marley “novices”, but also for those who know already more about the Wailers and reggae history.

Still, on a sidenote, a thought repeatedly came in my head, while and after reading this work: it is time for a biography on other “icons” of Jamaican musical history, equally well-written and insightful. I mean, more scholarly, and not superficial biographies. The names Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Joseph Hill of Culture, Mikey Dread, Lucky Dube, Alton Ellis, Yabbi You, Sugar Minott, Coxsone Dodd, I Roy, Garnett Silk, Augustus Pablo, Hugh Mundell, Jacob Miller, Junior Delgado – all unfortunately no longer among us – come to my mind.

The lack (largely) thereof may be explained by commercial/marketing reasons, problematic often also in academic circles. A market beyond (albeit international) reggae enthusiasts for a more thorough biography on, say, Mikey Dread or Hugh Mundell, should maybe not be exaggerated, but it’s the loss of that wider public. Jah knows that their lives in themselves are surely interesting and multidimensional enough for an insightful elaboration. Even, I think, for a monography/book and not just a shorter article. At least a combined biography (like Grant’s book) seems an option.

The sudden (natural and unnatural) deaths of many of these illustrate issues of their lives. In general, – as one of the world’s sad truths – the poor and hard-working die younger. Drugs (cocaine) or other habits may furthermore exert influence. The causes of these artists’ mostly premature deaths ranged from cancer, other, suddenly fatal diseases (cardiovascular, lung-related or otherwise), as well as car accidents (Jacob Miller) or being shot (Hugh Mundell and Lucky Dube). One’s death often – though not always – says something about one’s life, while on the other hand these artists “live on I-tinually”, such as through their music. Well worth biographies!

Several of these deceased artists I mentioned grew up in Kingston ghettoes (Trench Town or other), though there are variations. Joseph Hill came from outside Kingston (Linstead, near Spanish Town I believe), Mikey Dread also (from Portland), while Augustus Pablo had exceptional middle-class ties and an equally exceptional Indian background. How they started in music, their developing career, how they grew up, family and other social relations, personal beliefs: all interesting.

Still, the biggest, international name of reggae remains Bob Marley, that is a fact also in 2011. The biggest and therefore most “marketable” name.
At the very least Colin Grant’s book, by discussing e.g. also Bunny Wailer’s and Peter Tosh’s post-Wailers work, treats Marley in a broader reggae and social context than other biographical works on Bob, adding to its quality, and, perhaps, necessity. Recommendable.

I & I : the Natural Mystics: Marley, Tosh and Wailer: Colin Grant . – 305 p. – London : Jonathan Cape, 2011. ISBN: 9780224086080

(ook gepubliceerd op

Rasta Connections in Studio/K

Rootical Vibrations

Op vrijdag 27 mei 2011 presenteert Caribbean Creativity in samenwerking met Each One Teach One en Studio/K de derde editie van Rootical Vibrations, een avondvullend evenement waarbij Roots Reggae en Rasta Livity centraal staan.

De avond begint om 20:30 uur met een Nyabinghi welkomstsessie, gevolgd door de Nederlandse première van Awake Zion. Deze unieke documentaire, gemaakt door filmmaakster Monica Haim, verkent de onverwachte connecties tussen Rastafari en het Jodendom. De film laat zien dat beide religieuze culturen, alhoewel ze op het eerste gezicht veel van elkaar lijken te verschillen, opvallende overeenkomsten vertonen. Haim, een Joodse reggaeliefhebster, zal tijdens de voorstelling aanwezig zijn en na afloop vragen uit het publiek beantwoorden.

Na de film en Q&A, zo rond een uurtje of elf, wordt de zaal omgebouwd tot club en gaat de avond swingend verder met live optredens van Raphael en Leah, twee opkomende Amsterdamse reggaeartiesten. Rond middennacht neemt DJ Rastology het stokje van ze over met Strictly Roots Reggae classics tot diep in de nacht. Voor de feestgangers die even willen uitrusten tussen al het dansen door, is er een markt met ital food en reggaemerchandise.

Datum: Vrijdag 27 mei 2011
Tijd: 20:30 – 3:00 uur
Film: Awake Zion (incl. Q&A met regisseuse Monica Haim)
Live acts: Raphael en Leah
Sound System: DJ Rastology
Entree: €10 (film plus feest) of €6 (na 23:00 uur, alleen feest)
Adres: Timorplein 62, Amsterdam Oost (bus 22, tram 14)
Reserveren voor de film kan via Studio/K (tel. 020-6920422).
Meer info:,,

Barbados Reggae Festival

De inspirerende uitspraak van reggae-legende Bob Marley ‘One good thing about music: when it hits you, you feel no pain’ geeft aan waar het allemaal om draait tijdens het Barbados Reggae Festival, namelijk genieten van originele reggae muziek. Het festival vindt plaats van 25 april t/m 1 mei.

Dit jaar heeft de organisatie internationaal superster en muziekfenomeen Wyclef Jean weten te strikken voor een van de vele acts op het Barbados Reggae Festival 2011. Het is de zevende editie en het festival heeft een reputatie opgebouwd bij zowel de lokale bevolking als bij reggaefans over de hele wereld. Het is dan ook het grootste reggae event buiten Jamaica, de oorsprong van deze muziek.

Op maandag 25 april begint het festival met de Reggae Beach Party op het pittoreske strandje Brandon’s Beach. Hier treedt Grammy Award-winnaar en reggae-zanger Bennie Man op samen met de ‘Queen of the Dance hall’ Lady Saw. Andere namen die voorbijkomen zijn Peter Ram, Jon Doe, Peter Coppin en Kirk Brown.
Op woensdag 27 april is het Garfield Sobers Gymnasium in St. Micheal de place to be. Hier wordt de Vintage Reggae Show and Dance georganiseerd, erg populair onder de wat oudere generatie reggaefans vanwege de legendarische artiesten uit de jaren ‘60, zoals Fab 5 Band, Boris Gardener, Barrington Levi, Ken Boothe en Eric Donaldson. Ook Biggie Irie en Lil’Rick uit Barbados treden hier op.
Verder vindt op vrijdag 29 april Bajan Reggae Night plaats waar de grootste namen uit de lokale reggae scene meer dan 20 optredens zullen geven. Op zaterdag 30 april is de bijzondere Reggae Party Cruise. Deze cruise geeft reggaefans de mogelijkheid om de artiesten te ontmoeten die de volgende dag optreden op Reggae on the Hill.

Reggae on the Hill is hèt hoogtepunt van het hele festival en vindt plaats in het historische Farley Hill National Park. Jaarlijks komen hier ongeveer 12.000 mensen op af en dit jaar wordt dat gevierd met de komst van superster Wyclef Jean. Andere namen zijn Sizzla, Queen Ifrica, Gyptian en Junior Kelly. De echte Bajan reggae artiesten zijn er ook, zoals Daniel, Lisa Angel, LRG, Buggy Nhakente en de Fully Loaded Band. Voor meer informatie zie:

[uit Caribe Magazine, 5 april 12011]

Namen Rotterdam Reggae festival bekend

Tanya Stephens, Jah Cure en Chaka Demus treden op tijdens het Rotterdam Reggae festival op eerste paasdag in Ahoy in Rotterdam. Dit heeft de organisatie dinsdag bekendgemaakt.

Het festival vond al drie keer plaats in Amsterdam onder de naam Amsterdam Reggae Festival en krijgt een vervolg in Rotterdam. Ook Vybz Kartel staat op het podium in Ahoy. Hij had hits in Jamaica en werkte samen met Jay-Z, Rihanna en Eminem.

De Nederlandse band Punky Donch staat tussen de internationale artiesten op het festival. Punky Donch maakt reggae met Caribische invloeden, hiphop en rock.


Reggae-zanger met anti-homo-teksten

Now that their usual gay rights target, reggae star Buju Banton, is under house arrest and facing a new drug trial, rights activists are turning their attention to another reggae singer, the Caribbean World News site reports.

Last Sunday, over four dozen gay activists showed up outside Harlow`s, a restaurant and nightclub in Sacramento, California, to protest the performance there of reggae star, Capleton.

The protesters accused Capleton of using anti-gay lyrics in his music, including words like `kill` and `burn` in reference to cleansing the world of homosexuality.

Capleton`s manager insists critics have mistranslated his lyrics. Similar claims have been made against Banton, born Mark Anthony Myrie, for his lyrics.

`We`ve had a lot of suicides; youth suicides because of hate speech that kids are inundated with sometimes,` Ken Pierce of Equality Action NOW, a gay rights organization, was quoted as saying of the protest.

However, the show went on despite the protest with Harlow`s Victor Torza, one of the managers of this family owned business, stating, `We`ve never censored anyone else; any other artist before. I don`t see a reason to do so now. Never in the history of booking the shows have we censored anyone because of their lyrics and what not. So, we`re sticking to our guns on this.’

For the original report go here

[overgenomen van Repeating Islands, 30 november 2010]

Kwikverontreining in reggae van Wayana’s

De verontreiniging van de Marowijnerivier – de grensrivier van Suriname en Frans Guyana – als gevolg van het gebruik van kwik (le mercure) bij de goudwinning, is een ernstige bedreiging voor het woongebied van de Wayana-inheemsen. De problemen in Oost-Suriname bezongen door de Wayana Boys, Mercury Reggae, op Youtube.

Rootical Vibrations: Rasta Journeys

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Selassie’s Coronation, Caribbean Creativity in collaboration with Each One Teach One and Africa in the Picture present Rootical Vibrations: Rasta Journeys in Het Ketelhuis (Amsterdam) on Friday November 5.

The event will start at 20.00 hrs (8pm) with a Nyabinghi chant followed on 20.30 hrs (8.30pm) by a screening of the rare Rasta docu drama The Journey of the Lion (1992) and a sneak preview of the new documentary RasTa: A Soul’s Journey (2011). Afterwards, the night will continue in the lobby with acoustics vibes by Lenny Ryan and strictly roots reggae selected by Locks-N-Sound and DJ Rastology.The Journey of the Lion (1992, Fritz Baumann, Jamaica/Duitsland, 90 min.) – Brother Howie is a Jamaican Rastafari who dreams of returning to the land of his ancestors: Africa. On a journey in search of his roots and his identity, he travels through three continents and, with great humor and sensitivity, discovers the world and, eventually, Africa. RasTa: A Soul’s Journey (2011, Stuart Samuels, Canada, +/-30 min.) – Bob Marley, reggae’s most loved icon, was inspired by Rastafari to spread the message of love, peace and unity throughout world. Now, 29 years after his death, his granddaughter, Donisha Prendergast, embarks on a global journey to explore his legacy. She treks through time and geographic space – USA, Israel, Ethiopia, South Africa, UK, India, Canada, Jamaica – to reason with elders and new-school Rastas about the evolution and global impact of Rastafari since its beginnings in the 30’s. Date: 5 November, 2010Time: Entrance from 20.00 hrs, films start at 20.30 hrs

Music: Roots Reggae (live act and sound system)
Location: Het Ketelhuis (Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam)
Prize: € 8,50

More info:

Beyond Bob

by Michel Conci

The importance of Bob Marley for reggae is without question. There is no doubt about it: reggae’s internationalization is mostly due to Bob Marley’s popularity. Reggae was a local music genre that evolved from earlier forms ska and rocksteady in Jamaica, originating as such (with the term “reggae”) first around 1968.

An almost unanswerable question is: if it were not for Bob Marley’s popularity, would reggae have remained a mainly local Jamaican genre? The only external/foreign people “into it” then would be restricted to very unusual and radically alternative “niche” seekers, cultural anthropologists, or those connected through social or familial bonds with locals (somewhat similar to the Surinamese genre ‘kaseko’, or Indonesian ‘gamelan’).
This question, while intriguing, is nonetheless useless. For several reasons: not only did Bob pave the way for reggae’s international spread, he was also the first “third world musical super star” paving the way, in a sense, for the World Music genre as such. It’s hard to overstate this importance: an importance which is not absolute or singular, but certainly definite and proven.

Photo left: “Government Yard” (means state-provided housing) where Bob Marley used to live in Trench Town, Kingston. When he had become famous, he went to live in wealthier uptown (see below)

I myself heard some reggae “before Bob”, but really got into reggae in my teens beginning with a Bob Marley album. Bob was by then deceased, but his music lived on, and helped me make me the reggae fan I am now. Not just Bob, however: another album soon following Bob Marley and the Wailers albums I really got into was, for instance, by the Wailing Souls, a band then certainly qualifiable as “authentic” roots reggae (“ghetto sufferers sound”).

In Jamaica there are a Bob Marley Museum (in Kingston) and a Mausoleum (with his Ethiopian-style grave) in his also birth village Nine Miles, parish of St Ann, as well as several other referents, which of course are mostly – but not always – tourism-driven.
I’ve been to the museum and mausoleum, as well as to Bob’s once place of residence in the West Kingston ghetto of Trench Town (where the line “inna government yard in Trench Town” in Bob’s song No Woman No Cry refers to).
Jamaicans recognize Bob’s importance, as do reggae musicians, evident in many tribute songs and cover versions.

Entrance to the Bob Marley museum in uptown Kingston

View of the Bob Marley museum. Bob lived here later. It also was the home of the Tuff Gong recording studio

Still, despite Bob’s undeniable importance I have an ambivalence about this superior status attributed to Bob within reggae.
This is also evident in Jamaica itself where there is a Bob Marley museum, but as yet no broader ”reggae museum” or “reggae centre”, despite the, for a small island, many reggae recording studios (some say about 200!) and many – past, recording, or aspiring – reggae artists, in Jamaica. My ambivalence thus also relates to the fact that I in time got to know a lot of other, earlier, and later reggae artists besides Bob Marley. I got to locate Bob within reggae, rather than above it.
Secondly, because of what I got to know about Bob’s career. Particularly emblematic is a documentary I saw under the title: ‘Classic albums : Catch A Fire’ (it is in parts on YouTube). This was on the crossover/breakthrough album of Bob Marley ‘Catch A Fire’ (1973), with which Bob Marley and the Wailers first reached an international audience, such as in the US and Europe. Specifically, it is stated, it reached “rock” fans (however that can be defined…heavy electric guitars come to my mind).
White producers, including Chris Blackwell, and white musicians, even active in genres as country, were trying to make the translation to the broader, non-Jamaican “rock” audience, and reach other markets. “Making radio friendly” (outside of Jamaica) was another typical expression made by producers in this documentary.

For some reason I felt irritated by this. Maybe it’s because of the obvious, in essence commercial, “crossover” attempt which can only violate authenticity. Maybe it’s, relatedly, because of the “fooling the public” element in it.
As I thought about it I concluded that another reason for my irritation – about an otherwise interesting documentary – was the self-congratulation the producers only barely occulted.
Possibly, in addition, I was annoyed because it seemed to tell something I did not want to hear: all the time I considered myself rebellious and open-minded for becoming a true reggae fan, now it turns out that (white) Island producers “prepared” my white man’s/European ears for this exotic sound. That’s too much honour for these Island producers, and I don’t think that this is the case. Even though I must admit that the first Bob Marley album I heard was post-Catch A Fire.

Besides this the documentary showed another important thing about Bob’s career: Bob did not really have the intent to adapt his work to “cross over”, they more or less made him/convinced him to do this. That further convinced me of Bob’s authenticity: this shined through in his work, even if adaptations for other markets were partly audible.

Moreover, another interesting aspect of Bob’s career is the fact that he (himself, not producers) expressed his hope to cross over not just to whites, but also to African Americans in the US. “For obvious reasons” one can say. This effort was overall limitedly successful. Some of his albums seemed to be more popular among (US) African Americans than others, but all in all white liberal university students – not seldom with an affinity for marijuana – seemed a relatively more secure fan base in the US.
Bob’s other aim – spreading his music to his motherland Africa – for even more “obvious reasons” (seeing his Rastafari beliefs) was more successful. This was stimulated by concerts in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa in the latter years of his life, and that certainly helped in making reggae popular in Africa, which it continues to be in the present.

In the very nice and interesting written biography ‘Bob Marley. A life’ (2008) by Gary Steckles Bob’s authenticity was evident, even though he knew he “adapted” to reach a non-Jamaican market. In this biography it is related how Bob Marley played another type of reggae in Jamaica than outside it. Also, it is related how Bob had an interesting life and personality, showed perseverance, and certainly did not have a privileged background, despite having a white father and a lighter skin, which in Jamaica usually was and is associated with higher-class status and more wealth.

All in all, my respect for Bob remained intact.
I have objections, however, toward his altered status of “best reggae musician”. This “best” is all too often conflated with “best selling/commercially and internationally successful”, which says little about musicianship or artistry per se. It says – maybe – something about appeal, and much more about marketing. Also those who don’t know much about reggae thus tend to opine this: he was the best reggae artist.
My personal opinion is this: he was a very talented (above average) songwriter, with a charismatic and strong personality, who remained connected to the poorer Jamaicans. His strongest musical quality was inventing good melodies, as reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry once said about Bob. Besides strong melodies, he further had good, intelligent and appealing lyrics, combined with strong backing music (made with other musicians and the Wailers of course). He had timeless music, such as for the song ‘Heathen’ or other songs, music which I still find to have a magic appeal. The Heathen “riddim” (instrumental), for example, has been recently reused (read: sung/chatted over) by current deejay/singer reggae artists, often to good effect. Also a way to live on..

To my taste, Bob didn’t have the best singing voice in reggae, though it was good enough. Better singers to my opinion in reggae? Donald “Tabby” Shaw of the Mighty Diamonds,

Ijahman Levi, Little Roy, Dennis Brown (R.I.P.),

Don Carlos, Michael Rose, Bushman and several others.These, and others, like Bob have a talent for writing several good songs.

In addition, as online reggae reviewer Mark H. Harris once wrote, Bob “didn’t put out golden material all of the time”: he had more mediocre songs between them, as well as (some, not all) albums with a too “slick” or polished production and sound, possibly reflecting the tension between “crossing over” and authentic roots.
A strong point is Bob’s productivity. Unfortunately, he lived only 36 years, but released, since young, a song book of about two hundred songs. Most of these were good. But also that is not so uncommon in reggae.

However, despite this, I can live with the epithet of “king of reggae” for Bob: due to the unusual combination of talent, charismatic personality, and (international) influence.

Rootical Vibrations

Reggae films, sound systems & live acts in OT301

Op vrijdag 14 mei presenteert Bassculture samen met Caribbean Creativity en Each One Teach One de eerste editie van Rootical Vibrations, een swingend evenement waarbij reggae roots, heartical sounds en bass rhythms centraal staan. De avond begint een vertoning van de reggaefilm Holding on to Jah (inclusief Q&A met de filmmaker) en gaat vervolgens door met een heerlijke muzikale mix van live acoustics en DJ sets. Ook is er een reggaemarkt en exotisch voedsel.

“Rootical Vibrations” begint om 21.00 uur met de Amsterdamse première van de unieke reggae-film Holding on to Jah. Deze nieuwe bioscoopdocumentaire, gemaakt door regisseur Roger Landon Hall en producent Harrison Stafford (Groundation), vertelt het verhaal van de opkomst van rastafari en roots reggae aan de hand van origineel archiefmateriaal en vele interviews met bekende Jamaicaanse zangers en muzikanten. Roger Hall zal tijdens de voorstelling aanwezig zijn en na afloop vragen uit het publiek beantwoorden.

Na de film en Q&A, vanaf een uurtje of elf, gaat de avond swingend verder met een acoustische live act en roots reggae classics. Rond middernacht neemt Bassculture het over met verrassende cross-overs en dikke beats, variërend van cumbia en dubstep tot booty en wonky. De DJ’s zijn DJ Mataklap (Bomb Diggy), DJ Gibbo (Swagga/Cheeky Monday) en DJ Partime Warrior (Bassculture). Hun beats en rhythms worden visueel ondersteund door beelden van bijpassende films. Voor de feestgangers die even willen uitrusten van het dansen is er naast de bar een marktje met reggae merchandise en overheerlijk eten.

Er is geen voorverkoop, kaarten kunnen aan de deur voor 8 euro (film + feest) of, vanaf 23.00 uur, voor 6 euro (alleen feest) worden verkregen. De deuren gaan om negen uur open voor de filmvoorstelling. See you there!

Datum: Vrijdag 14 mei 2010
Tijd: 21.00 – 3.00 uur
Film: Holding on to Jah (incl. Q&A met de regisseur!)
Muziek: Roots reggae, cumbia, dubstep, booty, wonky
Live act: Heartical Acoustics
DJ’s: Mataklap, Gibbo, Parttime Warriors
Entree: € 8,- (film plus feest) of €6,- (na 23.00 uur, alleen feest)
Adres: Overtoom 301, 1054 HW Amsterdam
Meer info:,,

Reggae meets De Baarsjes

Op zaterdag 24 oktober vindt in Amsterdam De Baarsjes het allereerste Unity Festival plaats, een groots reggae buurtfeest met live optredens van onder andere Fyan Nation (Ziggy Renaissance Bandmembers), Black Prophet, Fullan NY en Kenny B. Daarnaast kunnen bezoekers zich vermaken met wisselende dj’s, Caribische films, tropische lekkernijen, een sneltekenkunstenaar en verschillende kinderactiviteiten.

read on…
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