April 29, 2006

Re-Found Tobias Buckell's Blog

I've been laying off the blogging on Saturdays (down to MWF--like being in school all over again) to pay attention to other things, like LIFE. But I re-found a great blog via Global Voices by Tobias Buckell. Global Voices was quite generous in mentioning my books and my blog, and so was Nalo. Give thanks, sis.

For all the writers who want to find out about writing and advances for novels, check out Tobias' blog about novel advances and writing @ : http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/wordpress/?p=1695and while you're at it, buy Crystal Rain, his new book.

April 28, 2006

Three New Poems in Asili

The latest copy of the journal, Asili, is now online, and they’ve published three of my poems: http://asilithejournal.com/ASILI/VOLUMES/Vol%20VI-2/Vol%20VI-2.htm

Asili also features new poetry and fiction from:

  1. Adam David Miller

  2. Rebecca "Butterfly" Vaughns

  3. Preston Allen

  4. Max Pierre

  5. Opal Palmer Adisa

  6. Leslie Biaggi

  7. Michael Hettich

  8. Eunice Tate

  9. Fred Wolven

  10. Akwasi Agyeman

  11. Adrian Castro

  12. Reginald Lockett

  13. Joseph McNair

  14. Quincy Troupe

  15. Eugene B. Redmond

  16. Al Young

  17. Henry Dumas

  18. Joanne Hyppolyte

  19. CM Clark

  20. John Hatch
Check out too this link: Asili Celebrates Black Writers From 1711 to the Present Go to Wall of Respect.

The journal is edited by Joseph McNair.

April 26, 2006

"Magdalen in the Garden" by Geoffrey Philp

Magdalen in the Garden

I went to the tomb with the other women
to do what women have always done,
our hands as limp as the rags
we carried to wash away the dried blood
from his eyes, ears, feet, and flesh,
to anoint his body with oils,
with prayers as final as the stone
we expected at the mouth of the cave,
with no one to help us,
not even the boy who laid him out,
blessed our brother with a threadbare sheet
to cover his nakedness until we returned,
but now he wouldn’t follow us
out of fear of those who have always
stood between us and our joy.
And then this man I mistook,
until he spoke the word,
who had never listened to us
when we called ourselves blind,
deaf, crippled, or leprous,
but always saw us as whole,
said, “I am leaving you at this tomb,
which is not an end, but a beginning.”

April 24, 2006

Lecture/Reading @ Davidson College, North Carolina

Geoffrey PhilpMy story begins with what the Barbadian writer George Lamming called “dynastic hubris”. It was a statement by Prime Minister Michael Manley, the son of Premier Norman Washington Manley, who declared in 1974: “Jamaica has no room for millionaires. For anyone who wants to become a millionaire, we have five flights a day to Miami,” and thus began what is now known as the Jamaican Diaspora.

But to borrow a phrase from the dancehall (which I am sure is no longer used and shows my age): “Haul and pull up! Rewind, my selector!”


My story really begins with me trying to write poems to a girl with whom I was head over heels in love and she was tiring of my fake Khalil Gibran poems. I had to look for inspiration elsewhere. At that time Bob Marley’s music was everywhere, and Dennis Scott had resumed teaching at my alma mater, Jamaica College. I began reading Uncle Time, then The Pond by Mervyn Morris, Reel from the ‘Life Movie’ by Tony McNeill, The Arrivants by Kamau Brathwaite and Another Life by Derek Walcott. I now wanted to write poems with the vision of Marley, the intelligence of Scott, the wit of Morris, the lyricism of McNeill, the experimentation and afro-centrism of Brathwaite, and the imagery of Walcott while maintaining the integrity of my own voice.

And then in 1979, my family and I left Jamaica to become millionaires in Miami.
So, there I was in Miami trying to write poems in a landscape that I could neither read nor understand. Yet, Florida in many ways resembled the rest of the Caribbean. It was history-less. In Florida, there isn’t a cumulative voice, a tradition that one sees in writers such as Hawthorne or Lowell who feel the burden of history, and their writing is an attempt to exorcise the past in order to tell the story of their generation. It’s almost as if they long for the kind freedom exemplified in Ginsberg’s Howl or Kerouac’s On the Road. For I had always been struck by Frantz Fanon’s statement in The Wretched of the Earth: “Each generation out of relative obscurity must discover their destiny and either fulfill it or betray it.”

What was the mission of my generation? Imagine the despair that I felt that I was in Miami wanting to be a writer and having neither the skill in dub poetry that Oku Onoura, Mutabaruka, Mikey Smith, and Malachi possessed, and feeling that I would be left out of telling part of the story because of an accident in geography.

I decided to be brave despite the obstacles and what I saw as my obvious limitations. I did not have the gifts nor the intelligence of the writers of the previous generation nor did I have the talent of the dub poets. I did what I could do. I began writing poems and stories about my experiences of moving from Jamaica to South Florida with the hope that they would find resonance.

But the questions still haunted me: What was the mission of my generation? Who were we? How did I end up here in Miami? Why did I end up in Miami? Was this a part of a larger pattern? How long had this been going on?

My answer to these questions came in the form of Exodus and Other Poems and Florida Bound which examined the following: How did we end up here? Was this part of a larger pattern? Uncle Obadiah and the Alien (the title story originally published in The Caribbean Writer was my initial foray into what is now known as speculative fiction) told the stories of Jamaicans at home and in Miami.

Then came Benjamin, My Son (the thesis for my Master of Arts from University of Miami, which wasn’t published until seventeen years later) where I examined characters, sounds and images that were uniquely Jamaican within the context of Christianity and Rastafari, West African archetypal deities, and the gun/political gang culture using the framework of Dante’s Inferno and the murder/ mystery genre which has now become the staple of South Florida fiction (James Hall, Edna Buchanan and Preston Allen).

As I settled into the Florida landscape I began to see the connections between Miami and the Caribbean and I wrote a sequence of poems, hurricane center, to mirror the yearly round and used the image of the hurricane (with its meteorological and metaphorical implications) and its impact on memory and the attempt to memorialize in a history-less environment. As I furthered my study of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, I realized the archetypal significance of West African deities such as Xango, Ọṣun, Ogun, Eshu/Anancy, and Yemoja, and I wrote xango music.

Recently, I have gone back to the question of memory in a novel, A LoveSong for Kathryn, about a woman Kathryn Coleman, a single mother, who is trying to raise her daughter, Jasmine (she belongs to the second generation of Jamaicans that Malachi calls the Jah-Mericans) in Miami. Jasmine, in order to resolve her identity issues, has run away from her mother’s home and joined a New Age cult. The action begins at the start of the hurricane season with the Everglades on fire.

The movement then has been outward in answering: What is the mission of my generation? My tentative answer on a personal level has been to write about the experiences of Jamaicans who have settled in South Florida (which is either first or the final stage of the journey to and from Jamaica). However, on a larger level, I think the mission of my generation is to record, preserve and institutionalize the intellectual and artistic legacy of writers and intellectuals such as Scott, Lamming, McNeill, Marley, Morris, Naipaul, CLR James, Selvon, Felix Morriseau-Leroy, Maryse Conde, Lydia Cabrera, and Fanon, for as Norman Washington Manley once said, “Tradition is something which we have to foster and create and it is a deliberate act of intelligence. It is one of the most powerful forces in the development of the character of a people”.

Recently, the Caribbean Beat blog had two posts about Caribbean genius and a Caribbean canon to which I added my two cents. The post about Caribbean genius asked: What is a genius? and offered some definitions. But I think we have to go a bit further. The appearance of genius is one thing—it’s almost a biological imperative for genius to appear to insure the survival of a population. A larger question remains: Will genius be allowed to survive? The biblical stories about Pharaoh, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians (written by people intent on survival, yet threatened at every turn) are about the preservation of Jewish memory and genius. I’ve added the biblical examples because we are a People of the Book (witness the latest examples of theocracy in Jamaica), but I also believe that be do not have to be bound by the stories in the Book (“Some say we’re just a part of it/ We’ve got to fulfill the Book”). We have the power and the imagination to write our own stories.

This is why I applaud Caribbean Beat, The Caribbean Writer, and the Calabash Literary Festival for their bravery despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles to publish and record the work of Caribbean writers. But does it stop here?

Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in his latest book The 8th Habit: Moving from Effectiveness to Greatness, posits that there are four desires common to humanity: to live, learn, love and leave a legacy. Without getting into an argument about the validity of the statement or its correspondence to Maslow’s hierarchy, we still investigate the following: How will we live? How should we live? What are the things we love? What are the things we must learn and unlearn? What should we teach our children to love? What will be our legacy?

The answer to these questions affects our self-esteem and more importantly, the self esteem of our children. For slavery and colonialism have been woven into our hair, food, and language, and we have to ask ourselves: Are we worth anything? Are our children worth anything? How do we measure worth? Is value only measured by GDP and per capita? How do we demonstrate our worth? Are our stories/voices are worth preserving?

Caribbean culture, even as I speak, is being formed by HBO, cell phones, guns, reaggaeton, evangelical fundamentalists, AIDS, homophobia, and drugs, but the shaping of the culture—the work of the naming within the culture remains largely unfulfilled. We must respond to these questions for as Norman Washington Manley also said: “We must dig deep into our own consciousness and accept and reject only those things of which we from our own superior knowledge... (We) need to be the best judges”. Artists perform a vital function in a society because they translate on a sense/emotional level the ideas and aspirations of a people. As Colin Channer has noted, our musicians have done this with reggae and calypso, but as far as the sustained analysis of novels are concerned, there has been a noticeable silence.

The attempt to memorialize is also problematic for the Caribbean because of the yearly round of destructive hurricanes (on the physical and psychic level), the history-lessness which combined with the fact that the Caribbean does not have a surviving indigenous population (with the exception of Guyana and a few pockets) whose myths and stories have not been fully incorporated into the larger story of the region. Our philistinism (our attempt to measure our worth by the accumulation of personal wealth) has meant a neglect of the arts. As Caryl Phillips (part of the Black British writers which include Linton Kwesi Johnson, Zadie Smith, and Benjamin Zephaniah--part of the Caribbean Diaspora?) has said about the Caribbean, “It’s a literate society, but not a literary one”.

Some of this is understandable. The majority of books and movies still being produced are an insult our intelligence. This is why I sometimes get upset with writers such as VS Naipaul, who instead of using his prodigious talent to uplift has now turned to denigration of the Caribbean. I mean that in every sense of the word. And it’s not the diagnosis of a culture that is not welcome. Sparrow and Lord Kitchener skewered you alive. It’s Naipaul’s tone. It’s like when Black comedians use their talent against the weakest among us: Black, gay men. But c’mon. “Help the weak if you are strong.” And don’t get me wrong. I learned to write stories by reading Naipaul. But there is a world of difference between Miguel Street, The Suffrage of Elvira and A Bend in the River.

It comes back again to self-worth which is tied the Word: How do we speak about ourselves? How do we define ourselves? The issue of language is very important. The poorest among us speak only one language: Jamaican or in Haiti, Kreyol. A language, according to Norman Washington Manley, is an act of intelligence, but there are some who would look down on people who speak only Jamaican or Kreyol as unintelligent or “linguistically challenged”, whereas I see it as a lack of education/opportunities. In the Lent section of hurricane center, Jesus confesses to his mother that he was hurt when his friends called him “Joseph’s jacket”. I imagined a Jamaican Jesus (wasn’t he?) and what his friends would say using Jamaican. For the non-Jamaicans, a “jacket” is an illegitimate child. The phrase “Joseph’s jacket” keeps the allusion to Joseph with his famous Technicolor coat and the rumor that was present at Jesus’ time: “Is this not Mary’s son?” (Pagels)

Using Jamaican with its rich tradition of double entendre and Rastafarian worldview is one of the ways that I think that the legacy can be preserved, and I refuse to belittle my brothers and sisters just because they don’t know how to speak the Queen’s English. I also refuse to take on the burden of The Other (Said, Orientalism), for if you come to my country and ask for exotic fruit, I will offer you Canadian apples, strawberries or kiwi. The rest I won’t say because we are in polite company.

Luckily, as my Sabbath school teacher used to say, there are now a “mighty cloud of witnesses” in contemporary Caribbean writing: Robert Antoni, Junot Diaz, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Claudia Rankine, Lorna Goodison, Ivonne Lamazares, Margaret Cezair-Thompson, Adrian Castro, Marcia Douglas, Marlon James, Christine Craig, Virgil Suarez, Patricia Powell, Dany Laferriere, Nalo Hopkinson, Opal Adisa, Kwame Dawes, Jennifer Rahim, Edwidge Danticat, Colin Channer, Brenda Flanagan, and many, many more. So, as Brother Bob would say, “The preaching and talking is done/we’ve got to live up.”
So, what will be our legacy to our children? Will we be able to say as Norman Washington Manley said at his retirement: "I say that the mission of my generation was to win self-government for Jamaica. To win political power which is the final power for the black masses of my country from which I spring. I am proud to stand here today and say to you who fought that fight with me, say it with gladness and pride: Mission accomplished for my generation." Will we be able to say the same?


Geoffrey Philp and students

Geoffrey Philp at Davidson College

Geoffrey Philp

For more photos of Davidson College, follow this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/51858402@N00/sets/72057594114278078/show/

Books by Geoffrey Philp

April 21, 2006

The Tony Soprano Leadership Method for WORLD Domination

Over the past three years, I have been attending various leadership conferences, and the conveners usually offer cute acronyms for leadership. I don’t buy any of them. The best method for leadership that I’ve seen is on The Sopranos, from which I’ve devised Tony Soprano Method for WORLD Domination © (Legal Disclaimer below*)

Tony Soprano Method for WORLD Domination ©

Whack your competition: Rule #1
Oversee all your underlings, yet give them freedom to be creative. If they stray, apply Rule #1.
Respect the difference between family and business, but always remember Rule #1.
Locate and confide with at one person you can trust—even if you have to pay for it. If they betray the trust apply Rule #1.
Demand loyalty and instill fear in underlings. If they betray the family or business, apply Rule #1.

This looks like US foreign policy, doesn’t it? Everything boils down to Rule#1.
In the next few weeks, (I wouldn’t be a good storyteller if I didn’t add suspense—See Benjamin, My Son) I will offer the Rasta method for VITAL Livity©.

*The information and reference materials contained here are intended solely for the general information of the reader. It is not to be used for illegal, immoral or unethical purposes (well, maybe), but rather for discussion with the reader’s consiglieri and/or goomar. 

All visitors to geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com agree to read and abide by the complete terms of this agreement. Void where prohibited. From the law firm of Screechy and Van Doolu, attorneys-at-law: “Sue ‘em, screw ‘em, or fuggedahaboutit!” (www.screechyandvandoolu.com)


April 19, 2006

Bob Marley and the Seven Chakras

For many, the name Bob Marley conjures up the caricature of a party-going, ganja-smoking Rastaman. For others, it evokes the image of a freedom fighter, dedicated to peace and brotherhood. During his brief but intense career, Marley was both. Even now, many years after his transition, his music is known and appreciated by people who couldn’t name another reggae musician if they had to. Perhaps that’s because Marley was more than just a pop singer. 

By the time cancer claimed him at the age of thirty-six, he had become a shaman whose medium was song. A devout Rastafarian whose faith cost him his life**—he refused surgery in order to keep his body, his temple, intact on his way to meet Jah (the Rastafarian name for God)—Marley used reggae as a means of proselytizing the unconverted. Through his restless devotion to his art, he transformed the pop medium of reggae into a means of conveying the timeless truths of humanity. But Marley was not born a Rastaman, and his growth from a scrappy street fighter to a peace-loving Rastaman follows the pattern of many mystics who preceded him.

In her book The Anatomy of Spirit, Caroline Myss outlines the seven chakras of the human body. According to Eastern tradition, these archetypal power points represent a form of “symbolic sight”, which I have found useful in tracing Marley’s career. They represent also a sort of spiritual shorthand to the power centers or challenges that every human will face: survival, sexuality, power, love, self-expression, wisdom or ignorance, and the acceptance of grace. These are universal issues: “There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air/ If you listen carefully, you will hear…/Such a natural mystic/ Blowin’ through the air,” (“Natural Mystic’). Marley accepted his role as a “natural mystic”, and would no doubt appreciate the correspondence the chakras. It is also worth noting that Marley belonged to the Rastafarian, Twelve Tribes of Israel—he belonged to the tribe of Joseph (See jacket cover of Rastaman Vibration LP) and in one concert (Legend DVD), he reminded his audience, “When you say Judah, you must touch the heart”—for each tribe had a function (state of being that had zodiacological origins/state of consciousness/ physiological centers), and Judah corresponded to the heart.

Whichever pattern you believe, the power behind our lives that the poet Dylan Thomas describes as, The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” is experienced on an intense level in the lives of these shamans/mystics (who are willing to open up to the experience) and propels that desire for one-ness/at-one-ment/connection to the divine that is expressed as Sahasrara, Kether, or Jah-Rastafari*, and often begins with what the psychologist Maslow calls, “an oceanic moment” or if you are a Catholic as an epiphany.

We all have different names for these states of being (and I know this is heresy to the true believers), but if as Campbell suggests that these states of consciousness are rooted in our biology—there is only one human central nervous system—then we can reasonably assume a certain similarity in the variety of human experiences for the chakras speak to experiences that are common to the human race. 

For sooner or later, we will all have to confront with our relationship to our tribe: Muladhara/Survival/ Tribal Power (What is my relationship to my tribe? Who are the members of my tribe? Will I be limited by the perceptions of my tribe? How will I survive?); Sexuality/ Svadisthana (How does wholeness and holiness fit in to this when I am so divided (mind/body split), and my sexuality makes me grasp for someone outside myself? How does my sexuality/creativity fit into the pattern of my life?); Manipura/ Power (Will I use my power/gifts/talents for my own ego concerns or will I use my power to help even those who are outside my tribe?); Anahata/ Compassion (Am I really one with you?); Vishuddha/Surrender/ Self-Expression (Is the universe hostile or benign? Is “every little thing gonna be all right”?) Ajna/ Wisdom/ Intuition (What is the truth of this situation? How does my truth balance against these other truths?); Sashara/ Grace (How do I make every moment a moment of total acceptance and awareness?).

Sometimes, depending on the level of our meditation, we get a glimpse of that oneness—a feeling that the mystics/shamans tell us they experience every day: or as Bob would say, “The brotherly love, the sisterly love, I feel this morning,” (“Top Rankin”) and his life was livicated to the relentless self-inquiry (Dawes 191) that these questions and states of being lead us to ask.

Like an ancient medieval alchemist, Bob lifted up (tikkun olam) carnal emotions (lead) and transmuted them into psalms of praise (gold). The difference between artists/mystics and the rest of us is not the raw material (we all have these power points/chakras), but their willingness (fearlessness?) to be open to new experiences and their transformation their woundedness into praises of joy.

From his earliest days as a rude boy in Trench Town, Marley recognized his community as his primary source of identity (Muladhara). Joseph Campbell’s Transformation of Myth Through Time defines this as, “land claiming… through naming the landscape, you read the land that you are living in as the holy land.” Bob returned to Trench Town many times to pay tribute to the place where he spent his formative years. “Trench Town Rock” (released in 1970) was the earliest indication of Bob’s land naming. Although Trench Town was and is one of the most wretched ghettos on the globe, Marley loved the people of Trench Town and pleaded for them: “Trench Town rock, give the slum a try / Trench Town rock, never let the children cry” (“Trench Town Rock”). Despite the deplorable conditions, Bob recognized the strength of community and loved and respected his origins: “They say can anything good come out of Trench Town? / That’s what they say, Trench Town / They say we’re the underprivileged people / So they keep us in chains / Pay, pay, pay, pay tribute to Trench Town / We come from Trench Town” (“Trench Town”). Intuitively, he knew the value of an old Akan saying: “Only a fool points at his origins with his left land.”

“You have to sing love songs”, said Bob Marley in a 1981 interview with Dermot Hussey (Talking Blues), and sing them he did. The second chakra, Svadisthana, represents sexuality and creativity. Campbell explains, “Sex is the aim of life. Everything is coming up roses. The birds are singing. The bells are ringing for me and my gal.” Pop music rarely rises above this level, and in songs such as “Kinky Reggae”, “Mellow Mood”, “Do It Twice”, and “Put It On,” Marley proclaims the joy of sex and procreativity. “Come rub it on my belly like guava jelly,” he croons in “Guava Jelly.” And “Stir it Up” is a lyrical celebration of sex filled with double entendres: “I’ll push the wood, I’ll blaze your fire / Said I’ll satisfy your heart’s desire.”

Bob loved women and weed. On Kaya (also Rastafarian for marijuana), Bob acknowledges the power of the weed and its effect on his creativity: “Excuse me while I light my spliff / Oh, God, I gotta take a lift / From reality I just can’t drift / That’s why I’m staying with this riff” (“Easy Skanking”). In Awakening the Heroes Within, Carol S. Pearson asserts that magicians are naturally attracted to hallucinogenic drugs such as marijuana (19). Maybe that is why Bob Marley celebrated it in song and made it part of his life. Or maybe it was a means of lessening the blows (of which he was painfully aware) to his self-esteem and personal honor.

Throughout Africa and the Third World, Bob is revered for his warrior status and no-nonsense stand on human rights. “Get Up, Stand Up” has become the anthem for Amnesty International. “I Shot the Sheriff”, and “Crazy Baldhead” are perfect examples of Manipura, the third chakra, “the will to power”. From his earliest days in Trench Town, Bob was known as a street fighter and earned the names “Tuff Gong” and “Hammer” (White 319). “If you are a big tree,” sings Marley in a perfect mixture of Rastafarian mythology and King James Bible lyricism, “we are the small axe” (“Small Axe”). Bob extended his sense of personal dignity to his community, his race, and ultimately the whole human tribe: “Every man got a right to decide his own destiny” (“Africa Unite”). It was this constant pushing against his limitations and weaknesses that led Bob to the fourth chakra, Anahata.

Joseph Campbell clarifies, “Anahata refers to the sound that is not made by two things striking together… Om…this is the Virgin Birth, the level of humanity that recognizes love as a divine power and is open to forgiveness, compassion, hope, and trust (Myth 219). Is it any wonder then why so many people around the world are drawn to “No Woman, Nuh Cry”? Set in Trench Town, Bob draws his mother, his sisters, and his friends—all of us—into a circle of grace and love, speaking to us in our deepest moments of existential terror, almost in a lullaby: “Everything’s gonna be all right.” Bob turned all the energies of the second chakra into a universal embrace of the divine.

“Not my will, but thy will” is the hardest challenge for anyone (especially an artist like Bob who fought for recognition all his life) to face and acknowledge, yet Bob was willing to give up many things, such as the acceptance of the tribe (“Unconcerned with the good opinion of others”), to make divine music. He was willing to move from loving to being loved, opening himself up to a sort of second birth to the true life—a personal surrender to the divine by following his dream and his destiny. This is the task of chakra five, Vishuddha (“purified”). Bob sensed this intimately and changed the lyrics of “Put It On”, from “I rule my destiny,” to “Jah rules my destiny” in his live performances (Legend)

Marley’s destiny was fraught with many challenges. As Joseph Campbell reminds us, “If what you’re following is your bliss, your passion—it’s so easy to tip over and fall into a torrent of passion that sweeps you away” (Myth 285) Passion can also lead to despair. At level six, Ajna, the Search for Truth, Bob sang some of his saddest songs: “Natural Mystic,” “Johnny Was,” “Time Alone Will Tell,” “War,” and “Concrete Jungle” are a few. The most harrowing of these, “Concrete Jungle”, describes the “dark night of the soul” in a contemporary urban setting: “Darkness has covered my light / And has changed my day into night / Oh where is the love to be found? / Won’t someone help me ‘cause I’ve got to pick myself from off the ground.”

The feelings of woundedness, feelings of unworthiness over one’s past, guilt that others (especially close friends and family) have not achieved a sense of equilibrium, afflicts the seeker at this point. Bob was no exception, and it drove him into exile from his homeland. He left Jamaica on self-imposed exile because of death threats and the noise that surrounded his life. He would return occasionally, “Coming in from the Cold”, but his life at this point belonged to humanity and he had accepted an expanded view of his homeland.

Bob was aware of divine grace in his life. From this state of grace, Sahasrara, the seventh chakra, he lived his life in the present moment and sang, “Jah Lives”, “Give Thanks and Praises,” “Forever Loving Jah,” “Rastaman Chant,” and “Thank you, Lord.” The Christian sacraments call this extreme unction: the ability to bestow grace to finish one’s unfinished business.” And herein lies the real challenge that Bob’s life has left for us: “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom? / For all I ever had… redemption songs, redemption songs / Sing along with me children.” (“Redemption Songs”)

Bob’s lyrics remain stuck in the conscience of our race. He struggled to overcome two of the most intransigent problems of humanity—racism and poverty—and to transform the events of his life into a vision of wholeness and holiness. This Bob did with grace and love, always questioning, always pushing himself (and us in the process) to a higher definition of himself. There are some who point to Bob’s many flaws to denigrate his accomplishments, but Bob wrote and sang from the “higher man,”: “We are the children of the higher man”, “Africa Unite.” In the West African tradition, a griot/shaman doesn’t have to be “holy”—his sole responsibility is to sing the truth of his tribe. Bob accomplished this task. So many after his death, his words remain in the consciousness of humanity, just as they did during the Mid-East peace negotiations over what seems a lifetime ago: “Cause puss and dog they get together / What’s wrong with loving one another?” (“So Jah Seh”).

Bob Marley and the Seven Chakras 

1. Muladhara: Tribal Power; Survival
“One Love”
“Trench Town”
“Africa Unite”
“Smile Jamaica”
“Trench Town Rock”

2. Svadisthana Creativity/Sexuality;

“Guava Jelly”
“Soul Shakedown Party”
“Stir It Up”
“Craven A Go Choke Puppy”
“Simmer Down”
“Nice Time”
“Put It On”
“Back Out”
“Sun Is Shining”
“Do It Twice”
“Mellow Mood”

3. Manipura: Honor Oneself; Self-esteem; Personal Honor; Power

“Small Axe”
“Judge Not”
“Get Up, Stand Up”
“Burnin and Looting”
“Natty Dread”
“Iron Lion”
“Duppy Conqueror”
“Soul Rebel”
“I Shot the Sheriff”

4. Anahata: Love is Divine Power; Forgiveness and Compassion; Hope and Trust; Grief and Anger; Resentment and Bitterness

“Waiting In Vain”
“No Woman, No Cry”
“Is This Love?”
“I’m Still Waiting”
“Stir It Up”
“Bend Down Low”
“Could You Be Loved”

5. Vishuddha: Surrender Personal Will to Divine Will; Following One’s Dream; 

“Judge Not”
“Mix Up, Mix Up”
“Ride Natty Ride
“Babylon System”
“Real Situation”
“Bad Card”
“Why Should I?”

6. Ajna: Seek Only Truth; Intuition

“Concrete Jungle”
“Natural Mystic”
“I’m Hurting Inside”
“Who the Cap Fit”
“Crazy Baldhead”
“Running Away”
“Johnny Was”
“Rat Race”
“Keep On Moving”
“Time Alone Will Tell”
“Coming In From the Cold”

7. Sahasrara: Live in the Present Moment; Ability to Trust Life; Ability to see larger pattern; Faith and Inspiration; Spirituality and Devotion

“Give Thanks and Praises”
“Rastaman Live Up”
“Rastaman Chant”
“Lively Up Yourself”
“Thank You Lord”
“Jah Live”
“Three Little Birds”
“Redemption Song”
“Easy Skanking”
“Smile Jamaica”
“One Drop”
“Forever Loving Jah”

Sources: Marley, Bob. Songs of Freedom. CD. Island. 1992.
Myss, Caroline. Anatomy of Spirit. New York: Three Rivers, 1996.

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. Transformations of Myth Through Time. New York: Harper, 1990.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor, 1991.

Dawes, Kwame. Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius. London: Sanctuary, 2002.

Marley, Bob. Songs of Freedom. CD. Island. 1992.

Marley, Bob. Legend. DVD. Island, 2004.

Myss, Caroline. Anatomy of Spirit. New York: Three Rivers, 1996.

Pearson, Carol S. Awakening the Heroes Within. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

White, Timothy. Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley. New York: Holt, 1989.

Originally published in Magical Blend #65

* The meaning of the word Rastafari is derived from the pre-coronation name of Haile Selassie, Tafari. Ras in Amharic means "chief," so we have Ras Tafari.


Reader Questions:

How did Bob Marley die?

Death is not a part of the Rastafari vocabularly, so to honor that knowledge, I'll put it this way.
According to the Babylon system, Bob Marley died from cancer--malignant melanoma--that began in his right big toe and then spread through the rest of his body to include his brain, liver, lungs and stomach.

Contrary to many myths, Bob did not die from a drug overdose nor from smoking too much marijuana.

His transition is a part of his myth/legend: "It's a foolish dog that barks at a flying bird" (Jah Live)


"You want come cold I up"--Trench Town Rock.

This is one of those brilliant turn of phrases that Bob popularized and it has a double meaning. "To cold up someone" can mean to dampen his/her hopes/dreams etc. But it can also mean to "kill someone"--"cold up" his/her body. Trench Town killed many hopes and dreams and many people died there. Truly, Bob could sing, "You want come cold I up" to match the brilliant lyric of, "One good thing about music/ when it hits you/ You feel no pain." This was real, this was true. It was also great poetry.

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April 17, 2006

Confessions of a Recovering Hyphenated Man

My name is Geoffrey and I am an ex-hyphenated man.

In my life, I have been called a mulatto (white-black), brown man (white-black-mus have money), a Jamaican-American, and a Caribbean-American. And while these are useful terms when applying for scholarships or selling books, I refuse to accept them on a personal level because they carry with them a sense of alienation based on race, class and a set of arbitrary rules that determine one’s quality of life. In the Americas, access to power and to be considered one of the Beautiful People are as follows: White, blonde, blue-eyed, male, heterosexual with family originating from England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Exceptions get an “honorary White” status.

Over the past fifty years there has been a questioning of these categories and some people from some other categories have made it into the realm of the beautiful by downplaying the so-called undesirable parts of themselves (like Zaphod Beeblebrox?). So, the mulattoes play down their African-ness, the brunettes dye their hair, the brown-eyed wish for blue eyes (Toni Morrison’s, The Bluest Eye), the gay men stay in the closet and pretend to be straight, and all of us engage in a kind of “passing” (Phillip Roth’s, The Human Stain) in order to survive. But there is another way.


I like to think of myself as living in the Borderlands, as defined by Ross McDonald : a figurative place where issues of who one is (identity) and the principles to which one aspires (integrity) are made complex by the simultaneous and disadvantageous influence of social power and other ways of being and knowing (culture).

Or to put it another way,


To live in the borderlands means
you are neither hispana india negra
española ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata,
half-breed caught in the crossfire
between camps while carrying all five races
on your back not knowing
which side to turn to, run from;
To survive in the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads

Gloria Anzaldua

I prefer the paradigm of the Borderlands because it shifts the issue of identity and the conflict between being and becoming from race and class (patinas of identity) to the values and principles that guide our lives.

We have been living in the Borderlands for all our lives without recognizing the complexity of the outlying regions and by reducing the variables of our landscape to three determinants: race, class, and gender. This Procrustean bed sacrifices some of our best talent and as Francis Wade has recently pointed out it has meant a flight of the “creative class.” 

In sacrificing our tolerance, we shut ourselves off from solutions that are sometimes only apparent to those “who think outside the box.” For example, in our desire to rid ourselves of our African-ness we have sacrificed our understanding of key archetypal figures in West African life Oshun, Xango and Anancy (as we know it in the Caribbean), and we unconsciously act-out the characteristics of these archetypes.

 As Carl Jung once said, “The unconscious really is unconscious.” For example, Anancy represents archetypal Trickster. Anancy is known in Haiti as Papa Legba, Cuba as Eleggua, and on American TV as Bugs Bunny (another name for the African Brer Rabbit). Anancy/Papa Legba lives at the crossroads and represents that ever becoming principle that disrupts equilibrium every time it is achieved.

We used our Anancyism throughout slavery to fool Massa and some of us use it everyday at work, “Boss, I can’t understand this. Show me how to do it again, nuh?” In our haste to distance ourselves from all things African, some have called for an abandonment of all Anancyism. Such calls are based on ignorance of creativity. Sloth and irresponsibility are lower levels of the Trickster principle used for selfish purposes. However, when educated and transformed for useful social purposes, the creative principle embedded in Anancy can bring about incredible changes in a society. But the hybridity that is involved means that the rest of us will have to be tolerant because the flip side of the creative principle sometimes involves self-indulgence. You win some, you lose some.

This is where navigating the Borderlands becomes important because it involves three distinct phases:

Singularity: characterized by internal conflicts between the presence of multiple identities where the self seeks certainty by submerging in a single, consistent identity believed to be the same in all contexts and a tendency to think in certainties: fundamentalism

Plurality: a state in which the self is perceived as having multiple identities characterized by an ongoing tension between a desire to maintain discrete boundaries among identities and the unavoidable boundary burring experience of moving across them. Thinking is characterized by struggles with an acceptance of simultaneous competing realities.

Hybridity: a state in which multiple identities are creatively organized in a dynamic self both unified and fluid and is characterized by the expansion and transcendence of boundaries. Ambiguities represent complexity that one needs to understand, but not necessarily resolve.

Anancyism, a state of hybridity, involves relentless self-inquiry, the capacity to change, and a willingness to live without boundaries—a state in which few of us are comfortable (Who Moved my Cheese?), so we retreat to our “comfort zone” of fundamentalism where these is only ONE answer, “Jus’ tell me, nuh, boss?”

We have to create a climate where tolerance can survive, and it will be difficult. It’s like the movie, The Planet of the Apes. The gorillas have all the power, so they are always right while the more subtle chimpanzees have to be cunning and Anancy-like to survive because they know it could end at any time. The gorillas have the guns.

Our artists and intellectuals have been articulating our struggle in our Borderlands for many years now: “A Far Cry from Africa” by Derek Walcott, The Black Jacobins by CLR James, and Dog by Dennis Scott. In my own work (particulary xango music), I have chronicled some of the movement in my thought from singularity to hybridity without sacrificing some of the things that I consider important (family and relationships), and moving from hyphenation (judgment from the outside based on appearances) to a greater acceptance of my time and space. It has meant abandoning some forms of fundamentalism and I will admit there are times when it’s scary living without boundaries. But then, I remember I was born on an island. I could have allowed the water that surrounded me to transform me into becoming insular or I could live sin fronteras with a sense of infinite possibility that Derek Walcott captures in The Schooner 'Flight'”:

You ever look up from some lonely beach
and see a far schooner?

At our best, Caribbean writers such as Walcott, Brathwaite and Scott, have joyously engaged some of the questions similar to those that Albert Camus raised in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, especially his passages that take place in Algeria with the sun, wind, and the sea that remind me so much of the Caribbean The questions of humanity remain the same. It’s how we have asked the questions that makes the difference.

Anyway, we all know the answer—it’s 42.

The more we try to grapple with the complexities of our time and space, our sense of self, agency, and a Caribbean epistemology (we are firmly rooted in empiricism) can evolve that can, perhaps, teach the rest of the world a thing or two about diversity and we can move from hyphenation to wholeness.

April 14, 2006

"Magdalen's Song" by Geoffrey Philp

Magdalen’s Song

And what will happen to us
now that they have killed him?
Who will be there to tell us
never to bow, never to bend,
but to follow our star
out of our Gardens of Gethsemane?

We walked with him on the way,
but not to be free like this
with his mother,
broken like his body
hanging from a tree,
digging her finger in the dirt,
as if by burying her tears,
she could bring him back from the dead?

And now there’s no one left
except her, the boy, and me—
the men deserted him to the Romans
who knew I would have died beside him
when they held their swords to my throat,
and looked in my eyes and laughed,
not because they wouldn’t have crucified me,
but they had known me before
only as the woman with seven demons,
but now I was only a woman
looking up at a dead man,
almost like he was a forgotten lover--
black wings hovering behind the clouds.

April 12, 2006

We and Them

Democracies, unlike dictatorships, give societies a chance to start over. On March 30, 2006, Jamaica was given a chance to start over under the guidance of Portia Simpson-Miller, our first female Prime Minster. This represents a shift in the consciousness of the nation to select a woman who does not come from the “brown” middle-class or elite, and is really “one of the people.” Her appointment brings to the forefront the question that haunts the Jamaican psyche: Who is we? Who is them? It also highlights the 3C's of Jamaican life (part of the unfortunate of the legacy of British colonialism): color, class, and connections.

Jamaica’s history has been marked by stratifications of race and class. Access to power has been dependent upon color, the schools one attended to gain connections, or the class into which one was born. Portia Simpson-Miller has overcome these seeming barriers by the strength of her character. By just being Portia, she has given the lie to many of the historical agreements that we have made with ourselves and the world. Portia Simpson-Miller embodies the idea that in our democracy, you don’t have to be a man, you don’t have to be white or “brown,” and you didn’t have to belong to the middle or upper classes to become Prime Minister of Jamaica.

Many people whose only access to power has been gained by trading on color, class and connections hate her for this. Some of her enemies who instead of relying on their talents (which they doubt) and have gained power by trading on color, class, and connections (because they see no other way to gain and maintain power except through these “traditional” routes) will plot against her. Let them. Portia Simpson-Miller represents the part of us that believes that we can rise without these external trappings and become who we want to be.

Perhaps, that is why so many of us have found ourselves in the diaspora. We believed that there wasn’t enough opportunity in Jamaica for ourselves or our children or that we would be robbed of the benefits by people who still feel that violence is the only way to get what they want. So, we left.

But we can start over. And Jamaicans in the diaspora can be of enormous help because we no longer view the island along strictly partisan views (another of the “traditional” routes to power) because “we own we corn.” We’re not dependent upon any of the external means that you would have needed in Jamaica—we’ve done this on our own in the belly of Babylon.

Until the elections, Portia Simpson Miller is our Prime Minister, and because we are not bound by the “traditional” way of looking at things, we can applaud those at home who made the initial decision to reject the idea that only “certain people” should hold the highest political office in Jamaica. But there are those who think that because we left the island that should discount us from having a say in the island’s affairs. After all, we were the ones who left.

But the Jamaican diaspora can have a positive effect on the nation as it did for the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Out of that historical experience, the Jewish people, created a nation and wrote psalms and lamentations that spoke about exile and the desire to return to Jerusalem. Psalm 137 was written in exile, and from which The Melodians composed “By the Rivers of Babylon.”

We can learn, as we have always done, from this story. Jamaicans have always identified with the Bible--we are a “People of the Book” and biblical narratives have always comforted us when we felt we were “strangers in a strange land.” But just as how the Jewish diaspora had a unifying effect (the canonization of the Hebrew Bible began in exile), and rather than the diaspora being a death knell (which was the intention of the Babylonian captors), the people used the experience to examine the “traditional” agreements that they had made, individually and collectively; what worked and what didn’t work; what made them great and what made them grovel, so they could eliminate from their consciousnesses, individually and collectively, thoughts that could hinder the clarity of their historical mission.

We have a similar opportunity before us. There are some, however, who want to cling to thoughts that have kept us trapped in “mental slavery.” There are always people who benefit from keeping others in “mental slavery” and there are some of us who really don’t want to be free. We only want, as a friend of mine said recently, a “kinder Massa.” Many of the old ideas don’t work, but we continue with what Albert Einstein defined as insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

We can discard the negative ideas (that border on a kind of insanity) about class, connections, and color by embracing our Prime Minister in our quest to be “Out of Many, One People.” She has been given a chance in this historical moment to embody our highest hopes and ideals which we have demonstrated in the discipline of athletes who have excelled because of our support and their individual discipline. Our athletes know they are the best in the world and we believe them. Synergy is always a formula for success.

And “certain people” shouldn’t “feel no way” because the people have chosen her and not them, for if they work to help her and not hinder, then everything will be irie. They will show their strengths when they honor the wishes of the people. The opposition to Portia should not be motivated by class or color, but the direction where her ideas are leading country.

The rest will be up to Portia, and she will need to continue showing the strengths that have gotten her this far and not look back (and become a “pillar of salt?). She will also need vision and courage. Or to put it another way, “Put [her] vision to reality.” She will have to convince those people, whose only solution to the crime problem is to buy more guns, hire more security guards with bad dogs, and to hang them, that we need to create viable solutions to our education and employment situation which may mean giving up very narrow individual and class interests for the benefit of we. For it’s not that they don’t want to work. Jamaicans are a hard working people. So much so that the stereotype from In Living Color is still prevalent: “You lazy Lima bean! You only have tree job.”

Similarly, they will have to be convinced that it will take time, and the quick fix of drugs and crime will not bring lasting security. They will have to be convinced that opportunities can and will be created for them and their children. They will have to be convinced that they are not merely looked upon as objects for plunder. They will have to be convinced that social mobility will not be impeded by class, color, or connections.

And this is where the arts can play a role in creating a vision for the nation. Art has a way of sensitizing us to their problems. Read “Apocalypse Dub” and “No Sufferer” or Echo in the Bone and Dog by Dennis Scott and you will see an artist holding the many contradictions of Jamaican society in a loving embrace without moral censure for he had recognized these flaws within himself. And if there was any judgment, it was, “Ladies and gentlemen, we live badly.”

Jamaicans at home and abroad have the option to either continue with the old agreements which so far have led to increased scattering and our elevation to “the murder capital of the world” or we can start over. We can create a Jamaica that has not yet been seen. And this is not mere wishing. The intellectual capital that we have used and expended all over the world and in our country to export our wisdom and weed can be put to use in Jamaica.

The choice is ours.