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Bob Marley – Natural Mystic


By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


Many of us have Bob Marley stories. I met him once. Backstage. The lion in repose. Sitting in a chair. I was supposed to interview him. I had the tape recorder. Was stooping down in front of him, off to the side. He languidly lounging, his body draped across the chair like a damp shirt.


Totally relaxed. His eyes, intense, piercing. He made me feel like anything I had to say, any question I was going to ask was inconsequential. And as my brain raced to make the words come out so that I might sound halfway acceptable, we were deluged with two white guys bringing 57 varieties of weed.


A brother who was intent on debating the Bible. A host of other hangers-on and hang-arounders, clamoring at widely-varying levels of rudeness for his attention—and so finally I came to my senses and realized, I really wasn’t going to get any kind of one-on-one interview in that circus atmosphere surrounding brother Bob.

I left. But I had seen what I needed to see. I had seen Bob playing harder at the sound check than most musicians play in the spotlight. I had seen him so totally invested in trance that I was certain he was going to hurt himself as he hurled his body around the stage, his face missing a gigantic speaker by inches.

And of course the concert had been wondrous. Magical. I had seen Bob Marley. And seen the I-Threes—these were mature women, each of them a personality in her own light, I was especially smitten by Judy Mowatt.


The Barrett brothers on drum and bass were so tight, so right on the one, so foundational. I had seen enough. Heard enough. Experienced enough in those six or seven hours I spent on the periphery of the Marley camp that I didn’t need to talk to him to write all I needed to write.

Many, many years later, whenever I wore my Bob Marley T-shirt in the high school classroom where I taught, one or two of the young brothers would smile, bob their head up and down, and say something sly like: "Yeah, I know you be hitting it too, you be smoking that herb."


I realized with a complicated sadness that for far too many of them, Bob Marley mainly meant getting high and staying high, religiously. Also, I had been long aware of Bob’s womanizing. I never smoked.


I am very strict with myself about relations with women — I mean all relationships, not just sexual relationships. And beyond all of that, I don’t believe in any organized religion, not a one of them. None. Not any. So there would seem to be a disconnect. Nevertheless although there is a distance and, in some cases, disagreements, there is no disconnect.


The music of Bob Marley touched me and continues to be meaningful to me for a couple of strong reasons. One — Bob was a masterful musician, who poured the best of himself into his music. Two — Bob was genuinely committed to the uplift of the downtrodden.

Yes, I believe he was a Natural Mystic. I believe he believed in what he was doing. And so I choose that song to go with the ones my son, Mtume, has chosen. There’s a natural mystic. Blowing in the air.

And so, I wear my Bob Marley T-shirt, even at the risk of being mistaken for a dope-head, I embrace Bob Marley the man in all his bittersweet contradictions. He never slacked off in creating his art. And he never ever sold out or compromised his commitment to our people.


Marley. That’s a plenty. Marley. That’s enough!



With thanks to www.kalamu.com/bol where this piece was originally posted.


New Orleans writer and filmmaker, Kalamu ya Salaam is founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop; co-founder of Runagate Multimedia; leader of the WordBand, a poetry performance ensemble; and moderator of e-Drum, a listing service for Black writers and diverse supporters of their literature.


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