Monday, May 24, 2010

If Reggae Must Die


‘Dube also realigned his lyrics to conform with the new realities by emphasising the need for the South African youths to go to school and empower themselves instead of taking to the streets as gangsters… That’s the tragedy of his death. The falcon could not hear the falconer’

Daddy, sorry o!
Sorry about what?
About your friend's death.
Who? Who?? Who???
I mean Lucky Dugbe.
Dugbe? Are you drunk? Dugbe ko, Gbagi ni...
No, daddy. He is Dugbe, true true, before God and man.
Shrrrruuuuup! He is Lucky Dube, pronounced DOO BAY.
Thanks, dad. But the man is dead, all the same.
What a tragedy! But why did you call him my friend?
Because you always play his cassettes and, if I may ask, daddy, what do you like about his music?
You mean what do I like about reggae music?
Yes, daddy. It's always reggae, reggae, reggae or nothing. Do you know what we call you in the house?
What's that?
DADDY O YOYO REGGAE REGGAE. If it's not Bob Marley, it's Lucky Dube. When it's not Lucky Dube, it's Peter Tosh. If it's not Peter Tosh, it's Eric Donaldson and when it's not Eric Donaldson, it's Jimmy Clinton...
You mean Jimmy Cliff?
Yes, daddy. But why are you so much interested in reggae? Why not hip-hop, rhythm and blues and rap?
Those genres do not give me the kind of positive vibrations that reggae does.
What kind of vibrations?
You may not understand because you are still young in the ways of the world. Reggae as you may want to know originated from Jamaica. It is a form of musical expression against inequality and social injustice. In other words, it is protest music.The word reggae itself is coined from a local Jamaican word — rege rege — which means ‘quarrel’ or ‘row’. It was modernised by Bob Marley and the Wailing Wailers and used as a musical weapon to fight racism and capitalism.
So dad, how did Lucky Dube come in?
Thank you, sonny. You see what, Bob Marley and his Wailing Wailers succeeded in pricking the conscience of the entire human race with their ideological, redemption songs which sank into the bottoms of the hearts of racists, segregationists and bloody capitalists all over the world. To answer your question, Lucky Dube also got the vibes and understood the ideological platform from which the likes of Marley, Tosh, Donaldson, Livingstone and Cliff were preaching the gospel of freedom. He soon changed gear from his original traditional Zulu Mbaqanga style to reggae which he saw as a radical weapon to use in expressing his anger against the obnoxious apartheid system that was destroying the basis of human existence in his native South Africa...
Daddy, sorry to interrupt you. Our teacher says we should not use the word ‘obnoxious’ again in describing apartheid.
Why? Is he crazy?
He said it has been over-used.
Don't mind him. He must be a white racist.
Ah, daddy! He is a black man like you.
Then he must be a black idiotic renegade.
Hmmmmm... Daddy?! What's that?
Jesuuus Christ! You dare not dive into my mouth again... As I was saying, Dube plunged musically into the anti-apartheid struggle, just like Miriam Makeba did with her own brand of music that also sent messages down Downing Street and straight to the corridors of the White House, homesteads of the backers of the then apartheid warlords.
Is it only through music that apartheid was eventually conquered?
No, my son. As our people say, there are different ways of killing a rat. So do we have different ways of confronting evil. Remember the black Americans with their soul-piercing Negro spirituals in their Aamen corners? Or have you forgotten our discussion the other day on how the Kunta Kintes rebelled against the slave masters in God's own country?
Yes, I remember.
You remember I told you that their literary men also used their pens to fight. Perhaps, you can remember the contributions of literary giants like Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man), James Baldwin (Go Tell It On The Mountain) and Richard Wright (Native Son), just to mention a few. They did not stop there. Apart from singing and writing, they also chose to fight (physically) for their rights. While some chose the non-violence approach, others opted for the Bigger Thomas solution.
Which one is that? I have forgotten, dad.
Oh! Bigger Thomas is the protagonist in Wright's Native Son who believes it's better to stand up and fight for one's right and if possible die in the process than to sit back and get punch-drunk from Jim Crow (segregation). He calls it political existentialism...
Meaning what, dad?
Meaning that in the face of political tyranny it is more manly to stand up and take positive action to seek redress than to surrender, willy-nilly, to the whims and caprices of the oppressor.
Daaaddy! O yoyo…
Just as the Black Panthers organised urban terrorism in American cities, so did the African National Congress, ANC, guerillas also dispense terror to counter the terror of apartheid. Now, with the beheading of apartheid, protest songs have been refocused to highlight social injustice in the land. Dube also realigned his lyrics to conform with the new realities by emphasising the need for the South African youths to go to school and empower themselves instead of taking to the streets as gangsters. "Education is the key", he sang to them in one of his songs.
It appears they did not listen to him.
That's the tragedy of Dube's death. The falcon could not just hear the falconer...
And mere anarchy was loosed upon the world...
But there is no killing reggae. Rastas Never Die. If reggae must die, then there must first be peace and justice and equality of all races because we are all created equal before God.

*First published in TELL November 5, 2007

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