It's 30 years ago today that the world's most famous and revered reggae musician died. And while reggae had already seeped into Africa in the 1960s via Desmond Dekker and Jimmy Cliff, it was Bob Marley's music and evident love of Africa that made the genre take off in a big way in the 70s. It was clear that Africa figured in his worldview long before he actually got to visit the continent. As he said, in an early interview:
"Too many people going on like England and America are in the world. But there is a better life in Africa. I feel for Africa, I want to go there and write some music. Instead of New York, why can’t we go to Ghana? Go to Nigeria-meet some people, learn a new language. You see, people are only seeking material vanity. Black People are so stubborn. They stay here because white people give them a big hotel and a floor to vacuum."
He visited Ethiopia in 1978, living on a communal farm, visiting many of the sites relating to Haile Selassie and ancient Ethiopian history, meeting members of the then Marxist government of Ethiopia, and becoming more aware of the issues facing the continent, of the need for African unity and of the liberation struggle taking place in Zimbabwe. All of which fed into the 1979 album Survival, with tracks such as Africa Unite, Zimbabwe, Wake Up and Live, Survival.
And then came Bob Marley's concert to celebrate Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, which forever sealed the bond between reggae and Africa. Look up old articles about the excitement caused by the Beatles when they toured America in 1964 and it'll give you an idea of the excitement caused by that concert, not only in Zimbabwe but across the continent. It's not for nothing that the concert is still talked about today. Bob Marley was so committed that he reputedly financed all the arrangements for his band and crew himself. The song Zimbabwe remains one of the favourite reggae anthems today. (Check Jusa Dementor, Cynthia Mare and Kazz's interpretation of Zimbabwe in The White Room).
Inspired directly or indirectly, African musicians and fans took to reggae in a big way. The rasta philosophy embodied in reggae, which makes it a good vehicle for social and political expression, also touched a nerve. Artists kept the spirit alive and made it local by introducing homegrown elements - rhythms, instrumentation, language. Africa wasn't immune to the watering down that happened in Jamaica in the 1990s when studios started churning out raggamuffin-style dancehall singles backed by nothing more than an electronic sequencer. Fortunately, the pendulum appears to have swung back in the direction of roots reggae and dub.
It's safe to say that all reggae artists today, African or otherwise, owe a debt of gratitude to Bob Marley for giving the music the stature and prominence in the public consciousness that it holds today.
Regarding African reggae specifically, the strongest countries are Côte d'Ivoire (with main city Abidjan being one of the reggae capitals of the world) and South Africa. Nigeria used to be strong, too, but although there are some young new artists on the scene there is no one as yet with the calibre of the previous generation of musicians like Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono, or even Alex Zitto. Actually, it's fair to say there's been some falling off in talent across the board, even as reggae continues to be one of the continent's most popular styles of music.
Music fans wherever in the world might have heard of the bigger names, Alpha Blondy (Côte d'Ivoire), the late Lucky Dube (South Africa) and Tiken Jah Fakoly (Côte d'Ivoire), but it is likely that for many the list ends there because most reggae musicians from Africa do not perform outside the continent. Most don't even have an online presence (which is why some of the names below aren't hyperlinked). So we thought it'd be a good idea to add some clips to this post to show a bit of the variety from different parts of the continent, bearing in mind that we'd be leaving out more than we can reasonably include in one article. Nonetheless we include a couple of artists who while not strictly speaking reggae artists will often incorporate reggae elements into some of their music, or who might even include some pure reggae tracks on their album, as is the case with Nneka and Kenya's Wyre, who does reggae, raga, afropop and R&B.
If you're not familiar with reggae from Africa, we hope you hear/see enough here to encourage you to seek out more, and if you're a reggae fan whose seen and heard all of these already, well, enjoy the lot again as we celebrate the legacy of one of the greatest cultural figures the modern world has ever known.
Note: The heavyweights get a couple of videos apiece because, well, they're heavyweights, so why not? A couple of other artists get two apiece simply because they're notable.
Alpha Blondy - Wish You Were Here
Alpha Blondy and The Wailers - Jerusalem (Dub) (Also check out this live version with his own band The Solar System)
Tiken Jah Fakoly - Je dis non
Tiken Jah Fakoly - Il Faut Se Lever
TJF: I’ve always been opposed to Independence celebrations in African countries, because we are not economically or politically independent. Look at Latin America: Morales or Chavez can tell Barack Obama or Sarkozy to get lost. No African head of state since Thomas Sankara or Patrice Lumumba has got up and said “Leave us alone, things are going to be different now”. Instead we have some leaders who still have a kind of colonised mentality, you can see the parallels with the huge investments China is making and the power that goes with that. (Excerpt from an interview in Mondomix)
Ismaël Isaac - Magno Mako
Tangara Speed Ghoda - Show Biz Ti Requin
Serges Kassy - C'Est Pas Da Ni Blo
Serges Kassy - Jah Libile
Dub Collosus - Shem City Steppers
Teddy Ab - Anchi Ethiopia
Semere Kiros, ft. feat. Hailu - Reggea Kemise
Black Missionaries - Ndilibe naye Chifukwa
Dread Maxim Amar - Jah Sun
Sun Sooley - Sen System
Marcel Salem - Baappa (les parents)
Lucky Dube - Respect (Lucky Dube fused reggae with Mbaqanga. He was murdered when he was carjacked in October 2007)
Lucky Dube - Back To My Roots - Live!
(Also see Prisoner, and listen to a Lucky Dube interview here)
Zoro - Jabulani
Zoro - Far Away From Home
Sister Phumi - Africa
Slaves (Lucky Dube's band) - Don't Give Up
Rocky Dawuni - Walls Tumblin Down
Rocky Dawuni - Take It Slow (Love Love Love)
Kwame Bediako - How Sweet It Is
John Chibadura (Died in 1999. Mixed reggae and Jit) - Zuva Rekufa Kwangu
Kulcha Far I - Jah Spirit
Mo'Kalamity & The Wizards (Cape Verde/France) - Vision
One Love Family (Cape Verde/Portugal) - Seria profecia
Bingui jaa jammy - Commerce Triangulaire
Zêdess - Un hongrois chez les gaulois
Nino Galissa - Krebo Cheo
Wyre - Uprising
Takana Zion - Sweet Words
Natty Dread - This Is My Party
Kaïssa - O Si Keka
Koko Dembele - Amagni
Askia Modibo (Combines Mali’s Wassoulou tradition with reggae) - Wadjou
Gnawa Diffusion - Ya Laymi
Intik - Notre Devoir
Intik - Vas le dire à ta mère
Ras Nas - Dar-es-Salaam
Half Cast - Tumefika
Majek Fashek - African Unity (Major influences: Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, and Jimi Hendrix)
Majek Fashek - I'm Not Tired
Nneka - Africans
If you need more about Bob Marley's bond with and influence on Africa, check out the article Bob Marley and Africa at Rasta-Man-Vibrations