Marcus Garvey

Burning Spear

album cover

A Reggae Call to Consciousness

With his forlorn observation "No one remembers . . . old Marcus Garvey," reggae artist Winston Rodney (aka Burning Spear) embarked on a campaign to resurrect a key figure of black nationalism, the Jamaican journalist and entrepreneur who engineered the "Back to Africa" movement of the early twentieth century.

At the time of this release, Garvey was known to schoolchildren in Jamaica as little more than an important historical figure. Rodney's passionate, articulate songs draw connections between Garvey's ideas and modern social problems, and argue that for people of African descent all over the world, understanding and embracing African heritage is a crucial part of moving forward. His songs are a key early example of consciousness reggae; whenever some upstart singer invokes Garvey today, and many do, Rodney and the all-star band that created this album are at least partially responsible.

Rodney isn't a stellar singer—most of the vocals on Marcus Garvey are repetitive chants that utilize a range of about four notes. But they have a hypnotic quality: As he asks, again and again, "Do you remember the days of slavery?" Rodney's repetitions somehow communicate the whole dismaying legacy of that era. He doesn't itemize the injustices. Doesn't have to.

Rodney can take things easy because the band, which includes guitarists Tony Chin and Earl "Chinna" Smith, bassist Robbie Shakespeare, and the adroit backing singers Rupert Willington and Delroy Hinds, achieves an effortless percolation. Their echoey laid-back atmospheres help make Marcus Garvey a rare strain of message music, with the ideals and the uplift radiating through every element of the groove.

Genre: World, Jamaica
Released: 1975, Island/Mango
Key Tracks: "Slavery Days," "Old Marcus Garvey," "Jordon River," "Resting Place"
Catalog Choice: Live
Next Stop: Hugh Mundell: Africa Must Be Free by 1983
Book Page: 132

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