Being in Jamaica on the 70th anniversary of Bob Marley’s birth – what in Rastafari culture is called his Earthstrong* – is a pretty unique and special opportunity. In truth, I’m not a rabid fan of reggae music, mostly because of unfamiliarity. Someone recently theorized to me that we tend to stay in love with the music of our youth, and for me that wasn’t reggae. I enjoy some songs, and I am fascinated by the broader culture and philosophy of love, peace, revolution, freedom, and righteousness; I’m equally fascinated by the claiming of that culture by Jamaicans, and the lack of evidence of it being lived out on many streets.
Tonight there will be a free jam session at the Bob Marley Museum just down the road from my apartment. Tomorrow night is a larger free concert on the Kingston waterfront. Across Jamaica other celebrations will happen in the towns, cities, and tourist zones. Online, people like me will post images like mine bearing quotes like this one and pretend to know what they mean. Throughout February reggae concerts held in a nearby park will continue to rattle the glass in my patio door. Having lived in Jamaica for 5 months now (admittedly an incredibly short time to claim to know anything), I have a deeper appreciation for the role music plays in the Jamaican identity, but I also have a much clearer sense of the contradictions.
So much of what will be quoted from Bob Marley’s considerable legacy this weekend will focus on peace, love, and understanding, and yet 2015 was ushered in with a murder before the sun rose on January 1. In the month of January Jamaica averaged 3.2 murders per day in a country of 3 million people. It’s okay though, the Justice Minister points out that “in 2014 [Jamaica] had two months with more than 100 murders” so there is no need to be “unduly alarmed.” Police here are lauding the reduction in police killings in the 3rd quarter of last year from 31 in 2013 to 7 in 2014. Seven police killings in three months is considered a vast improvement – and statistically it is, but in reality most Jamaicans I speak with would rather do anything than interact with the police. But hey, “don’t worry about a thing, ‘cuz every little thing gonna be alright.”
Bob Marley himself is as much a brand as he is an icon; as much an cultural commodity as he was a man. His family are consistently vilified for “capitalizing” on his name, even while every other Jamaican capitalizes on whatever they have on hand to capitalize on in order to survive or get ahead. Injustice runs deep. I’ve observed much more tendency to “get up, stand up, stand up for your rights” than I have “one love, one heart, let’s get together and be alright.” Or maybe I’m just cynical today.
This isn’t the post I was going to write. I intended to say how much the quote in the image epitomizes what this journey has been for me, and I hope to have it serve as a reminder to continue to live a life I love when I return to Canada at the end of this month. I will go to the concerts throughout this month with joy at the privilege of being here for them. I will sing along and sway and smile at the other people singing and swaying along. That’s what I was going to say. But sometimes other things need to be said.
* The Rastafari culture has a fantastic and interesting linguistic tradition. I’ve read two definitions of their preferred word for “birthday,” both of which I like:
1. With each year you survive, you become stronger and more connected to the earth, which includes both the universal and God.
2. You come strong into the world, and you have the strength to survive all of your years.