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Reggae star Lucky Dube. PHOTO | NMG

Last month we celebrated 31 years since the World’s most famous and revered reggae musician Bob Marley died with concerts in most parts of the world.In Dar es Salaam the main event was at the Posta grounds where musicians such as Warriors From the East and Ras Inno were there to entertain the thousands who turned up.

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 stepped on the continent.

“Too many people are going to places  like England and America. 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-meetsome 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 later 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.

These visits acquainted him with issues facing the continent, of the need for African unity and of the liberation struggle which was taking place in Zimbabwe then. All of which fed into the 1979 album Survival, with tracks such as Africa Unite, Zimbabwe, Wake Up and Live, Survival.

Then  came the concert to celebrate Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, which forever sealed the bond between reggae and Africa.

The excitement across the continent according to pundits was compared the Beatles tour of US in 1964. It is still one of the most talked about concert to date.

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.

Inspired directly or indirectly, African musicians and fans took to reggae in a big way. The rasta philosophy embodied in reggae, which made it a good vehicle for social and political expression, also touched a nerve.
Artistes kept the spirit alive and made it local by introducing homegrown elements – rhythms, instrumentation, language.

Africa wasn’t immune to the watering down of what 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 artistes 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 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 artistes on the scene, not many can compare with musicians such as Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono, or even Alex Zitto.

Even as reggae continues to be one of the continent’s most popular styles of music, there has been some falling off in talent across the board.

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.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of artistes who while not strictly  reggae artistes often incorporate reggae elements into their music, or who 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&(This is Africa)

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