Bob Marley's natural mystic, & me

2009-11-06 12:18
 He was dissing a slow-burner singer-songwriter guy called Simon* something. "Why?" I asked. Apparently Simon had claimed that Bob Marley was the musician who'd singlehandedly contributed most to race relations worldwide. I think I argued Simon's point for the sake of it at the time (I love an argument – any argument) but admittedly it was a very stupid thing to say to a loft-dwelling Cape Town sub-culture-vulture who reeked of meia de leite  – whether it was true or not, Simon should really have smelled that coming.

"Grandaddy are the new Beatles" might have gone down better. So I decided they were both probably beneath me.

Also, as someone who achieved then-unmatched heights of emotional maturity in the 80s and 90s, and as a lay researcher who'd conducted extensive investigations into alternatives to alcohol over a number of years, I was sick to death of Bob bloody Marley – especially "One Love" and "No Woman, No Cry." As a former ANC member I was also totally over good intentions. Give me tears, hate, and hard rock 'n roll any day, I thought. And a meia de leite.

However I couldn't help remembering a night in a jazz club in Maputo, Mozambique; the first night of an amazing holiday. We were downing Caipirinhas, having abandoned the "no ice on the first night" rule due to drunkenness. It was 1am. Our bus to the northern beaches was scheduled to leave in four hours. We were an hour's walk from our youth hostel. But it was Bob Marley tribute night, and when those South African, Zimbabwean and Mozambican musicians played "Natural Mystic" together onstage, adding some marrabenta rhythms, I felt Marley for the first time. I danced like I wasn't white, and wasn't a cynic, and wasn't sober. And later, when the guy found out the only honkies there were from South Africa, he gave us a welcoming rasta-style one-love shout-out from the stage and everybody cheered "Mandela!"

I nearly moved to Maputo.

A year later, in Madagascar, at Glacier nightclub in Antananarivo, I accidentally got to see local music salegy superhero Din Rotsaka turn the smokey air into steam. But again, the support band covering "Natural Mystic" raised the crowd's voices highest. Everybody sang along in gorgeous French accents, even the prostitutes who crowded around at the corner of the bar while their luckier co-workers slow-danced with wrinkly old men from ugly French towns you don't see in the movies.

I nearly moved to Antananarivo.

I heard Bob Marley covered again in Paris at Olympic, up a side street in the immigrant area near the Canals. And again in a restaurant in a Spanish village (population four) while I ate a deep-fried sandwich thingy on the Camino, and again in Cinque Terre in Italy, and once in a West Coast bar full of off-duty mercenaries, and again the other night in Wynberg, Cape Town, when I took photos of The Wailers at the Wittebome Civic Centre – which is one of those crazy places everyone knows but never thinks they'll return to. I attended a Brownies function there when I was nine. I think I got a Nature badge.

It wasn't Bob himself singing that night, of course - he's dead etc. It wasn't Bunny Wailer either - he's a heavily publicised recluse in Kingston Town. It wasn't even one of the Wailers. Ras Munchie* from Sons of Selassie rescued the wailers at the last minute when their singer Elan was refused entry to South Africa because his passport was too full. Never run out of papers, dude!

But even if Elan wasn't there, the natural mystic was everywhere, and so were the smiles. Even the cops that showed up politely late to deal with concerns regarding smoke inhalation boogied along and made peace signs, as lawyers rubbed shoulders with old rastas, and business managers partied with students the same age they were when they smoked their first joint.

Jah, you know what? Case closed.

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