Remembering Old Marcus Garvey


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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THE spirit of National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey roamed the Institute of Jamaica's Groundation symposium in downtown Kingston last Sunday. Held as part of Black History/Reggae Month, the occasion focused on Garvey's influence on the arts.

Garvey, Jamaica's first national hero, died in London in 1940 at age 52.

President of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Steven Golding, delivered a wide-ranging presentation linking Garvey's creative vision, using songs from the Pan African giant's era, to contemporary music.

“You can't speak about reggae without speaking of Garvey. So many artistes have sung about Marcus Garvey, not just Jamaicans. A matter of fact, if you go on YouTube and have a look at some of the jazz standards that they are doing, it's based on Burning Spear's Old Marcus Garvey. It is phenomenal… I was surprised myself, just how far the music reaches. The music of the old artistes have an effect on the new,” Golding said.

He implored younger artistes to put greater effort into their songwriting for posterity.

Golding said Garvey's impact on reggae and Rastafari is a cornerstone of Jamaican culture.

“The music of Marcus Garvey begins within the rituals of UNIA… Garvey had a profound understanding of how music moves us… and in the ritual structure of the UNIA he facilitated and manipulated this,” said Golding, as he introduced a UNIA song done by Garvey's first wife, Amy Ashwood Garvey.

God Bless Our President, a song by Pan African Jimmy Tucker, was also played. According to Golding, it would be played whenever Garvey entered a UNIA meeting.

Golding posited that because it was part of Marcus Garvey's teachings, black people should have a flag that represents them — the colours red, black and green, has had a lasting effect on reggae. He mentioned artistes such as Gil Scott Heron, who did Red, Black and Green, as well as Steel Pulse's Worth Its Weight in Gold (Rally Round).

“So when we talk about the music of Marcus Garvey, we're talking about something that has lived long after he has left this earth…the music reflects his teachings and influence our culture,” Golding said, noting that long before Fred Locks' anthem Black Star Liner was released in 1975, American jazz singer Rosa Henderson did a song called the Black Star Line (Get On Board The Black Star Line) in 1924.

He said one of the songs Garvey wrote while in prison during the 1920s was Keep Cool. Recently, a European group called Rastafari and The Tribe re-recorded it.

“Even the “King of Reggae” himself, [Bob Marley], wrote extensively on the speeches of Garvey, Haile Selassie and Psalms. Marcus Garvey wrote while in prison, Man to Man (opening lines to Marley's Who The Cap Fit). In 1980, Marley took some lines from a speech by Garvey and put music to it and called it Redemption Song.”

The event saw performances from Isha Bel ( You and Me), Jah Iti ( Keep Cool), Charles Richards (T his Summer), and Kingston Technical High School student Britany Jennings ( It's Garvey).

Four-time festival song winner, Roy Rayon brought the curtains down with his winning entries as well as songs by Burning Spear and Marley.

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