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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Natural mystic: The genius of Bob Marley

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 Among the finalists was the legendary Bob Marley, but he had played all of his hit tracks and needed one more song to break the tie to win the royal prize to be presented by Her Majesty the Queen herself. When the gong sounded Bob scratched his head and there was no song popping out. He turned around looking at the I Threes but the look in their eyes was not promising. Then he looked at Carlton Barret; the master percussionist nodded and the halls of Buckingham Palace reverberated with the sound of his drums. The sound oozed out of every musical instrument in the band. Bob was mute for an unusually long moment and then the verses flowed:

There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air;

If you listen carefully now you will hear.

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This could be the first trumpet, might as well be the last…

If you listen carefully to this song you will see that the instrumentals go on a little bit longer than usual before Bob’s voice come in. The explanation is in the narration above. There was no song written for it but when Carlton Barret and the band hit the notes and Bob knowing he would lose the majestic prize if he didn’t sing, he got inspired and the lyrics flowed through.

I am not a Rastafarian but on May 11, my mind was infused with thoughts of Bob Marley. While I played a selection of his best music, I remembered the above legend about him.  I have been studying the genius that is Bob Marley for a long time trying to establish the secret source of his brilliance. And in this process of studying his music, he has very often given me inspiration when I needed it most. There is this song of his where he chants: 

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We got something they could never take away:

And it’s the fire (fire), it’s the fire (fire)

That’s burning down everything:

I have played this song hundreds of times just to get that single verse to inundate my mind. For me the fire in that verse represents inspiration and its indispensability to success in any field. And I get inspired further when Bob sings that our enemies can take everything from us but the fire burning within. This is why I have said that even if I am banished to the Kalahari Desert alone I will live a happy and successful life because of that immutable fire I have got burning in my soul. 

And speaking of enemies (or should I say frenemies) Bob’s song Who The Cap Fits speaks for most people, knowing the amount of backstabbing and insidious scheming we have suffered from people who are supposed to be friends. I am sure you have had your fair share of this so let me reproduce some lyrics of this song and refrain from analysing it because nobody can say this better than the great Robert Nesta Marley himself:

“Man to man is so unjust, children:

Ya don’t know who to trust.

Your worst enemy could be your best friend,

And your best friend your worse enemy.

Some will eat and drink with you,

Then behind them su-su ‘pon you.

Only your friend know your secrets,

So only he could reveal it.

And who the cap fit, let them wear it!

Who the cap fit, let them wear it…”

Bob is right; when you think it’s peace and safety, a sudden destruction. He also hit the nail on the head when he sang, “if your night should turn to day, a lot of people will run away!” All because of the rat race that most of us are engulfed in. 

Now turn a page to the greatest panacea for the kind of venom mentioned above that kills more people than guns. In his song One Love, Bob calls for unity and reconciliation, and the message is surely divine. This is the song he performed in a peace concert for the reconciliation of two political archrivals in Jamaica. The same song seems to be President Jammeh’s favourite because of late every time he comes into the July 22nd Square for a ceremony that is the song played upon his entry and he does exude joy from those lyrics. I was not at the park when President Jammeh presided over the victory celebration of the Banjul City Council elections that also marked the reconciliation of the contending parties in that race. But I am sure the same song of Bob Marley must have been played when the President came in. This is commendable and I humbly urge you to keep that going Dr. President. Let me herein paraphrase the wonderful William Shakespeare and say if music is the food of reconciliation, then let it play on. With that reconciliation party His Excellency the President and not just his party became the ultimate winner of this year’s local government elections. He deserves a party for this victory and I hope to put up one for him.  Anyone who promotes the concept of love and reconciliation deserves to be honoured and celebrated. 

And lest we forget this was not the first time President Jammeh used his own time and resources to reconcile political rivals. When the late General Ansumana Manneh and Nino Vierra clashed in Bissau and almost burnt that nation to ashes, it was President Jammeh’s personal intervention that calmed down the situation. Even after both of them passed on, subsequent political problems that threatened the peace and stability of that country were resolved here through President Jammeh’s intervention. 

Still on the subject of love, my love and admiration of my dear mother Kaddy Jammeh has made Bob’s song No Woman No Cry another favourite of mine. And on pages 94-95 my book The Way to Happiness I wrote this about that song:

It’s a breezy Saturday night in Dakar. As I stroll along the Yoff highway my Sony walkman (old-fashioned me, I am yet to get an iPod or iPhone) blasting the lyrics of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. The lyrics depressing at first then inspiring as the track crescendos into the refrain: “Everything’s gonna be alright, so no woman no cry!”

My mind races through all the women I see toil and moil every day to feed their loved ones amid the mountains of obstacles and tears. My mind walks further down memory lane about the struggles of my own mother, widowed some 33 years ago, working around the clock to raise five kids, with one that has a huge stomach like me. From her selling porridge in the streets of Banjul to the cleaning of offices in The Quadrangle she fought against the odds to bring up all her children under one roof, resisting the overtures of relatives who thought the burden to be too heavy on her, offering to adopt some of her kids. And then I imagine the struggles of many more women with similar and sometimes more compelling stories.

Yes I had a challenging childhood in Banjul and Lamin. And it was during my childhood years in Lamin that I heard the story of Bob Marley in a competition at Buckingham Palace as narrated above. Because of the way the story was narrated to me and the fact that unlike most of his songs Natural Mystic does enjoy a long space of instrumentals before Bob’s voice comes on I believed the legend that he never wrote that song, it just came in the heat of a hot contest. Doing my analysis of Bob’s genius, I later concluded that yes the legend may not be true but that it is indeed possible that Bob Marley could compose such a song without any preparation. I know this because I am now acquainted with the source and nature of his genius and that source, that secret can be summed up in one phrase that was uttered by no less a mind that Bob himself: Natural mystic. His genius is natural yet mystical. If you want to know this you have to pay the price. Buy my books and come attend a seminar I am putting up this summer and you will gradually come to know that like Bob Marley, you too can be a legend in your career. “That’s the natural mystic blowing through eh air…”


Momodou Sabally

The Gambia’s Pen  


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