Growing up in a ticky-tacky Long Island suburb, I was on course to becoming a ticky-tacky person in a box where we all come out the same. My box made me ignorant of important social issues, equal rights, justice, and international relations. I was a Long Islander, and we were raised to think that the world revolved around our little island.
This is all changed when I was around 15 years old; one of my uncle’s chefs at his restaurant gave my brother and me a copy of Bob Marley’s Legend album. This was the beginning of my perspective shift. For the first time in my life, I was learning about standing up for your rights, exodus, and stirring it up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this album was a collection of the reggae artist’s most popular songs, so it is watered down with lots of love songs (which I also learned from).
But Marley’s other albums—like Uprising, Survival, Burnin’, and Rastaman Vibration—helped me learn, through music, about the pedagogy of the oppressed. Reggae in the ‘70s and ‘80s was largely about inspiring oppressed people around the world to get up, stand up. This motivated me to learn more about the world and how to help solve problems; and it started me on a path to explore other reggae artists.
Peter Tosh (a member of the Wailers who taught Marley how to play music) was more of a radical revolutionary. He helped make an important distinction between peace and justice in one of his more popular songs—at a time when the peace movement was going strong. He stated: “I don’t want no peace; I want equal rights, and justice.” He went on to ask: “Everyone is talking about crime, but tell me, who are the criminals?”
While these songs sparked my interest in the world and international relations, they also inspired me to be a passionate lover. My wife and I chose Marley’s song “High Tide or Low Tide” for our wedding song; it was lyrics like “In high seas or in low seas, I’ll be by your side” that made our choice clear. Now, after almost 15 years of marriage, I sing “I wanna love you, and treat you right. I wanna love you: every day and every night.”
Today I like all kinds of reggae, from dance hall hits by Shabba Ranks to quirky tunes by Eek-A-Mouse. I’ve found that reggae has a few common themes running through all its music: love and romance, social equality, liberation of the Sacred Herb, and positive vibrations.
These common themes revolve around the idea of individuals expressing themselves and enjoying life. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
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