By SIMEON MPAMUGOH
As long as there has been social injustice in the world, there have been people protesting those injustices. Oftentimes, people chant, skank and sing songs to voice their oppression such that protest movements have been closely linked with music.
In the 20th century, many folk and blues artistes contributed to the development of the protest song, artistes such as Lead Belly, Josh White, late Sunny Okosun, Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono, Jamaican Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley’s music were results of what they saw in their lives and felt as the treatment of their people.
Billie Holiday’s 1939 anti-lynching tune, “Strange Fruit” and Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” were important catalysts for the civil rights movement. Some of the Marley’s lyrics go thus: “Get up, stand up, stand up for your right (3 times)/Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight/Preacher man don’t tell me heaven is under the earth/I know you don’t know what life is really worth/Is not all that glitters in gold and/Half the story has never been told/So now you see the light, aay/Stand up for your right. Come on/Get up, stand up, stand up for your right/Get up stand up, and don’t give up the fight…”
Folk artistes like The Weavers and Woody Guthrie (armed with a guitar which bore a sticker that declared, “This Machine Kills Fascists”), and Nigerians’ Daniel Wilson, Blackky, Ras Kimono, Evi Edna Ogoli, Alex Zitto, Orits Wiliki and The Mandators wrote songs that contributed greatly to the protest movement. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Lucky Dube, Jimmy Cliff and Yellowman were huge influence on Ras Kimono, Orits Wiliki and a number of other socially conscious singer-songwriters. However, whether it is the feeling that there’s a problem with the world or the song that voices the pain the problem causes, it takes a song to move people.
Protest Poetry means objection, complaint or revolt. Protest poems or protest literature refers to works that address to real socio-political issues and express objection against them. For instance, Bob Marley’s “Chant Down Babylon” is a song/poem of protest. The lyrics go this way; ‘Come we go burn down Babylon /One more time, come we go chant down /Babylon one more time/For them soft, yes them soft/Them soft, yes them soft/So come we go chant down Babylon one more time/Me see their dreams and aspirations/Crumble in front of their face/And all their wicked intentions to destroy the Human race/And how I know, and that’s how I know/A Reggae Music, mek we chant down Babylon/With music, mek we chant down Babylon/This music, mek we chant down Babylon/This music, come we chant down Babylon/Come we go chant down Babylon one more time….”
In drawing a comparative analysis of the realities of Bob Marley’s lyrics in Jamaica and Nigeria’s Majek Fashek’s (whose musical influences include Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Jimi Hendrix, among others), he was one of the original Nigerian artists to be drawn to the music of the Caribbean, specifically reggae and has been known to mix these genres into his own style which he calls Kpangolo, and the song “My Guitar”, an ode to his favourite instrument, was heavily influenced by rock which he describes as the sound of many cultures coming together.
Majek had joined international stars like Jimmy Cliff and Tracy Chapman on a tour of major American cities, performing and drawing accolades to himself. But no sooner had the tour ended than the “Rainmaker” fizzled out of the scene. He had been hooked on drugs, the mind-bending substances. However, after about a decade in limbo, Majek literally “resurrected” in a jam at the Temple Bar, Santa Monica, Los Angeles. The African reggae star has been called a prophet and poet, and has become one of Africa’s greatest singers and musicians with his powerful world beat sound. His album ‘Little Patience’ on the Coral Music label is in many ways Fashek’s masterwork –the culmination of his life’s extraordinary journey. With powerful and provocative songs like the soulful “Power of a Woman,” or the inspiring “Someday One Day,” it is a remarkable collection that incorporates Majek’s core influences of Bob Nesta Marley, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Jimi Hendrix.
He has always sung about the political and social struggles he has faced in his long and winding road from Nigeria to the U.S. He first attracted international attention in 1987 with the song, “Send Down The Rain,” seemed to coax a rain storm that ended one of the worst droughts in Nigeria’s history. Performing at an outdoor theater, he saw the thirsty crowd yearning for just a few drops of water. No one could imagine the possibility of rain, but as Majek sang the lyric “the sky looks misty and cloudy: it looks like the rain’s gonna fall today …”, clouds gathered in the sky, thunder cracked and rain soaked the barren ground. The lyric further goes like this: “The sky looks misty and cloudy/Looks like rain gonna fall today/This morning I have been soaked in mercy/Waiting for the rain to drop the water Lord/Oh Lord….ye/Some are hungry men/And I don’t wanna be angry/Send down the rain/Water up my seed ye/Send down the rain/Send down the rain/Send down the rain/Send down the rain/Everything in life has got its time and seasons/So you don’t have to ask me why/You don’t expect to sow cassava/And reap up coco-yam/You don’t expect to sow rice and reap up cassava/Whatever a man soweth in this world/He must surely reap/Cos I am a living man/Got a lot of work to do/Send down the rain/Papa Papa papayo/yaya yaya yayayo/Send down the rain/Cos I am a living man/Got a lot of work to do/Send down the rain/Mama mama mamayo/yaga yaga yagayo, send down the rain ….”
Since that momentous occasion of the song, which literally tells that whatever a man sows, that he reaps, Fashek has become one of Africa’s most revered contemporary musical performers, rivaling compatriots Alpha Blondy and Lucky Dube in recognition and popularity around the world. And whether playing maracas and congas as a child at religious events or singing and playing guitar as a reggae superstar, Majek has always been “on a mission” to deliver God’s message through his music. On “Little Patience”, he quips: “When there is too much hustle in life, you’ve got to be patient and wait for your time/ You’ve got to pray and you’ve got to keep working/ Don’t be lazy, but watch where you’re going –that’s a little patience.”
He told Sunday Sun columnist and one time staff writer with the former National Concord newspaper, Ose Oyemendan, who watched him in a live concert deliver “Little Patience”: “If you have faith, you can move mountains; all you need is a little patience. Don’t worry my brother, don’t worry my sister, and don’t worry my friend. Jah has done it.” Yet, exuding confidence in “I’m not afraid”, he croons: “Even though I walk through the valley of sin, I’m not afraid…Jehovah guide I.” According to Majek, the inspiration for “Little Patience” came a few years ago while peeping through the window of his Maryland, Lagos, home and spotted a little girl who was hawking oranges in the scorching sun. “I was touched. I called her and gave her some money. I told her to go home. ‘You will make it one day my sister. Just have a little patience.’ Then the song came to my mind. It is a song of hope,” he recalled.
For Bob Marley; Martin Luther King was not speaking about him when he said: “We must use time creatively and forever realise that the time is always hope to do great things.” Those words describe how Robert Nesta Marley spent his lifetime. Bob’s life and involvement with the Rastafarian movement spanned the course of thirty-six years and left an impact on the world that is still felt. Reportedly born with psychic powers, which allowed him to read hands and tell the person’s future, Bob was introduced to music in Kingston at one and half years.
It was an introduction that would have a profound effect on the rest of his life, the Jamaican community, and the world. The first sign that Bob Marley was impacted by music in Kingston was discovered when Cedella’s friends asked Bob to display his psychic powers once again and in denial, Bob replied “I am a singer now.”
Marley’s ideology changed during the year he spent in America. Haile Selassie visited Jamaica and as a result influenced Marley’s life. Haile Salassie was the Ethiopian Emperor, who was cherished as a saviour by Africans in Jamaica. While working for a major corporation Marley was introduced to capitalism and the evils of the free market society.
Upon returning to Jamaica, Marley began practicing the religion of Rastafarianism and wore his hair in dreadlocks. The influence of Rastafarianism was apparent in the Wailers music. Marley and the band wrote about how Africans have been suppressed by the oppression (downpression of the white race).
This influence can be scene in lyrics of two of Marley’s songs, “Buffalo Soldier” and “Could You Be Loved; Could you be loved … and be loved;” the song is asking; ‘Can we as a group of people finally receive the respect that we deserve, treat each other like brothers.” another one is; “Don’t let them fool you.” The group was “referring to the leaders of the community and Babylon; do not listen to their rhetoric, because it is false or even try to school you, oh! No.” In its simplest form, this is saying do not allow them to fool you. However, the message is larger; the lines may be speaking about the deplorable treatment Rasta children receive in Jamaican Schools and how Children are not allowed in the schools without shoes. For a country whose average weekly income is less than fifty dollars, many are unable to afford shoes. The lyrics may also be speaking about the validity of what is taught in Jamaican schools. Reportedly, Schools in Jamaica use outdated books and teach predominantly of white explorers as heroes and Great Britain as the light at the turn of the century that helped the Jamaican people. The history books do not speak about slavery, and do not mention where many of the children descended from, and instead the books refer to Great Britain as a savior, instead of an oppressor.
Bob Marley wanted the world to know about the educational injustice that is taking place in the Jamaican school system. And we’ve got a mind of our own to speak for yourself instead of simply complaining. “So go to hell if what you’re thinking is not right/Do not put up with this injustice any longer/Love would never leave us alone/They will always have each other, which will get them through/ In the darkness there must come out to light/Eventually, we will receive the respect we deserve/ Could you be loved … and be loved/Could you be loved…. and be loved….” The lyric goes on to deduce that ‘It will be rocky. But “Be prepared for the good and the bad.” Another interpretation to the lyric is that ‘Many will be trying their hardest to hold us down. Do not let them, -the the journey from Africa is harsh and only the fittest will survive on the slave ships. Fight we have been fighting for centuries. Keep fighting. We will survive.”
“Could You Be Loved” was written by Bob Marley as a result of the terrible Jamaican school system where people live in poverty, and a multitude of circumstances which caused the oppression of both the Jamaican and African people. In the line, “Don’t let them fool you or even try to school you” Marley is writing about how the Jamaican school systems have a policy that says shoes must be worn in school. Many families in Jamaica cannot afford shoes, which prohibits the children from attending school and receiving an education. He is speaking about the lessons taught in school whereby outdated history books are used to teach Jamaican children a biased history that neglects the knowledge about slavery and fails to show where Jamaicans are from. Teaching practices such as these are said to take away the peoples identity and their pride.
Marley’s view of education by the public schools was very negative. He says: “Don’t let them School You”, because he believes this type of education shouldn’t continue. His education was unofficial so he learned about his people’s history from music and by seeing life all around him. He always thought of himself as an ordinary person, but as the popularity of his music grew he had the acknowledge that he was a leader in Buffalo Soldier: ‘’Buffalo Soldier, Dreadlock Rasta /There was a Buffalo Soldier/In the heart of America/Stolen from Africa, brought to America/Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival….” The lyric is a symbol of a strong free animal, but, in this context, it refers to Africans who were brought to America, and forced to fight against the Native American Indians. The Native American Indians were called the Black men Buffalo Soldiers, because their hair was tightly woven and to them, resembled that of the curly and matted Buffalo’s coat. The irony of it is that the Africans were being oppressed.
The Dreadlock Rasta signifies Bob Marley and the Rastafarian movement. Today, it was noted that the war of “downpression” is being fought by Rastafarians, wearing their hair long in dreadlocks. They have been fighting for their freedom for centuries.
On the relationship between music and poetry, Jim Paterson, composer, music arranger and writer for the web, said: ‘’The relationship is song because a song is poetry set to music. However, it goes deeper than this, because we relate better to music, which is “lyrical” having similar phrasing and rhythms to poetry. Some melodies can be thought of as “songs without words.”
For Arkan Tanriwa La Sida, an Indonesian poetry writer, ‘’Poetry has elements that are formed according to sound, such as rhyme. It is first an oral art, not a written art. Thus is the connection between poetry and music. Due to its sounds being music-wise beautiful, good poems are often used to be song lyrics and raps. You will find that many lyrics are adapted from poetry. But, generally speaking, both of them have beautiful rhythm. When you read the poetry or the lyrics, you will find that they are easy to remember’’.
The poet, Jorge Luis Borges, once said that fine poetry must be read aloud: …’’Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song. The beauty in music is in the way words are said; the beauty in poetry is the words themselves. Jane Madueghuna is a legal practitioner and follower of reggae and rock music. He said: ‘’I love different genre of music including reggae. I became keen follower of reggae genre of music when I was very young. I had one uncle Charles who was living with us. He was equally keen in reggae and rock music. So, I became a fan as well and I have followed it keenly for years even though I was no longer conversant with the tunes but I still know when I hear fine composition despite age.
On the realities of Bob Marley and Majek Fashek lyrics, she said: ‘’I think these people were prophets and with the benefits of hindsight, they are not too far from poets. They talked about what was happening, issues on ground, human life as it relates to spirituality in their own understanding and if one looks at it; what they were talking about is still relative to the present day in terms of how government works, the suffering of the common man and how we have clothed ourselves with religion to douse the suffering that comes out of politics.
‘’One can see how these little things resonate in modern day life. We might religiously frown at their medium and personality –which I think that is why people don’t pay attention to them – we look at the wrapping, covering and cloak without paying attention to the message from the person speaking but really looking at it today, the wordings still resound. We cannot play their music without hearing those lyrics and feeling of some utter sharpness.
Favourites songs; ‘’I love Majek Fashek’s “Religion is Politics; a lot of people are Pharisees….” It reminds one of what is happening in the society today. When we look at some streets in Lagos alone, there are more than six churches that wake people up every morning yet the amount of chaos that happen within the streets and compound is amazing.
‘’For so much religiosity, one would think there would be some sort of order. So, Majek Fashek is right with that song on ‘Religion is Politics’ because we have Pharisees in sheep clothing purporting religion they obviously know nothing about the creed. If they understood the creed, they would know that it is not about what one says, but how one shows what one says to the people.
Asked about other artistes like Peter Tosh, Lucky Dube, Ras Kimono and Mandators’ concern for the masses, she said: ‘’For me each of these artistes were way ahead of their time. It is like the case of Elijah and John The Baptist; they were lone voices crying in the wilderness but because of their clothes and garments of choice, and mode of life, people tend to make one douse the importance of their message. Songs like “Hypocrites all of you hypocrites, you gonna get your own someday,” is apt today because; all the people the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) are chasing about now is a pointer that everyone’s up-comer will surface one day, It is just a matter of time. That it is delayed doesn’t mean it is denied. The worst thing that can happen to us is for the next generation to reap the whirl wind that is sown. It is probably in one’s best interest to reap what one has sown and allow the next generation a clean slate.
‘’The artistes’ lyrics are literally prophetic and one thing about prophesy is that it is timeless. I’m not talking about prophetic in terms of biblical sense but in terms of seeing what is happening now and predicting ways into the future and equally having it resonate at every point in time to the now.
How well have we deployed reggae music as Protest Song for development? ‘’It is obvious that what these artistes are protesting with their lyrics are happening to us now in terms of the fact that the rich is getting richer and poor, poorer. The up-comers of the rich has a way of affecting the poor. And in terms of religion being the cloak to covering of oneself from realities on ground, It is more of the up-comers and it is clear that is what we are reaping now but unfortunately, these artistes’ cloak of choice is their down fall. If one is speaking the truth and dresses like one crazy person; of course, the people that should take him serious wouldn’t; again one would just sum it up as one of their down falls. If one really listens to their lyrics smart enough, forget about the packaging; one realises that sometimes goodness can come out of a crazy packaging.
“Whether as an artiste or the man in the street, I think we are all protesters. It is just a medium of choice. Sometimes, some people need some things to bolster them to be able to speak their mind. And that is what I realize these artists are doing. In the social media, we find everybody speaking his or her mind; either about this government, past government or a particular ill being done.
From Bob Marley to Majek Fashek, could you do analysis of their lyrics as protest poets? ‘’We all know that Bob Marley is the father of all reggae musicians. He is a true Rastafarian who would always speak his mind. He is likened to the boxer, Mohammed Ali and more cleaned up than most of other reggae musicians and he appeals to a wider audiences and platforms as well because of his choice of words and packaging. One might know the truth but how that truth is packaged and spoken makes a lot of difference and that equally determines how many people would want to listen to one’s message. In this case, Bob Marley is the ultimate and godfather of protest reggae. Songs like: “No woman, No cry” is still classic. And For Lucky Dube; it is: “I have been looking long ago for someone who understands me, but no one really understands me. Everyone I met, no body really understands me……..” This is another classic song of Lucky Dube. These artists are not crazy except in their packaging that makes the “prophet and poet” to be misunderstood and not have a lot of following by our leaders but if we stripe off whatever they are smoking, and how they live their lives, they are speaking the realities of the moment”. Maduegbuna summed up.
Chinonyerem Oluchi Nwanosike is a Master of Arts degree graduate of the University of Lagos. She has this to say about the review: “For me, it is Lucky Dube. I like the texture of his voice and the passion with which he delivers his lyrics. And his stagecraft and way he dances makes listening to him more fun. One of his favorites songs dear to my heart are: “Blessed is the hand that giveth and the one that taketh,” and “you were a laughing stock to the community, people made fun of you, but now is the time to show them that he who laughs last, laughs best…..” It is a tribute to his mother. There is yet another one, “Tell me wherever you are, remember me, whatever you need, I love you…” Dube has a rich collection of love songs and comparing him with other reggae artistes like Majek Fashek, and Bob Marley as a study on protest poetry in reggae music, I would say that Majek Fashek is a good protest poet.
“In the case of Lucky Dube, his lyrics center more richly on love and affection than Majek Fashek. Faskek’s song, “Send down the rain” still resonates as one of his best hits till date. One thing about reggae music is that it doesn’t fade away. Bob Marley equally made hit songs in his days but as days went by reggae music were being modernised as beats were removed and new ones introduced which prompted Lucky Dube to protest in this lyrical counsel: “You can change the style and rhythm, but never change the message.”
Nwanosike, who spoke to this reporter in Umuahia, Abia State, while comparing the artistes said: “I think Lucky Dube is more of a protest poet. My choice was informed by the fact that his lyrics were anti Apartheid struggles in South Africa and till date, they are still relevant. Generally speaking, reggae songs are considered protest songs. Considering the society and the time their music rained, again I would consider Lucky Dube more of a protest reggae songster than Majek Fashek and Bob Marley. We also have others sometimes sing protest songs against the politicians, church, religion and women, which is the role they were cut to play in the society. The essence of Dube’s lyrics, critically speaking is to effect political, economic and social change. He angles it directly to the situation precedence.”