Ndeithi Kariuki, Bob Marley, Archival print on Bamboo paper, 24" x 18"
This week (Friday) is Bob Marley's 70th birthday celebration. He died at the youthful age of 36.
Today, millennials world over are getting most of their information from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The days of watching evening news are long gone. Information is transmitted through the grapevine of social media allowing for music, articles and images to be transmitted seamlessly at the click of a button. This new system of information transmission has a bias. Here in California for example, millennials are more attune with politics of Bob Marley & Reggae than with the local politics of the country.
Thirty five years ago, Bob Marley made history by being the first black man to reach global stardom. His music was topping Billboard charts in far-flung corners of our globe like USA, Japan, Turkey, Brazil, Europe, and all of Africa. Bob's band had done what few bands have been able to do - created a brand new genre of music, Reggae. Reggae is a smooth beat centered around the religion of Rastafarianism. Followers of Rastafarianism are staunch believers in Africa's ability to heal itself and at its core is the ethos of Pan Africanism. Pan Africanism is a school of thought that aspires to unite & uplift people of African descent by building community and collaboration to further the agenda of economic, social and political progress for Africans and black people world over. Notable black thinkers from all around the world contributed to developing this idea; most notably, W.E.B Dubois of Harvard University and two pioneer presidents of Africa, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya.
Pan Africanism calls for unity and community of Africans at home and in the diaspora. If you can trace your heritage to Africa then Pan Africanism has a message for you. It's quite some daring thinking and is akin to the network the Jewish community have managed to built over the centuries. What comes to mind (again) is the idea of Israel (aka Zion) which is at the heart of Jewish culture writ large. Israel's unconditional support was created from the Jewish experience of oppression, anti-Semitism and genocide. African's common experience with colonization, slavery, racism & genocide is what created an obsession with their homeland, Africa. Africa became a sort of mythical eden where people of African descent could find mental refuge from the tough world that condemned blackness. This mythical Africa is also sought after by the Africans in Africa who suffer greatly at the hands of their broken institutions that have created artificial poverty caused by despotic greed and lack of vision.
This mythical Africa is what Reggae music has managed to package so well and deliver it to the world. For Africans in Africa, the promised land is under their feet. And Reggae music, a global music, draws the vision of a prosperous Africa putting power and agency into the hands of the young men and women on the continent by telling them to create a better Africa.
Many regular Africans have not encountered the academic term Pan Africanism, but they can hear its message of unity and self-love, making Reggae the popular beat in ghettos, slums, and working class neighborhoods all across East Africa.