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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

RASTA IN ETHIOPIA

     bob marley by michael ochs



This evening's film was AFRICA UNITE, reggae concert in Adis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was around Bob Marley having to do with Haile Selassie, Ethiopia, the motherland for Rastafarians, the Marley family, and an African unity agenda. Unity for Africa looks like something maybe a thousand years away, if that near in time. Seeing people from different African countries sitting around in a big circle talking about getting African countries together had an air of seeming naivete that made me not take them very seriously. That's just my jaded view of things, but it still seemed about as ambitious as attempting to weed racism out of the USA. We need the naive people who want to make the world a better place, people who identify a problem and set out with their lives to correct it for people of the future. They get resistance of all sorts, especially official resistance from government by discrediting or charging with conspiracy. I saw these college graduates in their 20s talking idealistically and thought of myself in college days when I was concerned about government troops killing students at Kent State, knew much else the troops were doing to protesters.


I'm recalling when Nelson Mandela came into South Africa as its president after 27 years in prison, idealism for the South African black people spread all around the world. Mandela made apartheid a thing of the past. Yet, several years after Mandela left power racism in South Africa appears to have fallen into stasis. Black people are free of being beaten down by government troops, but nobody is giving them a hand to help them stand on their feet. Or so it appears. There may be insiders fixing issues they've identified. It will take a very long time. The people in power don't want to give the kafirs a break, the same as white Americans are not interested in the needs and well-being of the black people. American black people learned they are not going to get anywhere with the help of white people. The South Africans are learning that. The black people have to do it themselves. American black people realized this in the 1950s. White people aren't going to do anything for them. White men in power are not going to help them the same as white men in power don't want We the People educated. They want us manipulable, not educated. It's like the daddy not wanting his son smarter than him.


The concert amounted to the Marley family entertaining a fairly large crowd in what looked like a desperately poor city, Adis Ababa. Rita Marley and the kids, several boys and a girl. Lauren Hill is married to one of the boys. I deduced that the ages of the boys is seen in the length of their dreds. One had hair to his knees, the next one to his waist, then half way down the back, then just past the shoulder. Ziggy Marley was in there singing. They took turns singing Marley songs Marley style. Rita sang toward the end. She has a reggae style that is her own. Good singer, much deep soul. I was looking at them, the heirs of Bob Marley, possibly the wealthiest people in Jamaica, jumping around on stage acting like daddy whence cometh their plenty. I laugh at the irony remembering when the Jamaican government was wanting Marley dead. Only problem, he was an international celebrity. It wouldn't look good on the news all over the world, Bob Marley Assassinated. You can be sure they kept a close watch. Rita could probably tell accounts of government threats. They nailed Peter Tosh, whose fame wasn't so charismatic. Then Marley succumbed to brain cancer. It kinda smells of collusion with the Company up north. Now his kids are the same as royalty on the island.


Through mama Rita the kids appear to be carrying on their daddy's social concerns, singing and musical abilities, too. All are good singers. The Jamaican government isn't afraid of them. They're good taxpayers. They don't have Bob's charisma. It was his charisma that gave them a fit. On a stage, he was a commanding presence. I doubt he knew he had it early in his musical life. His presence holds attention in concert. Prince has a similar charisma on stage. I was interested to note there was no celebration of ganja. Possibly it may have been made for or was looking for television broadcasting. Some old reggae singers performed on the show. One I enjoyed, Bob Andy, never heard of him or anything. He looked about my age. Liked his singing. Good reggae style. The old Rastamen had beards so matted I wondered if a needle could penetrate it. Their dreads on their heads and their beards were packed with a lifetime of hair. Like with old-time banjo pickers, they like to keep the same head on the banjo when it shows wear from use. The worse it is, the better it looks. In the old way the fiddler never cleaned the dust off his fiddle. It was a firmly held belief by fiddlers, the ones who would know, that it gave the fiddle a nicer tone. Fiddlers say the same of keeping a rattlesnake rattle in the fiddle. Fiddlers say it makes the sound better. I'm convinced they would know better than anyone else.


What little bit we saw of Ethiopian heritage around Haile Selassie held my interest for a host of reasons. One, Judy mentioned that he had a Jewish nose. We noted that the Jews in Egypt working as slaves were said to come from south of Egypt. During Ethiopian famines following the demise of Haile Selassie when an incompetent, all about self, took the throne, Ethiopian Jews were flown to Israel. Ethiopia has an ancient Jewish tradition. The idealistic gesture didn't make it much better for the people who made it out alive. In Israel they were treated like niggers and learned the Israelis are white people too. A boy who made it out of the refugee camp to Israel, made it through school, went to Sorbonne in Paris, medical school, returned to Ethiopia with Doctors Without Borders and found his mother in the refugee camp. He wrote a memoir and a beautiful film was made from it, LIVE AND BECOME. In the reggae film we saw a little of Ethiopian Rastafarian ceremony and film footage of Selassie. All the way through the film, good reggae vibrations in the air. My friends Lucas and Judy I watched the film with saw Marley at the Apollo in Harlem, which turned out to be his last show. Soon after it he collapsed and never came back. Lucas said the show was like a spiritual experience. I can see that, reggae being gospel music.


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