Two releases celebrate Bob Marley legacy

ON POPULAR MUSIC

November 24, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

There are certain artists I can't listen to while driving. Their music snatches my mind and spirit, leaving me unable to focus on the task at hand. So to prevent a wreck, I must keep their CDs at home. These musical sorcerers in clude the recently departed Shirley Horn, whose dreamy, medita tive style takes me to a delicious place where objects float and time is nonexistent. And there's Nina Simone, soul's high priest ess, who casts a spell so strong I don't move till the song is done.

Bob Marley, reggae's celebrated poet-prophet, is another artist whose music kidnaps me. I must admit: I've never really dug too deeply into the genre and its vari ous offspring: dancehall, dub, soca, reggaeton. I'm just a casual fan of it all. Although Bob's music has come to define the genre, the power of much of it is so transcen dental, so charged with passion and truth, that his songs become, in a sense, mystical. At that point, when the music is so direct and profound, categories are mean ingless.

This year, Bob, who died at age 36 in 1981, would have turned 60. To mark the occasion, two new re leases have recently hit stores: Af rica Unite: The Singles Collection, a best-of CD, and Live! At the Rain bow, a two-disc DVD set. An en ergetic June 1977 concert at Lon don's Rainbow Theatre and the revealing 1988 documentary, Car ibbean Nights: The Bob Marley Story, make up the DVD release.

If you're one of the more than 10 million people who have bought a copy of 1984's Legend, then you already have the classics featured on Africa Unite. Two re mixes and the "new" track "Slo gans" are the added bonuses to the 19-track compilation.

"Slogans" was recorded as a demo in 1979. A tape of the song, which Bob never finished, was kept at his mother's house in Mi ami. Ziggy and Stephen Marley, the artist's oldest sons, revisited the demo and decided to produce it especially for Africa Unite.

"The song was never lost," says Bob's second son, Stephen, 33. He's calling from his home in Mi ami. "At my grandmother's house, my father's room is still his room. It's respect, you know. His clothes and everything is still in there intact. The tape was in there."

The straight-up political mes sage in "Slogans" is appropriate today.

"My father's talking about things that are relevant," says the singer-songwriter, who also pro duced Welcome to Jamrock, his brother Damian's excellent new album. "It hasn't changed from the '70s to now. It's the system he was against. In the song, he says, `We can't take these slogans no more.' He's talking about the poli ticians, the hypocrites."

Though sensitively produced, "Slogans" isn't as immediate as "Them Belly Full (But We Hun gry)," "Get Up, Stand Up" or any of Bob's other politically charged classics. But the new addition is a nice one nonetheless. The remix of "Africa Unite" featuring the ubiquitous will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas seems completely un necessary. Ashley Beedle's remix "Stand Up Jamrock," which meshes "Get Up, Stand Up" with Damian's summer smash "Wel come to Jamrock," is an interest ing update of Bob's sound. But ul timately it's pointless, too.

Amazingly, eerily, the spiritual and political philosophies in Bob's classic music are as sharp and pertinent today as they were 30 years ago. The production of those old records may not be as bottom-heavy as anything com ing out of today's dancehall scene. But the musicianship and Bob's soulful intensity are still marvel ous. Reggae simply gets no better than "Exodus" or "No Woman, No Cry."

"In my eyes, my father was a freedom fighter," Stephen says. "His legacy - boy, it's one that you hear about all the time, a great man who achieved great things. He came from a ghetto on an is land and broke many barriers. That was his legacy."

Stephen remembers his father as a warm but often serious man.

Once when Stephen was about 8 years old, Bob stopped him, and, "He asked me out the blue, `Do you pray?' And I didn't want to lie," Stephen says. "I said, `Yes.' But I only prayed during devotion at school. My father looked at me in the eye, he said, `You must al ways pray.' He was that type of se rious, you know."

Soon after Bob inquired about his son's prayer habits, the reggae king died from the cancer that had quickly spread through his body. I ask Stephen if his father would have made a big deal about turning 60.

"No, no. He wouldn't at all," the artist says with a knowing chuckle. "He'd just laugh. Sixty is a milestone, hey? He wouldn't make it a big deal at all."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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