No jumbie could ever be badda than me
Neither vampire or dem dutty duppy
Meh nah fear dem, dem 'fraid ah me
Cause I am protected by the Almighty
Meh nah play in the way of All Souls Day
Only life I promote, not death and decay
One thing I hear all ah di boneheads seh
That "JAH dead", well dem muss be zombie
Dem ting deh lurk in the darkness of night
Come fe tear up my flesh and take a bite
Dem set in, but I already win the fight
JAH stand by my side with a rod of light
Meh come fe tell Satan to go get behind
JAH cast all wickedness out from mi mind
If you come my way, you too will find
No night inna Zion, the sun stay shine
No jumbie could ever try come fi haunt me
Meh nah get tied up by no sort of sorcery
I stay far and wide from di devil pickney
Dem know Rastafari give me the victory
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I am the ancient fyah that still rages
The same fyah found in the Bible pages
Carried by prophets through the ages
Cast into a furnace by Babylonian sages
Their blazing fire could not burn I
I am protected by the Most High
Amazed faces gaze in awe when out I go
With Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
The fiery judgment only consumes the foe
They must reap heat if its fyah they sow
Monday, October 25, 2010
October has been a busy month, and I had some writings and reasonings that I planned to take off the back-burner and publish but then all of the sudden I had to put them on hold once again. It is because today, Gregory Isaacs, the Cool Ruler has trod on. I had been meaning to write another tribute to Lucky Dube, whose life was tragically taken several years ago this month, and I never did pay a proper tribute to reggae greats who have passed since that time like Vivian "Yabby You" Jackson and Sugar Minott. Not to diminish those artists lives and achievements, but when such a huge figure as Gregory passes everything seems to stop.
Gregory Isaacs was one of the last giants left from reggae's Golden Age. His friend, the legendary Dennis Brown passed on a decade ago, Bob Marley of course, Jacob Miller, Joseph "Culture" Hill, Peter Tosh. While there are many great reggae artists that are still with us from that era like Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer, John Holt, and Freddie McGregor (just to name a few!), Gregory Isaacs will be sorely missed because his persona and music was so original. I remember when I first heard Gregory's music... it struck me to the core. His vocals were like nothing I had heard before, a laid-back smooth style with a characteristic nasal voice. Everything he touched with the mic seemed to shine, whether it was his Lover's Rock, Roots & Culture, or a sufferer's anthem. The music seemed to transport me somewhere. I would put an album of Gregory on and everything would be alright... If I was heartbroken over a girl, he spoke to that with "Front Door", "Sad To Know", and "Lonely Soldier". If I was playing it cool and calm, "Stranger In Town", "Top Ten", and "Night Nurse". If I was feeling like militantly confronting Babylon with some serious rockers, then I played tunes like "Universal Tribulation", "Storm", "Poor And Clean". Those are just a few of the massive amount of tunes he sang and produced over the years through his label African Museum, because to say that Mr. Isaacs was a prolific artist is an understatement. I have a good collection, but there are certainly amazing songs that I've overlooked and hope to discover just because of the immense size of what is out there and because I did not grow up during his prime and always have to look backward into his career. I also remember when I first saw footage of Gregory Isaacs from different documentaries like "Land of Look Behind" and the movie, "Rockers". The man was smooth. He would strut out in his suit with his dreads tucked into a brimmed hat, the Roots Radics would back him with some wicked riddim, and then he would sing away... women and men dancing to the tunes, a party in the ghetto to let the people forget their troubles... yeah the Cool Ruler!
I was fortunate enough to see Gregory Isaacs perform live a couple of times. Once at a big stage show with other classic reggae artists of his era, and another time up close at a small venue where I took some great photos. I can't remember for certain, but I think I got to shake his hand. To be truthful, his performances left something to be desired. Age and ailments took a toll on Gregory's body and his distinct voice, just as in his most recent recordings. It was still there, but not the same... not the clear and cool vocals from the 70's and 80's, not the same range, not the same charisma. Nonetheless, it was still Gregory... the legend. Nobody can, or ever will, duplicate that sound. He was no longer in his prime, but it was the same man and I could appreciate that fact after the many years of listening to his tunes and recognizing him as a reggae great.
So, after a long journey and a battle with cancer, Mr. Isaacs has trod on. The last years were rough. The paper's said he was 59, and I thought he was older... he sure looked and seemed older, but he had some struggles in life that affected his health. I went to check my bredren who grew up in Kingston and he swore that Gregory had to be older than 59 also, but the Jamaican newspapers had his birthday and mentioned dates in his early singing career. Even though Gregory has passed, his music will never die, and neither will his memory among fans all over the world, especially in his native Jamaica. He was a man who never forgot his roots and always gave back to the community where he grew up in West Kingston. Despite his international success and legendary status, he was still Gregory Isaacs the rude-bwoy from the ghetto. Although he sighted up Rastafari, he wasn't the most spiritual or conscious, he also didn't always make the best choices in life. Rather, he represented reality and was a little bit of everything rolled up in one bundle... the voice of the sufferer in Jamaica, who struggled to rise above. Give thanks to the life and music of Gregory Isaacs, a reggae singer like no other! JAH Bless the Cool Ruler! There will always be a place in the dancehall for you!
"Some of the men will buy you diamonds and pearls
And those are the things that mean a lot to some girls
But all I have is love, darling, all I have is love
Now they will take you places that you wanna go
And show you things that you've never seen before
But all I have is love, darling, all I have is love"
- Gregory Isaacs "All I Have Is Love"
Monday, October 11, 2010
I can remember when I was a youth, in pre-school and kindergarten, learning about Christopher Columbus... the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María, his great “discovery” of America, and that the world was round, and such and such. All the children made hats and tunics decorated in white with the red cross, and had telescopes made out of cardboard. The textbooks gave him praises, he would occasionally manifest in TV cartoons or other popular mediums. Then there was the song, “In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue...”. Yes this is how it basically was up until high school... well without the singing and costumes and all. The celebratory nature of Columbus and his achievements were embedded in the educational system. Sure, eventually as you grew older you didn’t buy much of it, but at the most Columbus just appeared foolish for thinking he had reached the Far East and other than that he wasn’t too bad of a fellow... just confused, and that was with our hindsight vision. Nobody wanted to tell us that Christopher Columbus was not such a great person after all, that what he did was not such a great thing, and that there was proof of all of this. No, instead we were given cheerful warmhearted Columbus images and songs, diluted history, and a national holiday for the man. There is so much mythology surrounding Columbus, and all of it hides the true nature of things.
First of all, Columbus was not the first to claim that the world was round. This was an idea that already existed for thousands of years by his time, and had been proposed by philosophers and mathematicians of ancient Egypt and Greece. Aristotle reasoned that the earth was round by using observation and Eratosthenes of Alexandria, Egypt had been able to accurately measure the earth’s circumference to within four-percent. Scholars in Ancient India and in the Islamic world (including the African civilizations of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai) continued to use the progressive science and math of the classical civilizations and used this knowledge in their understanding of the world and how to create maps, etc. Even many of the learned scholars of the late Middle Ages in Europe believed that the world was a sphere. The only thing Columbus did was use that knowledge to propose a western route to Asia.
Second, Columbus was not the first to “discover America” as Eurocentric history has suggested. It is widely believed that the Vikings reached mainland North America at least 500 years before Columbus and that they had small settlements in what Leif Eriksson the Norsemen had called “Vinland”, which is today the province of Newfoundland in Canada. Some have proposed that the Chinese admiral, Zheng He, may have reached America 70 years before Columbus by using Chinese maps that already indicated that the continent of North America was known. Evidence of the Chinese in America may have also been found. Finally, according to tradition, Abubakari II, an African emperor from Mali set out to cross the Atlantic with a fleet of ships in 1311. Researchers have been working to uncover evidence of the Africans reaching the Americas shortly after. The interesting thing is that Columbus even wrote about "the presence of Negros there" upon landing on Hispaniola during his 3rd voyage, and that these black traders had given the Amerindians spear points made of "guanine" a gold alloy metal known to be unique to Africans at the time. This may also account for some of the Olmec statues that suspiciously seem to have African features. Nonetheless, whether it was the Africans, Vikings, or Chinese... Columbus was beat. In addition to that, no matter who it was who got there before Columbus, one set of people were there long before... the Amerindians, the tribes of Carib, Arawak, Taino and others who populated the West Indies, and of course the Maya, Aztec, and other indigenous civilizations on the mainland. These people who Columbus would dub the “Indians” (because he swore he was there somewhere in India and the Orient, and never renounced it his entire life) were the first to settle and discover Americas. So, Columbus discovered and claimed an occupied land. In fact, he never touched on the mainland in what is now Mexico until 1498. Moreover, he never set foot on any land that would today be the continental United States. So much for his discovery...
Finally, I save the worst for last. Christopher Columbus was born as Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa, Italy... maybe (some scholars now question his origins) and he became a navigator for Portugal and ultimately Spain, but he was more of a mercenary for hire rather than a heroic explorer. Whatever Columbus’ motives were for making his trans-Atlantic voyage, one thing is for certain... that he was lusting for riches. There is irrefutable evidence. His journal has survived the ages, and in it he had written multiple accounts in regard to his search for gold upon landing. Once he met the Amerindian populations of the islands, he and his crew members would use vicious tactics to try and find gold mines and procure any gold from the native people themselves. He kidnapped and enslaved the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Central America, like the Arawaks and the Carib and used them as a labor force when building settlements and searching for gold. If any of his slaves were caught stealing or lying, parts of their body, especially facial features, were cut off in order to make examples of the rebellious ones. He allowed his crew members to force themselves on the native women, a situation some historians have sugarcoated as “intermarriage”, and to bring back these women from their homelands to Europe. Of course, besides the brutality of conquest, diseases brought by the European sailors wiped out many of the native people. During the four voyages of Columbus, the Amerindian slaves were transported back to Spain on the caravel ships and the ones that didn’t die on the journey were used by the royal family to work in the galleys. In a deal with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Christopher Columbus was given territories to govern but he mismanaged them while in constant pursuit of more gold to pay off his debts to investors. At one point he was arrested and sent back to Spain in manacles and chains because he was accused being a cruel governor who frequently used acts of violence not only against the native people, but also the Spanish settlers. Eventually he was given back his freedom, but he lost all of his titles and his reputation. After a final voyage, which included being stranded in Jamaica for a year, he traveled back to Spain and died a fairly wealthy man from all the gold he and his men had initially acquired in Hispaniola. This all may be a little hard to swallow, but look for yourself. You can read Columbus' journal and other primary sources from the period.
Unfortunately, it didn’t end with Columbus. He was just the beginning for what became centuries of genocide and oppression against the native people of the Americas at the hands of the Spanish, Portuguese and later the British, French and Dutch. After the Spanish were successful with their discoveries, the Portuguese were upset so the Pope made Spain and Portugal sign the Treaty of Tordesillas which divided newly and formerly discovered lands amongst them. Spain received the Americas, with the exception of what became Brazil, and the Portuguese received Africa and East India. Eventually the colonial powers had to deal with the problem of too many Amerindians dying from diseases in addition to their cunning ability to hide and thrive in their native lands. So, soon after African slaves are sent over to the New World once the Portuguese began exploiting the African continent. Eventually, after years of exploitation and competition and fighting among European nations, the United States develops in North America. The U.S., a beacon of liberty, expands its borders with the notion of “manifest destiny”, wiping out the American Indians in the process and relegating the survivors to reservations out West. Many of their descendants today suffer from alcoholism, unemployment and a loss of their native traditions. History in a nutshell, a bit oversimplified, but truth is truth. It is the legacy of Columbus.
So, why on earth do we celebrate Columbus Day today? Why did it take me until college to uncover the dirty secrets on Christopher Columbus? Why is it that the only public outcries come from minority groups and not the mainstream? Why did the United States create a holiday in his name, when he didn’t even make it to American soil? It is also the only other American holiday not named after a president besides Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Call me crazy, but I don’t think Columbus deserves such company. Why is Columbus Day also Italian-American Day, especially when his origins and lifestyle are questionable, wouldn’t someone like Garibaldi be a better choice? It makes it hard for me to celebrate that part of my heritage when Columbus is attached to it.
Columbus arriving in the New World changed everything, but is it something to really celebrate? I guess it depends on which side you take. As a teacher, and a historian, I feel obligated to educate people on Columbus as I have done here. There is no use in sugar-coating history... it is full of bloodshed, exploitation, and enslavement, that is a fact no matter what. I wouldn’t be in America if it weren’t for its brutal conquest at the hands of the European explorers. We can’t do anything about that, circumstances bring us to where we presently are, but we can know the truth. As a Rastaman, I also feel that the Truth needs to be explained to the people. Descendants of African slaves in the West Indies have known about the real nature of Columbus for centuries. They were brought over because of him and his arrival, and they replaced that Arawaks and Caribs on the islands, of which there are none left now. Why does this have to be learned from a reggae tune by Burning Spear or Culture and not within a textbook given to the youths? It should be common knowledge, it should be accessible. Ignorance has created more damage to people than the initial act itself because people are powerless without knowledge.
Columbus Day celebrates an American mythology, an American Tale of progress, patriotism, and nationhood. It masks the truth with positive, community oriented spectacles. It subscribes to the belief that Columbus and his European predecessors brought civilization, Christianity, and democracy to the savage and backward American Indians and would later allow all people, including them, to have a better life. Columbus Day belongs in the trash bin along with the idea that the Pilgrims and Native Americans had a lovely Thanksgiving feast, that George Washington never told a lie, and that black slaves had a great time picking cotton on their massa’s plantations. Stop teaching the youths lies and myths, and give them the Truth! The truth will set them free! Christopher Columbus was a damn blasted liad, thief, and murderer. Rasta nuh love Christopher ComeBussUs!
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Ten times ten, times ten
Time to stop be comedian
To stand firm and defend
From wolves in sheep pen
Time to chase all of them
Who come pose as a friend
Time to stop watching CNN
And make our own bulletin
Time to go set the trend
Tell all the women and men
Ten times ten, times ten
Time to keep eyes wide open
Since the Christ it has been
Bloodshed and pure problem
And when H.I.M. come again
They never see who JAH send
In time, fools are fools again
They die for want of wisdom
Time to avoid all the heathen
Never bow and never bend
Ten times ten, times ten
Time equal to one millennium
So Rasta rise and chant Amen
Save the lives of the children
Trust no preacher or politician
Because Time will tell on them
Run to the forest and the glen
Babylon time will soon end
Now it’s time that we ascend
Back into the Garden of Eden
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Tangled Up In You
No matter what I choose to do
I still get tangled up in you
Pulled in by my heartstrings
Once you want to start things
It makes my love spring up inside
That's when you go push me aside
Not released, yet I'm kept at bay
Until you want to come my way
No, we can’t do that this time
Or I'm afraid I'll lose my mind
Darling, there must be a change
From these cat and mouse games
I give you love, but yours I borrow
It’s here today, but not tomorrow
What a tangled web you weave
I want to go, but just can't leave
Though loving you may be unwise
We're tightly wound by our soul ties
Yes, I really shouldn’t play the fool
But babe, I still get tangled up in you
Monday, October 4, 2010
As I was driving into New York, I couldn’t quite remember how long it had been... somewhere in between too long and awhile ago. Either way, I was happy that I had the opportunity to make the trip because circumstances have been pressuring me lately. I started attending meetings at the Twelve Tribes of Israel back in 2003, and I think my official date of membership at the NY HQ is January 2004. Those were some tumultuous times in my life, but I was trying to find some peace of mind. I was in my young twenties and had gone through my fair share of trials and tribulations of the heart and soul. I had also started my trod with Rastafari about two years prior to that and I was on a quest to mature more in my overstanding of things to find a community that I could take part in and belong to... especially when it sometimes seemed like I was a lonely sheep. The same reason I was driving now, was the same reason I was driving then... for fellowship and renewal.
I remember when I was still living in the neighborhood in Newark as a young man and my good bredren and mentor had often used the language and ideas espoused by the Twelve Tribes in the advice he had given me. It had always resonated with me when we would reason about life and everything within it. The Rastafari trod has many different facets to it, and by that time I had already been exposed to different levels and philosophies within the movement, but the Twelve Tribes vibes always came back to plant a seed within me. Eventually it led me to learn more about the actual Rastafari organization called the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and about Prophet Gad, Dr. Vernon Carrington, TTOI’s founder. I had found and read interviews with Gadman, read books like Bro. Karl Philpotts Naphtali’s “Testimony of H.I.M. Haile Selassie I”, and listened to reggae artists who followed the Twelve Tribes philosophy. I started following Gadman’s teachings, like reading the Bible a chapter a day, along with the utterances of H.I.M. Haile Selassie I and Marcus Garvey. As an educated and tolerant person I embraced the Twelve Tribes teaching on self-reliance, literacy, nondiscrimination and unity, as well as refocusing through a new lens on the Christian faith... a faith that I had nearly abandoned in anger, but found rejuvenation in as a Twelve Tribes Rastafari. After taking it upon myself to follow the guidance of Prophet Gad, and having acquired a strong knowledge of the Scriptures, Ethiopia and His Majesty in the process, the last thing for me to do was sign up, seal up and be a member of the organization that I had studied so fervently. Fortunately Twelve Tribes had a house in New York and I lived close enough to the New York area, so I joined and I attended meetings and functions when I could. Eventually between going to graduate school, and working as a teacher I could not go as often as I liked and time passed. So did Prophet Gad in 2005. I remember attending a special meeting in his remembrance. I never got to meet him, but he changed my life.
Forward back to 2010. It was one of the colder evenings of the year so far, jacket weather. Out of the four quarterly meetings each year, October and April were the easiest for me to attend. I figured if I missed this one, it might be another year of absence for me. I walked to the gates of the HQ, and stepped through. The first time I had been to the NYC House of Twelve Tribes in maybe two years. Since then I had actually been to the “organ”, the original Twelve Tribes HQ in Kingston, Jamaica, on Hope Road just up from Bob Marley’s old home (who was also a TTOI member in his day). There I met with Sangie Davis, a reggae artist and producer for Orthodox Muzik of Twelve Tribes, and amongst other bredrens and sistrens I met Sis. Dinah 1st, Gad’s widow... but the visit there to Hope Road is a story of its own. Now I was here again on Farmers Boulevard in Queens. I walked into the doorway and greeted bredrens and sistrens wearing the “banner”, the red, gold, and green tam that all members wear during official functions. I had mine with me as well, but I passed through proudly with my locks swinging free, as it was the first time I had been there since growing them nearly 2 years ago. I took a look around. The same signs with the tribe names and their colors were across the top hallway wall, pictures of His Majesty and the Royal Family were in their spots, the latest news and communication from other houses was posted. I chatted with a few people and learned that one of the executives, the original overseer of the New York house, repatriated to Shashamane Land, Ethiopia along with his family. I saw some other familiar faces, but they would be missed, especially since I rarely made visits. Yet repatriation is one of the missions of the organization..
A sistren greeted me and I chatted how it had been such a long while since I had come, but how circumstances allowed me to come again tonight. She remarked on how nice it was that I was able to make the journey there and how it was destiny to come back in this time. “Yes Simeon”, she said, “strong of faith!” (I am of the Tribe of Simeon, and faith is one of our tendencies). She also made mention of how it was the anniversary of H.I.M. Haile Selassie I’s 1963 visit to the United States tomorrow (which is today, Oct. 4th) and that in the same way it revealed a natural mystic in my visit. I thought about that. Soon after, the meeting began in the familiar way, Ezekiel 37, and continued with reasonings, financial oversight, and messages to the massive. After a few hours of some empowering words in the company of bredrens and sistrens, the meeting ended with the Ethiopian Anthem. I wish that I could have stayed longer to reason with ones and spend some time at the HQ but I had a 2 hour drive back home and still had to work tomorrow (although not at my usual very early time). On my way out, I chatted with a few more bredrens who urged me to come more often again. I said I would try... and that is my intention. Not just to make the occasional meeting, but to come and just cool out on an occasional Friday evening.
I realized that even just a short time there in the New York house gave me a renewed energy, a renewed sense of self and resistance to the Babylon folly flooding all around me in my daily life. Whatever it is that caused me to set out to the meeting that night, whether it was the shift in my schedule, the mere determination, or the Hand of JAH... I was able to come and complete that journey. Just like His Majesty made his visit to New York and the USA on this date, I also set out to my destination on the eve of that anniversary, and maybe it is that sign for me to strengthen up and find that fervor I did when I had first sighted up Rastafari, along with Gadman and his message to Israel. My good bredren often says to me, “two mountains don’t meet” because I sometimes don’t get to visit with him as much as I like either. Yet, as Rastamen we also both know that everything is in its due time and season. When we journey along life’s way we move in a progressive manner... seeking to advance and improve. A simple journey of 100 miles one October evening has given me some more mileage for the spiritual trod ahead. A little more prayer, a little more study, a little more livication to help me along Life’s Way and give me strength every day! Give thank to JAH! Give thanks to all the bredrens and sistrens who trod together toward One God, One Aim and One Destiny!