This weekend reggae lovers around the world will gather, as they do annually, to celebrate the birth of one of the most well-known artists in the world, Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley baptized Berhane Selassie in the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox church. His music moved millions across generations, continents, social and economic stratospheres and any other demographic imaginable. “Songs of Freedom,” one of his best-selling compilations produced decades after his death, is a title that may best sum up his body of works. Profound lyrics, driving drum and bass reggae rhythms, bubbling organ chords with the swaying I-Three providing harmonies fed many artist, activist and freedom fighters. A recipient of the 1978 United Nations Peace Medal of the Third World, the Jamaican born singer encouraged Africans to “…never give up the fight…” while warning those trying to stop progress that he will ever be present. The lyrics in his song “Bad Card” best sums up Bob’s stance.
“You a-go tiyad fi si mi face
Cyan’t get me out of the race
Oh, man, you said I’m in your place
And then you draw bad card…
Propaganda spreading over my name
Say you want to bring another life to shame
Oh, man, you just a-playing a game
And then you draw bad card…”
Loosely translated or analyzed Marley assures that his face will be forever present despite attempts to deny, demonize, or dismiss him and his calls to action. Some may say it was prophetic. Though he passed at the early age of 36, merchandise globally with the Reggae King’s image combined with his scores of spitting image children, grandchildren and great grandchildren is remarkable. His heirs don’t just look like him but are also active in the arts, fashion, business and more perpetuating his legacy of love. The Marley charitable organizations seeded by his wife Nana Rita Marley, baptized Ganette Mariam, include the Bob Marley Foundation and Rita Marley Foundation which contribute to a host of development initiatives in Jamaica and Africa. Bob and Rita’s first-born child, Cedella Marley O.D. is fruit from the tree, an accomplished multi-media artist and CEO of Tuff Gong International. Walking in her parent’s footsteps, advancing incredible social entrepreneurial initiatives, she was recently awarded the “The Chancellor’s Award For Excellence in Global Leadership” by American Foundation University of West Indies. And yes, she looks like her dad. The African Union (AU) Deputy Chairperson, Kwesi Quartey, long-time Marley fan and friend of Nana Adobea Rita Marley said, “Those who live in the hearts of the people never die. Robert Nesta Kwabena Marley still lives…Jah Live…Rasta never die!!!”
It is so fitting that the AU Heads of State will also be virtually gathering to decide on major matters from Covid19 vaccines to the African Free Continental Trade Agreement during the
“Year of Arts, Culture and Heritage”. Most of these concerns are not new, and Marley did not have a corner on musical messages confronting the everyday people’s concerns. Nigeria’s Fela, Sonny Okosuns and Burna Boy; South Africa’s Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka amongst many others have kept the will of the people flowing through melodies that also eased the pressure, be it political or otherwise. The AU has made a commitment to further Africa’s development through the creative industry. Partner, the United States Mission to the AU (USAU) may now firm up its stated affiliation, “USAU’s relationship with the AU is based upon historical ties and shared culture between Africa and the U.S., increasing coordination due to globalization, and a deep appreciation of the strategic significance of the African continent.” Culture is everything.
The promotion of African art, culture and heritage is just as important as the need for protection however. Case in point, French owned mega fashion house Louis Vuitton, recently advertised its $1,340.00 “Jamaica Stripe” pullover said to have been “inspired by the Caribbean island’s national flag.” Being born in Jamaica I know the flag of the island is 2 black and 2 green intersecting triangles with a broad gold X bordering both in the middle. Being Rastafari I know the historic Ethiopian flag we have popularized world-wide is green, gold and red with the Lion of Judah in the middle. Well, the LV sweater has the colors, in order, of the latter. The Jamaican incubated Rastafari Movement has done such a great job promoting the banner that many think it is indeed the national flag of Jamaica. This is not the first time we have had such issues. Christian Dior and other major labels have come under fire propelling the discourse over cultural appreciation verus cultural appropriation. Let us hope that the AU, civil society organizations and most of all African Creatives will take the opportunity to pursue issues of Intellectual Property Rights Protection for African goods, historic icons and contemporary creations alike, as the road to Africa economic recovery and stimulation through intra-Africa trade must surely address the promotion, preservation and protection of heritage, equally.
Finally, this weekend, Merid Tafesse, moved by Marley during his days as a student at Addis Ababa University School of Fine Art and Design, now Alle School of Fine Art, will open “DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS” fine art exhibition. Merid’s oil paintings literally and figuratively reflect the title of show. His masterful brush strokes in all shades of earth tones accented with pops of reds and golds fill his Moa Anibessa Studio Gallery in Kazanches. Viewers can check out Merid Tafesse on facebook for more information or SMS 0927357957 or 0911864677 for an appointment to ensure a safe socially distanced masked visit.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum