I recently heard about a speech of Emperor Haile Selassie I incorporated into a song by none other than the great Sir Bob Marley. I was astonished as, somehow in my ‘young’ mind, I had thought it a new occurrence with the likes of Beyoncé who incorporated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s speech into her song. In this song, WAR, Bob Marley adapted the speech given by Emperor Haile Selassie I at the United Nations. It is deep, and it is revolutionary. So today when you see other singers doing it, know that Sir Marley had done it before them.
Here is the part of Haile Selassie’s speech put to music by Marley in his original song “War” (Bob Marley slightly modified the original words, changing each “that until” to “until” and added the word “war” several times):
That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil. – Haile Selassie I
Here are the lyrics from the Bob Marley and the Wailers on the album Rastaman Vibration:
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior / And another / Inferior / Is finally / And permanently / Discredited / And abandoned / -Everywhere is war – / Me say war.
That until there no longer / First class and second class citizens of any nation / Until the colour of a man’s skin / Is of no more significance / than the colour of his eyes / – Me say war.
That until the basic human rights / Are equally guaranteed to all, / Without regard to race / – Dis a war.
That until that day / The dream of lasting peace, / World citizenship / Rule of international morality / Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, / But never attained / – Now everywhere is war – / War.
And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes / that hold our brothers in Angola, / In Mozambique, / South Africa / Sub-human bondage / Have been toppled, / Utterly destroyed / – Well, everywhere is war – / Me say war.
War in the east, / War in the west, / War up north, / War down south – / War – war – / Rumours of war. / And until that day, / The African continent / Will not know peace, / We Africans will fight – we find it necessary / – And we know we shall win / As we are confident / In the victory
Of good over evil -/ Good over evil, yeah! / Good over evil – / Good over evil, yeah! / Good over evil – / Good over evil, yeah!
Emperor Selassie I gave the “War” speech on October 4, 1963, calling for world peace at the 1963 U.N. Conference in New York City. This historical speech was spoken a few weeks after the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in the Ethiopian capital city Addis Ababa where Selassie chaired a summit meeting gathering almost every African head of state (The King of Morocco had declined the invitation).
This U.N. speech resounded even louder as Haile Selassie I had made a name for himself on the international scene in 1936, when he spoke at The League of Nations in Geneva. It was there that Selassie warned the world that if member state Ethiopia was not militarily supported by other member states to fight the fascist Italian invasion of his country then taking place, as the League of Nations statute guaranteed, the League would then cease to exist as a matter of fact and the rest of the member states were to suffer the same fate as his country. Three years later World War II broke out. This visionary speech granted Selassie much respect around the world, eventually leading to British military support, which helped freeing his country in 1941. Addressing the world again in 1963, Selassie’s words bore full weight. In picking this utterance for lyrics, Bob Marley thus projected two dimensions of the Ethiopian Emperor: the head of state as well as the Living God Rastafarians see with him.
Sadly today many developing countries feel that the UN, the descendant of the League of Nations, is a puppet organization, an instrument used by developed countries to bully, and plunder developing countries. So Selassie’s speech and Marley’s song still ring true today!