Posts Tagged ‘reggae’

Tribute to the legendary Lloyd Brevett

A sad day for ska as one of its originators, Lloyd Brevett, passes away at the age of 80. The following tribute is from Billboard.

Lloyd Brevett the upright bass player and founding member of the seminal Jamaican ska group The Skatalites passed away this morning at Andrews Memorial Hospital in St. Andrew, Jamaica where he was being treated following a stroke and a series of seizures. Brevett was 80 years old.

The Skatalites were the preeminent collective in popularizing ska, an early 60s creation melding R&B, jazz, calypso and Cuban musical influences, and characterized by its distinctive emphasis on the after beat, as opposed to the down beat of R&B.

Together for just 18 months between 1963-1965 The Skatalites recorded many timeless instrumentals including “Eastern Standard Time” and “Guns of Navarone” for a variety of producers, most notably Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd.

Backing virtually every singer of note during that era, including teen sensations The Wailers on their 1964 hit “Simmer Down,” The Skatalites’ pioneering efforts at the dawn of the island’s recording industry laid the groundwork for the development of rocksteady and reggae later in the decade and the subsequent international embrace of Jamaica’s various indigenous genres.

Considered the grandfather of Jamaican bass players Brevett was taught by his father David who built and played his own basses. A recipient of several awards throughout his long, highly influential career, Brevett was bestowed Jamaica’s fifth highest honor, the Order of Distinction, in October 2001 and the Silver Musgrave Medal for his contribution to music in October 2010.

According to a recent report in the Jamaica Observer newspaper, close family friend Maxine Stowe (former A&R at Columbia Records and Clement Dodd’s niece) said Brevett’s health had rapidly deteriorated following the fatal shooting of his son Okeene Brevett on February 26, near the family’s home in Seaview Gardens area of St. Andrew. Okeene was returning home after accepting an award on his father’s behalf from JaRIA (Jamaica Recording Industry Association) for his contributions to the development of Jamaica’s music industry.

Bob Marley documentary let down by its eurocentrism

I went to see ‘Marley’, the new and highly-publicised documentary about Robert Nesta Marley, at the Rio cinema in the heart of gentrified Dalston. While I enjoyed my green tea and organic chocolate bar (definitely a step up from pepsi and popcorn!), I found that being surrounded by trendy middle-class types only added to my sense of fear that the film was going to be annoyingly eurocentric and patronising.

But let’s start with the good parts. Doing justice to the legacy of Bob Marley in the space of two hours and 24 minutes is an impossible task. All things considered, the people behind the film did a pretty decent job. The archive and interview footage is nothing short of incredible. The production team must have gone to extraordinary lengths to get the level of access they got. The interviews with Rita Marley, Bunny Wailer, Lee Scratch Perry, Danny Sims and other important figures in Bob’s life are brilliant, and do a lot to explain how this giant of a man came to be who he was. For any fan of Bob Marley, the film is worth watching for the footage alone.

Unfortunately, the film is let down (as I knew it would be) by its eurocentric perspective. Let’s face it, the first feature-length documentary on Bob Marley should have been directed by somebody else. Kevin Macdonald is perfectly competent as a film director, but he is a western white liberal. The story of Bob Marley is the story of black suffering and strength inna Babylon; the story a great revolutionary activist; the story of a people stripped of their freedom, languages, religions and traditions, building a voice and a collective identity. In short, it is not a story that Kevin Macdonald is qualified to tell.

Bob was Africa-oriented. He considered that Africa represented the future for his people. And yet Africa is presented in the film as a continent of dictators and basketcase governments. The film gets a cheap laugh when Marley’s first visit to Africa – to give a concert in Gabon – is somewhat marred when the band realise that Gabon is “a dictatorship”. We see a picture of Gabon’s then president, Omar Bongo Ondimba, wearing a suit and looking slightly severe. Our collective prejudice requires no further information to confirm that this rarely-mentioned West African nation is yet another hopeless failure, its natural wealth squandered by incompetent, malevolent kleptocrats. This shallow treatment serves to strengthen the near-universal colonial prejudice that African people are not capable of governing themselves. No mention of the devastating impact of French colonialism; no mention of the oppressive neocolonial relations that sustain such a “dictatorship”. It all comes down to: Europeans are civilised; Africans are barbarians. It’s the narrative of the White Man’s Burden.

One of the most poignant moments of Bob Marley’s career was his performance at the Zimbabwe Independence celebrations in 1980, to which he was invited on the strength of his beautiful song, Zimbabwe, which became an anthem of the liberation movement (“Every man got the right to decide his own destiny / And in this judgement there is no partiality / So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle / Cos that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble.”). Covering this event, Macdonald can’t help but take a pop at the leader of Zimbabwe’s hard-fought liberation struggle, Robert Gabriel Mugabe. There are long, drawn-out shots of posters showing Mugabe’s face, the obvious subtext being: Zimbabwe is a crazy African dictatorship, because only in a crazy African dictatorship would you find pictures of the Prime Minister on a poster. Apparently it is too far a stretch of the imagination to think that people would ever willingly display affection and respect for a man who personified their decades-long fight against apartheid and white supremacy.

Mugabe is considered by millions of Africans as one of the great heroes of the African cause, but that didn’t stop the trendy liberals of Dalston from booing at the footage of him making a speech. Tellingly, they were quiet just a few seconds earlier during the footage of Ian Smith – the apartheid fascist Prime Minister of ‘Rhodesia’ – making a speech saying that black majority rule would not be allowed “even in a thousand years”. Bob Marley must be turning in his grave.

Incidentally, London now has a statue of well-known state terrorist Ronald Reagan. That’s the type of hero-worship us civilised westerners prefer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly – given that he is one of the film’s producers – Island Records founder Chris Blackwell is positively portrayed in the film. He is shown as being very sensible and wise; the voice of reason. When one of Bob’s former band members claims that the doctors wanted to amputate Bob’s leg in order to treat the melanoma that had developed in his foot, Blackwell sets straight this slightly outlandish claim (the doctors only wanted to amputate a toe). The comedic timing of this scene confirms Blackwell’s role as the wise old white man. We hear about Blackwell the visionary businessman who knew just the right polish to add to the Wailers’ sound to make it acceptable to audiences in Europe. Very little is made of the fact that Blackwell used his colour and class privilege to build a fantastically lucrative career off the back of black culture. Blackwell’s sponsoring of the Wailers’ first album is seen as an act of great benevolence, but the film-makers choose not to explore the fact that Blackwell only had the money in the first place because he comes from a wealthy white family that profited from slave labour. Perhaps such difficult sociological issues will be addressed in the sequel?!

I also feel the portrayal of black Jamaicans in the film is somewhat one-sided and patronising. A few of the interviews don’t go past the level of showing ‘cool’, ‘colourful’, charismatic people who smoke a lot of high-grade ganja. I don’t think it’s done intentionally, but a middle-class white western audience is left with its prejudices intact. A different film-maker might have taken the perfect opportunity to highlight the deep understanding and experience of black Jamaicans and, in so doing, shatter some prejudices.

When you show certain images and footage without giving proper historical context, it strengthens prejudice. We see the leading politicians of the time, Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, both of whom are (basically) white. Then we see the black ‘enforcers’ using extreme violence against each other. No mention of the real issues within Jamaican politics. No mention of interesting facts like how the CIA trained and armed the JLP gangs. So our existing prejudices (that white people are ‘thinkers’ and black people are inherently violent) are confirmed. This sums up my overwhelming feeling about the film: that it serves to reinforce rather than challenge prejudice.

Overall I feel the film represents a missed opportunity and fails to present Bob as the deeply revolutionary figure that he was. I hope some time soon a solidly afrocentric director and producer will step forward and tell this particular story from a different perspective – for the enjoyment and inspiration of the downpressed masses of the world, rather than western university students. In the meantime, go see the film in spite of its faults – the footage makes it a very worthwhile experience.

Tribute to Steve Biko

steve biko34 years ago today, leading anti-apartheid militant and black consciousness pioneer Steve Biko was killed by apartheid police in South Africa. In the intervening decades, political apartheid has ended and various gains have been made, but the struggle against racism, imperialism and white supremacy continues in Biko’s name.

His writings remain essential reading. A few of his best-known quotes:

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”

“It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die”

“Nothing can justify the arrogant assumption that a clique of foreigners has the right to decide on the lives of a majority”

“Whites must be made to realise they are only human, not superior. Blacks must be made to realise they are also human, not inferior”

“Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude”

Steel Pulse released the following tribute to Steve Biko on their classic 1979 album ‘Tribute to the Martyrs’.


The night Steve Biko died
I cried and I cried
The night Steve Biko died
I cried and I cried
Biko, O, Steve Biko died still in chains
Biko, O, Steve Biko died still in chains
Biko died in chains, moaned for you
Biko died in chains, moaned for you, yeh

Blame South African security
A no suicide he wasn’t insane
It was not for him to live in Rome, No
Still they wouldn’t leave him alone
They provoke him, they arrest him
They took him life away
but can’t take him soul
Then they drug and ill-treat him
Til they kill him
And they claim suicide

I’ll never forgive, I’ll always remember,
Not, not only not only I, no
But papa brothers sisters too, Yeh, yeh
Him spirit they can’t control
Him spirit they can’t man-trol
Cannot be bought nor sold
Freedom increases one-hundred fold.

The system
Something’s got to be done
Straight away
The system of weak-heart emontion
They’ve got to pay
The system of backra corruption
They’ve got to pay
The system is destroying my nation
The system kill him

O, O Jah Jah, O Jah Jah
Take them where life sweeter
Send a Moses to set them free
Pharoah’s army won’t let them be
From the beginning he knew
He’d meet his end
Yes my friend
They’ll keep on ruling, all hours Jah
Jah send
I’ll tell you again
Dem take him life – Dem take him soul
Him spirit they can’t control
Cannot be bought nor sold
Freedom increases one hundred fold

The system, the system, the system
Something’s got to done,
The system where black man
Get no recoginition
The system of colour partition
The system should be dumped from creation
The system kill him

O, O Jah Jah, O Jah Jah,
Take him where life sweeter
Send a Moses, send a Moses.
Pharoah’s army won’t let them be
Biko died in chains
Moans for you
Biko died in chains all are moaning
Moans for you
Steve Biko died still in chains
Steve Biko died still in chains
Still, still in chains
Still, still in chains

Long live the memory of Stephen Bantu Biko.

Miss Trouble & Agent of Change – London’s Burning 2011

Fresh new reggae track from Miss Trouble (over an Agent of Change beat) speaking out against police brutality and in defence of our youth.

Miss Trouble “Londons Burning 2011” (prod – Agent Of Change) FREE DOWNLOAD by misstroublemc


They could have shot him in the leg but they didn’t want to
They could have shot him in the neck but they got him right between the eyes
There’s no turning back
No hearing the other side
‘Cause silence is golden with no compromise

They could have shot him in the leg but they’d be investigated
They could have stopped him in his tracks but there’d be retribution
It’s cleaner this way
No tongue to hold back
No court or judgement day
Now play the playback

Police cars on fire
Bus burn in flames
It’s the rage of the time
No-one wants to fight but you give us no choice
Violence becomes our voice
If you can’t hear us when we speak
Overshadowed by the beast

And I know you’re laughing behind our backs
But in this new age, its harder to fill your cracks
You’re so blatant its fantastic
And yet so many think our actions are drastic

London’s on fire
They don’t want us to see
What the root of the problem is
They just show us the burning police cars on fire
Don’t forget some yout them a’ killed in your custody
That’s why we roam the streets
Somebody started a riot

Don’t rock the boat
We’re happy being slaves
Yet you hold a grudge on your daily slave ship
This is our future you’re messing with and don’t expect us to sit back
This is our future you’re messing with ’cause fuck you there’s no turning back

London’s on fire
They don’t want us to see
What the root of the problem is
They just show us the burning police cars on fire
Dont forget some yout them a’ killed in your custody
That’s why we roam the streets
Somebody started a riot

Follow Miss Trouble on Twitter.
Follow Agent of Change on Twitter.

New-wave roots: The Drop – Takeover

Check out this heavy conscious roots track from The Drop, a 9-piece new-wave reggae band from London. “Let we take over Babylon, yout-man! Let we take over Babylon, conscious man!”

Where do I sign up?!

Follow The Drop on Twitter
Check out their tracks on Bandcamp
Check out their videos on Youtube

A tribute to the revolutionary poet Bob Marley

Bob Marley

Bob Marley

11 May 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the untimely death of Robert Nesta Marley – probably the most significant cultural figure of the 20th century. I can’t think of anybody else who has reached such levels of popularity and influence whilst consistently putting forward a message of resistance to oppression.

Undoubtedly, Bob’s image has been somewhat sanitised and pacified by corporate forces who like to portray him as a “chilled out guy with a great voice”.

Dave Thompson, in the book Reggae and Caribbean Music, writes:

“Bob Marley ranks among both the most popular and the most misunderstood figures in modern culture … That the machine has utterly emasculated Marley is beyond doubt. Gone from the public record is the ghetto kid who dreamed of Che Guevara and the Black Panthers, and pinned their posters up in the Wailers Soul Shack record store; who believed in freedom; and the fighting which it necessitated, and dressed the part on an early album sleeve; whose heroes were James Brown and Muhammad Ali; whose God was Ras Tafari and whose sacrament was marijuana. Instead, the Bob Marley who surveys his kingdom today is smiling benevolence, a shining sun, a waving palm tree, and a string of hits which tumble out of polite radio like candy from a gumball machine. Of course it has assured his immortality. But it has also demeaned him beyond recognition. Bob Marley was worth far more.”

But you only have to only have to look outside Europe and North America to see the profound and enduring effect Bob Marley had on the downpressed masses of the world. Marley is still loved by the sufferahs all over the world, not simply because of photos of him burning the holy herb, but because of the hope, pain, love and inspiration of his music and his words. In Africa and South America, Bob is a hero and a teacher. Indigenous Australians keep a flame burning for him in Sydney. He is revered by many indigenous Americans.

As a revolutionary poet of the highest order, Bob Marley has been a teacher and guide to more than one generation of oppressed youth. You can go to school and you can learn some or other Shakespeare play about medieval kings, but it’s Bob that tells you what you need to know:

“Get up, stand up / Stand up for your rights / Get up, stand up / Don’t give up the fight.”

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!”

Bob Marley always put forward a deeply humanistic vision of the unity of all peoples (“I only have one thing I really like to see happen – I like to see mankind live together – black, white, Chinese, everyone – that’s all”). Yet he was also keenly aware of how much of the system of empire, colonialism and white supremacy had been built on the oppression, enslavement and murder of Africans. Bob loved all humanity, but he represented for the oppressed, and for Africa first and foremost.

The commercial radio stations might play ‘Stir it Up’, but they don’t play ‘War’! Check the lyrics (which are adapted from a speech made by Emporer Haile Selassie to the United Nations in 1963):

What life has taught me
I would like to share with
Those who want to learn…

Until the philosophy which hold one race
Superior and another inferior
Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war, me say war

That until there are no longer first class
And second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man’s skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war

That until the basic human rights are equally
Guaranteed to all, without regard to race
Dis a war

That until that day
The dream of lasting peace, world citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion
To be pursued, but never attained
Now everywhere is war, war

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes
that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique,
South Africa sub-human bondage
Have been toppled, utterly destroyed
Well, everywhere is war, me say war

War in the east, war in the west
War up north, war down south
War, war, rumours of war

And until that day, the African continent
Will not know peace, we Africans will fight
We find it necessary and we know we shall win
As we are confident in the victory

Of good over evil, good over evil, good over evil
Good over evil, good over evil, good over evil

Another song that represents Bob’s position on the frontline of struggle against oppression at the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s is ‘Zimbabwe’, which was written specially for that country’s independence celebrations.

Danny Sims, Bob’s first manager, puts it well:

“Like our great leaders, like Marcus Garvey, like Malcolm X, like Martin Luthur King, Bob Marley was one who, once he knew he had something to get across to the world, he couldn’t rest because of his vision … To a generation, Bob Marley was a Malcolm X for the 1970s, a true revolutionary and a man who never left the people he loved and struggled for. During his life Bob Marley never changed. He never changed his outlook … he never even changed his wardrobe.”

Rest in power, Bob Marley!

Youth for Smiley Culture event – this Saturday

On Saturday 7 May, from 6.30pm, Sons of Malcolm and friends will be holding a panel debate and gig in tribute to the legendary MC Smiley Culture. I’ll definitely be heading down there, and would encourage you to do the same if you’re in or around London!

There will be a panel debate including Merlin Emmanuel (nephew of Smiley Culture), Lee Jasper, Dr Lez Henry and Isis Amlak; and a gig with Durrty Goodz, Akala, RoXXXan and more.

Check the Facebook event page for more info
Follow Sons of Malcolm on Twitter
Follow Justice for Smiley Culture on Twitter
Follow Durrty Goodz on Twitter
Follow Akala on Twitter
Follow RoXXXan on Twitter

RIP Smiley Culture. Guess they never forgave him for ‘Police Officer’.

Classic resistant anthem!

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