welcome to jamrock, indeed
i got the following email, which i will quote here in its entirety, from a jamaican student in my class at brown. she overheard another student express an interest in writing a final paper about damian marley, and she clearly became incensed by what she perceived as a misperception of what he represents in jamaica.
mind you that these are rather strong opinions and not necessarily wholly representative of any social group inna JA--when recently in kingston I observed a group of young men, of various social backgrounds, really enjoying "welcome to jamrock"--but still these sentiments are significant, i think. they do lay out a certain structure of interpretation of marley and his family in jamaica, one very informed by racial politics and enduring class differences and contradictions.
note, for example, the "ghetto youths" billboard in the background of the video: does this sort of thing serve to mobilize young blacks in jamaica for some sort of productive politics, or does it serve to appropriate/exploit a romanticized image of ghetto sufferahs in order to sell records and wrist-bands to consumers overseas? one beer, one people. you see me?
of course, being only 20-years-old or so, my student's perceptions are strongly informed by a generational perspective. to call bob marley a consummate "brown boy" is to miss that marley himself rose from poverty--from where he learned his critique of the shitstem--to engender a certain kind of "brown boy" subject. (of course, she doesn't miss this, but her analysis gets a little confused at times. even so, i think it's a valuable polemic.)
without further ado, here is my student's rant [with the majority of typos corrected, by her request], which i found rather provocative, as i hope, will you, as i hope, will my other student who is still considering a paper on junior gong--who, significantly, was the first reggae singer to make a strong impression on her (go figure):
It's amazing that Damian Marley has come to signify dancehall/reggae. Even more so because looking at him one sees the image of every brown boy who went to Hillel (he went to Hillel) or George's, if they had Bob Nesta for their father and a slew of brothers producing them. Even the person of no relation, Alex Marley, has claimed Bob as his ancestral roots and now has dreaded his hair, eats ital and cusses bout Burger King and screams jah rastafari whenever a rasta man walks by his window. Almost every brown boy wants to be a rasta. The rasta colour wristbands, the weed, the Bob Marley playing, the claim that ol-pirates-came-to-rob-I-and-took-my-homework...some even venture into the ghettos to prove they're the big man, like they're on the same level of the people or understand the level. No one screams about babylon more than a brown boy, not even Capleton. It's a part of their sentence structure. Everything from that babylon teacha deh and the babylon school, the system, mi parents, the prime minister, Omar Davis, the police (Reneto Adams) and now the ever popular University of the West Indies all fall under babylon. They've novelised the inquities of the system in such a way, they scream police brutality as soon as it comes on the news and how dem can't tek dis place ya, then they go to a party, listen some Bob and everything is now all right. Amazing. These are the people Damian went to school with. These are some of the people chilling with him on tour, that he hangs out with.
I dare you to take a survey [in Jamaica] and ask any brown boy if his father was Bob Marley if he would "carry on his father's work" and the answer would be yes. They would go bun a babylon. So when Damian Marley came out with albums, it wasn't much of a surprise that he was doing it, it was one because he actually decided to take time out of his busy schedule of pushing the Marley name at anything mawga with some legs, to do an album. We can just say every Marley kid has entered music, it's their job.
This culture--if it can be called that--is so pronounced that after watching a documentary on Bob Marley, the females of the class [in Jamaica] all came up with the conclusion: Bob was a brown boy. The way he spoke, the frass weeded look on his face, the constant righteous terminology, the anger towards the government, all typical of a brown boy. But what I believe is, they have all fashioned themselves to fit his mold. Sometimes you wonder what they're so upset about. "The system" their parents are a part of? The car they stole out and crashed and got punished for? The party/session they went to, and the brave occasional venture to passa passa?
They embrace dancehall and reggae, putting Beres Hammond and Bounty on the same dub plate and a joke between my female class was that where we gonna find a man if all the men them a start sounds. That's basically the new occupation of a brown boy whose parents wouldn't disown him for not getting an education and going to medicine/law school.
So it's hard for me to think that Damian doesn't fit the mold. Forming himself into every sterotype just put forth about a brown boy.
This is not to say that his music doesn't have purpose and that people won't be playing it. Even that the Jamaican people are going to reject it. Look at "Welcome to JamRock." He has accomplish what brown boys want to do for a living. He just has more help, being backed by his brothers, Bob's money, Cindy (smart woman) and a whole slew of supportive brown boys. And only time will tell if he's genuine, maybe he really does want to represent the poor and this isn't a "cool" thing to do for him. Maybe it was and he realised that it shouldn't be.
My brother was a brown boy. Went to Wolmer. Played Bob at the top of his stereo so you could hear it down the road. Friends ranged from other brown boys to boys in the ghetto. He constantly complained about babylon. And if you ask his son who daddy wants you to meet but you can't, he's 5 and he'll tell you Bob Marley. And no one can tell me if he was the child of Bob that he wouldn't be making music like Damian.
But everything righteous doesn't come from righteousness, some of it comes from fad. The very fact Kymani had a number 1 song in hawaii for 6 months straight is just wow. So Damian Marley affecting anyone that greatly is not surprising, it's just amazing. And if anyone just loves him to death, they should find themselves a brown boy. Because you'll hear a lot of what he says coming out of their months except the really deep spiritual thing stuff which they haven't uncovered yet.
I'm not saying that Damian isn't an artist or that he should discredited. But to understand him you have to understand the brown boy mentality which is prevalent in middle class to rich Jamaican boys.
Most disturbing thing heard when I said, "Damian Marley doesn't respect woman," is to hear "Bob was a womanizer." The only answer that came to my head was Bob was woman beater, so I guess it's okay for Damian to be one too. (not making allegations, just stating a followup argument). Disturbing.