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Ride Natty Ride

Commentary By Carlyle McKetty

CaribWorldNews, BROOKLYN, N.Y., May 4, 2009: In 1972, when Chris Blackwell signed Bob Marley and the Wailers to his England based Island Records, he set in motion an odyssey that enhanced Jamaica’s visibility around the world and led to the founding of the Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music in New York in 2005.

I still remember the euphoria and pride I experienced in 1973 when I squeezed into a packed Max’s Cancer City in lower Manhattan to see Bob Marley and the Wailers open for Bruce Springsteen and the extreme pleasure and pride I enjoyed at Madison Square Garden in 1980 as the group made what was to be its last New York appearance. In the eight measly years between the first Island Records album which sustained the 1973 tour and the end of his life in 1981, not long after the Madison Square Garden gig, Bob Marley generated a body of work that entire lifetimes in reggae music have not been able to eclipse.

Now it seems that beneficiaries of the acclaim Bob Marley has brought to reggae music and by extension, Jamaica would shamelessly agitate to defame him in a twisted effort to compensate for their inability to surpass his accomplishments. Jamaican music became recognized around the world because of its profound substance and Bob Marley continues to be recognized at the cash register each day because of the extreme contribution he made to its development, the justly earned reward for the earnest efforts that characterized his brief career.

The article in the April 27 edition of the Jamaica Observer which quotes Buju Banton as saying `I want Jamaican music to be seen not through the pretext of some man that died 20 years ago, but as a pretext of a living being, working earnestly,` offers clear reasons for the failure of extremely talented progenies to surpass the heights attained by the grand master.

In the first instance, Bob Marley died some 28 years ago, eight years more than the 20 cited which only makes the failures of his successors to surpass his achievements even more extreme. Secondly, pretexts only serve to obscure the truth of a matter. There is no need for a pretext for evaluating Jamaican music and there should be no need for a pretext for ones ascendency. Thirdly, the vocabulary challenge reflected in the statement is a significant metaphor for the extreme literary deficiency that currently afflicts Jamaican music, a deficiency that caused many reggae artists, Buju Banton included, to tarnish Jamaica’s image internationally, but ironically, perhaps the most glaring weaknesses revealed is this generation’s debilitating sense of entitlement reflected in the notion that with one’s passing, they should be defamed and their contribution disregarded to make way for elevation of those who follow, mediocrity not withstanding.

Surely, Buju Banton must understand the difference between reggae and dancehall since he considers himself a dancehall artist. To compare Bob Marley’s work with Buju Banton’s is akin to comparing jackfruits (large and sweet) and lemons. The article makes note that Buju Banton’s output in his 1995 Til Shiloh album drew favorable comparisons with Bob Marley’s work; kudos to Lisa Cortes for her contribution to its production, and to others like the now deceased Lesley Pitts and Sharon Gordon, co-founder of the Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music, for its U.S. success. Surely Buju Banton must recognize the direction his music has taken since then and appreciate the intricate relationship between his earnest and his acclaim.

What is also sad about this is the support that exists for this kind of obfuscation in the name of advancing reggae music. The applause Buju Banton’s statement received is no less shameful than the statement itself. It is said that a prophet is never honored in his own land and I can somewhat understand the support expressed in the room at the time of the statement, but I have come to learn that support and favorable commentary has come from as far away as Australia. Now that’s a stretch, but wait, Bob Marley has time on his side; dem a’go tired fi see him face. Three hundred ninety three years after the death of William Shakespeare, Shakespeare festivals can be found in New York, Oregon, Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana, Colorado and Utah, not to mention England, his homeland and so many other countries around the world.

Soon, we’ll find out who are the real `reggaelutionaries.` Those who truly love and respect this music, not only for its acclaim and profitability but also for its traditional profound message and artistry will see snipes like Buju Banton’s comments, to launch his new album, for what they are and continue to work earnestly to preserve the true essence of the music. Ride Natty Ride!

EDITOR`S NOTE: Carlyle McKetty is president of the Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music. The above commentary was issued in response to an April 27th article titled, `Bob Marley is not the greatest musician – Buju` which appeared in the Jamaica Observer.