Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies – Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Music has power. Scratch that, music is power. The power it possess can be transfixing. Music enchants, burst your emotional banks, exposing your buried vulnerabilities. Music, according to researchers, contribute to the well-being of humans thanks to its psychological, medical and physical effects.
So, last Friday, I found myself, along with some friends, at JamRock Restaurant, East Legon. It was my first time going to that part of town for a hangout. And, like I always do when visiting a place for the first time, I asked a couple of friends for information. The big attraction, aside the menu and the ambiance was the music: Live Reggae music. As someone whose childhood was shaped by reggae music, I was expecting a fulfilling evening.
The band on the night (I can’t recall their name) was excellent. They played some classic reggae chops to the admiration of patrons. There are three genres of music that, in my estimation, exude such enthralling feeling when performed live: Highlife, Soul/Jazz and Reggae music. The feeling that whirls around the space when these genres are performed live usually levitate everything around. I felt like I was on a different plane that night.
The time travelling effect of music was on full display. The songs performed- root rock reggae and its sub-genre of lover’s rock- took me back into time, as the cliché goes. As I sat there, singing along to some of the songs, memories of my childhood and teen years came flooding. I could remember vividly where I was when I heard some of the songs, and the feelings they evoked in me.
Bob Marley – War, Pimper’s Paradise
My dad was a vinyl collector in his younger years and most of the songs he and my uncles played in the house were from these 12-inch vinyls. He had almost all the albums of Bob Marley. The preferred hours for playing reggae were on Saturday mornings, from 5AM to around 9AM. Bob Marley albums were constant features. The heralded classics from the legend aside, ‘’War’’ and ‘’Pimper’s Paradise’’ earned constant rotation. The year was 1994, back in Cape Coast. I could hum along some of the well-known songs and make sense of the message.
Not with ‘’Pimper’s Paradise’’ (off the Uprising album) and ‘’War’’. I understood the words but not the import of the message. It wasn’t until a few years later that I read the lyrics on the vinyl sleeve and made some sense of the message. ‘’Pimpers Paradise’s’’ mellowness, Bob’s descriptive lyrics and the tone of his voice made the song a favourite of mine. The political and racial injustices that ‘’War’’ alludes to is one of the reasons Bob Marley is accorded the title of a ‘prophet’. It was the song that also led me to picking the dictionary to find the meaning of words like ‘’fleeting’’, ‘’illusion’’, ‘’bondage’’, ‘’toppled’’. Also, that bassline is brilliant.
Lucky Dube: Don’t Cry, Going Back To My Roots
If my dad loved Bob Marley, one of my uncles was a HUGE Lucky Dube fan. Nothing comes out of his stereo than Lucky Dube records. So invested was he in Lucky Dube- and Peter Tosh- that he had a paraphernalia of the South African legend hanging on his wall. Looking back, I think that man was a closet Rastafarian.
(You couldn’t show off your Rasta leaning in full glare if you were raised in a conservative Muslim household like my uncle). As the performances kept on going, it was the hall of my uncle that my mind went; the two of us drinking mugs of Ovaltine tea (his favourite) on Saturday mornings weekends I visited him. He was a talker, so he took his time to explain the messages in the songs. A generally cool and chilled individual, he, however, gets animated over music. And could talk non-stop. He passed on in 1999 after a typhoid infection. (May he and Mr. Dube rest in peace).
Duane Stephens: Cottage in Negril
My first ever introduction to Duane Stephenson was by Blakk Rasta during his days on Topp Radio. His afternoon show, ‘’Taxi Driver’’ was the go to programme for many especially on afternoons when many radio stations were playing love ballads. ‘Taxi Driver’ was different: strictly reggae. His high octane energy and unapologetic opinions on political and social issues attracted many to tune into the show.
The first Duane Stephenson song I heard was ‘’August Town’’, a reflective song about his life in his home state of August Town where ‘the football field became a battlefield’. The soothing vocals, honest lyrics of the song made me a fan. It was in the wake of seeking other songs by Duane that I chanced on ‘Cottage In Negril’. This was in 2006/7 during my time at Legon. My roommate at that time had this desktop with a few reggae songs on it, so whenever I was alone, I made sure that track run for hours. A decade on, ‘’Cottage In Negril’’, ‘’August Town’’ and ‘’Heaven Will Rise Up’’ get me animated.
Jimmy Cliff – Many Rivers To Cross
The biggest Jimmy Cliff fan in my family was one of my aunties, who I believe had a crush on Jimmy Cliff. She had most of his records stashed in a box holding records from UB40, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Since everyone goes to work or school on weekdays, the weekends were the best days to blast some recorders. Jimmy Cliff’s 1969 self-titled album was among the songs she played the most. I was 8 years (in the early 90s) when I first heard the song. I didn’t understand the lyrics. I was enchanted by his vocal inflections: the ebb and flow of his delivery, akin to how your body floats along gentle sea waves. In fact, my real introduction to music came by way of my aunties. Their musical collections were as diverse as the many shoes they has in their closet. And if there was a song they loved, they’d try as much as they could to get the VHS compilation of the artist in question. My aunties were very much invested in the pop culture scene of that era.
Luciano – Give Praise
One of my favourite Luciano songs. The first time I encountered Luciano while on campus as well, from the reggae stash of my roommate. There was something about his voice that enthralls. The message of the song – praising Jah for his many blessings- is one of the reasons why the song became a major hit. ‘Give Praise’ is obviously one of the songs that I’m sure many have heard and sang along without knowing the name of the artist. It stands high in Luciano’s catalog- and one of the best, easily recognizable reggae songs ever.