Bob Marley and Emperor Haile Selassie I: “WAR”

Haile_Selassie_in_full_dress
Emperor Haile Selassie I in full regalia, 31 December 1969

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bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven;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

Bob Marley
Bob Marley

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!

Celebrating the birth of the OAU
Celebrating the birth of the OAU

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!

16 June 1976: Soweto Uprising from Sarafina!

Sarafina_poster
Sarafina poster (Wikipedia)

In order to remember the 16 June 1976 Soweto uprising, I decided to share with you these images and song from the movie Sarafina! which focused on the 1976 Soweto riots. It is simply beautiful! The character says: “They fear you because you are young, they fear you because you are the future; How fearful they must be that they shoot you children? How powerful you must be that they fear you so much. You are powerful because you are the generation that will be free. The violence, the beatings, the torture, the killings, all this is the bad pain of our free nation. … Freedom is coming tomorrow!” In essence, this is a message for all the youth around the world: You are the future, you are strong, take hold of it, and do the best!

A TEDx Talk on the Griot Tradition of West Africa

Sibo Bangoura is a griot from Guinea, West Africa, now living in Australia. In this TEDx talk, he shares the traditions of his musical heritage with people from all over the world. While playing the Kora, a musical instrument from West Africa, Sibo sang a traditional West African song, Nan Fulie, about the importance of the Griot people – the West African musicians, storytellers, custodians and teachers of tradition through music and dance. Enjoy!

The Griot, the Preserver of African Traditions

Senegal_Wolof griot 1890
Wolof griot in Senegal, c 1890

Africa has a strong, deep, and rich oral tradition. In many countries across West Africa, this tradition is often preserved by the griots, who are historians, storytellers, praise singers, poets, and/or musicians. Often, the griot is the preserver of the history of a family, a clan, and sometimes of the nation. This is done by narrating how the family/clan/tribe/nation was founded and its outstanding achievements. In essence, the griot is a repository of the oral tradition, and is often seen as a societal leader due to his or her traditional position as advisor to kings and leaders.  The griot’s praises centers around the leader of the clan, of the tribe, and of the nation. Thus, great kings throughout history had griots: Sundiata KeitaKankan Musa, and many others.

The Mali Empire (Malinke Empire), at its height in the middle of the 14th century, extended from central Africa (today’s Chad and Niger) to West Africa (today’s Mali and Senegal). The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita, whose exploits remain celebrated in Mali today. In the Epic of Sundiata, King Naré Maghann Konaté offered his son Sundiata a griot, Balla Fasséké, to advise him in his reign. Balla Fasséké is considered the founder of the Kouyaté line of griots that exists to this day.

MALI_empire
Mali Empire (Wikipedia)

Each aristocratic family of griots accompanied a higher-ranked family of warrior-kings or emperors, called jatigi. Moreover, most villages and prominent clans also had their own griot, who told tales of births, deaths, marriages, battles, hunts, affairs, and hundreds of other things.

The Cameroonian author Francis Bebey writes about the griot in his book African Music, A People’s Art (Lawrence Hill Books): “The West African griot … knows everything that is going on… He is a living archive of the people’s traditions… The virtuoso talents of the griots command universal admiration. This virtuosity is the culmination of long years of study and hard work under the tuition of a teacher who is often a father or uncle. The profession is by no means a male prerogative. There are many women griots whose talents as singers and musicians are equally remarkable.

Mali_Griots of Sambala king of Medina Fula people 1890
Griots of Sambala, King of Medina (Fula people of Mali) c.1890

In Mande society, the jeli was an historian, advisor, arbitrator, praise singer (patronage), and storyteller. Essentially, these musicians were walking history books, preserving their ancient stories and traditions through song. Their inherited tradition was passed down through generations. Their name, jeli, means “blood” in Mandinka language. They were said to have deep connections to spiritual, social, or political powers as music is associated as such. Speech is said to have power as it can recreate history and relationships.

Youssou NDour_1
Youssou N’Dour

In addition to being singers and social commentators, griots are often skilled musicians. Their instruments include the kora, the khalam (also spelled xalam), the goje (called n’ko in the Mandinka language), the balafon and the ngoni.

Griots can be found throughout Africa and bear different names from country to country. A world-renowned singer and grammy award winner descending from a family of griots is Senegalese singer, Youssou N’Dour. Below is the trailer to the movie Griot. Enjoy!

Great Quote on Shaka Zulu by Miriam Makeba

Shaka-Zulu
King Shaka, of the Zulu people

The British often talk of Shaka Zulu as the ‘Black Napoleon’, but I think that Napoleon was a white Shaka!” Miriam Makeba

Napoleon
Napoleon

Les Britanniques parlent souvent de [Chaka Zoulou] comme du ‘Napoléon noir’, mais je dis que Napoléon était un Chaka blanc.” Miriam Makeba

Quote by Miriam Makeba

miriam_makeba1
Miriam Makeba during a concert

In the West the past is like a dead animal. It is a carcass picked at by the flies that call themselves historians and biographers. But in my culture the past lives. My people feel this way in part because death does not separate us from our ancestors.” Miriam Makeba

“Yamore” by Salif Keita and Cesaria Evora

To wish you all a happy Valentine’s day, I decided to share with you a classic love song by two outstanding African singers: the late Cesaria Evora: the Barefoot Diva– the Love of Cape Verde, and the great Malian singer Salif Keita. It was shared with me this morning. I love you mi Amore… too much! Enjoy! and do share with those special ones, even if it is not love the Valentine way, share it with the precious ones in your life.

 

Hugh Masekela on African Heritage

Bra Hugh was involved in African heritage restoration. He gave a talk at the TEDx about African culture, and restoration. So I am leaving you here with his TEDx talk. He used to say, ” I’ve got to where am in life not because of something I brought to the world but through something I found – the wealth of African culture.” Enjoy!

Remembering Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela4
Hugh Masekela (Source: The Guardian)

This past Sunday,  Hugh Masekela was  honoured with a musical tribute at the University of Johannesburg (UJ)’s Soweto Campus. Various musicians performed at this final public tribute to the legendary artist, activist and composer.

I leave you here with an excerpt from a poem written by Nigerian author Niyi Osundare. For the full poem, go to SaharaReports or check out his book Pages from the Book of the Sun.

 

Waiting for Rain (for Hugh Masekela) by Niyi Osundare

Your trumpet pumps the wind
into a bold, metallic roar;
the universe throbs in awe
a worsted thunder whines
in a blue corner of the sky

   Waiting, waiting for the Rain

Memory hides in your song
in the sepia folds of a tune
which remembers its tongue
in the throat which bakes the bread
for our common feast

The Nile’s long-limbed gallop
the limpid lyric of the Limp, the Limp, the Limpopo
the Kukuruku’s tall whisper in the ears of the Kilimanjaro
the sun never sets in the empire of your song
your garland a forest of flowers and dappled murmurs

 

Niyi Osundare
(from Pages from the Book of the Sun: New & Selected Poems, 2002, pp. 42-43