If there were to ever be a soundtrack to the long and valiant history of African liberation, I contend that that beat would be Reggae music. There is certainly a wide history of how music has been central to the communal life of any people, however the story of reggae and African liberation is highly intriguing and indeed, considering how reggae continues to be the music of the oppressed and revolutionised men and women all over the continent, it is also an inspiring story that offers us hope in the continued African struggle to develop herself.
The linkages between reggae music and African liberation were well highlighted during the Mau Mau struggle against British colonialism in Kenya. The Mau Mau revolutionaries were ordinary young men and women of the time, the most visible leader to have emanated from this movement was Dedan Kimathi- a man who in his earlier life trained to be and worked as a clerk.
At a certain point in the movements progression, they decided that they would not cut off their hair until Kenya was liberated from the White colonial settlers; photos of these long haired 'dreads' reached Jamaica, and quickly the Rastafarian community at large adopted this form of resistance into their own passionate movement. Unfortunately within Africa today, dreadlocks have now come to be associated with foreign influence from Jamaica and a misconstrued idea of this expression; without the knowledge that this has a trace in the struggle for African liberation.
As reggae music grew in its reach across the world, its major figure emerged in the name of Robert Nesta Marley- later to be known as Bob Marley. Contrary to how other music genres such as hip hop and r & b portray a lifestyle of glits and glamour, Bob Marley symbolized a deeper message- as he was himself immersed in the politics of Black liberation, which had gained world attention in the 50's and 60's, a time when Marley was gaining worldwide fame. Bob Marley is now considered to be the 'King of Reggae', and a casual glimpse at his music catalogue reflect his passionate call for African unity, black liberation, social justice and love amongst all races.
Indeed his music inspired many a number of African liberation fighters, both foot soldiers and leaders; I have heard stories that in some African liberation armies, some commanders would play his songs to the cadres as a form of motivation and to deepen their understanding of the cause they were engaged in. It would not surprise me if those stories were to be true, because Bob Marley rarely penned lyrics that were not in one way or another linked to his convictions.
Another instance that clearly shows the link between Reggae music and African liberation is when Marley was invited at the behest of Zimbabwe's Independence leader and freedom fighter President Robert Mugabe, to perform at his country's day of independence. Some who were there have told me that his performance was electrifying, stringing his guitar tunes and singing with a voice both firm and passionate to the rhythm of freedom that was being witnessed in Zimbabwe celebrating its independence from a brutal British colonial subjection. Today, Bob Marley continues to inspire people of every race and creed to aspire to freedom and love.
It is unfortunate that despite being the birthplace of reggae music, Jamaica continues to suffer from violence at the hands of gangs amidst a heavy 'rude-boy' culture. Certainly there would be great disappointment felt by men like Bob Marley, Burning Spear or Joseph Hill; or bands like the Mighty Diamonds, Wailing Souls, or the Gladiators; figures such as Dennis Brown, Don Carlos, I Jah Man Levi, Freddie McGreggor, or John Holt. These are a few of the prominent reggae musicians and bands that have produced a rich soundtrack to the African liberation struggle.
Music has been a part of shaping the lives of young individuals, we witness how powerful the Hip-Hop and pop culture have influenced African youth across the continent today. I would rather the youth explore the story of reggae music and African liberation to learn of their legacy of patriotism that would inspire us to carry on courageously the struggle to develop our dear continent. I would suggest promoting an African Union anthem that would be in a reggae beat, to honor this link between reggae and African liberation. I am sure the great leaders in African liberation history would appreciate the role that musicians have played in raising awareness of their cause.
Leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Gamal Nasser, Amilcar Cabral, Samora Machel, Augustino Neto, Thomas Sankara, Steve Biko, and many others left us a great legacy of selfless leadership and nationalism; if music can help keep their memory alive, then it is a cause worth pursuing.