“How could you have a soccer team if all were goalkeepers? How would it be an orchestra if all were French horns? “ ~ Desmond Tutu.
On our first trip to Jamaica, we were accompanied by a banjo. By that I mean that, deep in the hold, along with countless bags, boxes and trunks, there was a banjo. In fact, there may have also been a piano! I am not entirely sure who my mother inherited the banjo from (possibly her grandfather?), nor am I sure who was supposed to play it. It is a family secret (which I will deny knowing) where it ultimately went, since one of my mother’s cousins (now deceased) would often ask her about it.
Music was always a part of our life. Naturally, as part of Parson’s family, we all rotated through the church choir. My brother was recruited to be the force behind the billows which powered the pump organ in the church. Most pump organs require fancy footwork to keep them blowing; this one had a hand crank, a stiff piece of wood which had to be pumped continuously. He is scarred to this day!
At home every evening after the dishes were washed, the record player would be loaded up with an assortment of albums, LPs (long-playing records) that played at 33 revolutions per minute, as opposed to the smaller 45s. I hear albums are making a come-back! I wonder what else will be returning. A few Christmases ago, one of the young people in my family was very proud of her camera, you could take a photo and print it out instantly! Yes, it was a new iteration of the Polaroid!
Our evening entertainment in the hills of Clarendon would come from a wide range of music. My parents had eclectic taste. We would hear the blues, jazz, show tunes from Broadway musicals like Oklahoma, Harry Belafonte, and African freedom songs. Not to mention Welsh male voice choirs, opera, and the classics. My father (and sometimes my mother) would sing along or conduct the imaginary orchestra. If the record player went silent, there would be the night chorus that begins as soon as night falls in the Tropics: the cicadas, tree frogs, all of those unidentifiable creatures that sing their hearts out in the dark.
There is something about music. There are all kinds of studies that show the benefits of singing, of singing in a choir. Music therapy can be used to calm people with dementia, it may even reverse some of the damage, perhaps temporarily. We soothe colicky babies to sleep with lullabies. We sing to celebrate; we sing to mourn. The Africans transported to the colonies and enslaved used spirituals to convey messages, to spread word of plans to rise up, to escape on the underground railroad.
Rhymes set to music become unforgettable. Even when we forget names we can recall the words of songs we learned as children. Music unites us, music sets us free. This week the universe sent me three messages about the prophet Bob Marley. On one of the cable news channels, the host interviewed that great singer Annie Lennox (formerly of the Eurhythmics; ‘Sweet dreams are made of these’). She is a powerhouse of a singer, a radical chick from way back. She shocked the world at the time by dressing in men’s clothes to perform, an empowering move for a woman in a man’s world.
In the interview she said that one of her influencers was Robert Nesta Marley. She spoke of the power of his music as a source of social activism. I was reminded that in South Africa during apartheid, his albums would be sold with the lyrics ‘Sharpied’
out (before Sharpiegate!). The tracks which were deemed to be most troubling would be scratched so they could not be played. Bob’s message was universal and crossed barriers. In Zimbabwe he was invited to perform at their Independence celebrations. In his music he honored his roots by incorporating country sayings in his lyrics; he honored his compatriot Marcus Mosiah Garvey by quoting his words; he motivated countless people around the world to ‘get up, stand up for your rights’.
The day after I saw the interview, my friend sent me a video of another interview, this time with the Archbishop of Accra, Ghana. He was asked about his love of Bob Marley, and he treated the audience to an a cappela version of Redemption Song, and it brought goosebumps to my skin. How amazing that Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the man who organized masses of people of African descent into an organization so threatening to the status quo in the USA that he was set up and brought down; how fitting that in 2019 his words, as sung by Robert Nesta Marley, should resonate with people around the world. How necessary that today more than ever young people need to be reminded to ‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind.’ These words I saw posted on Facebook, my third Bob message.
It is a time when it seems as if the world has lost its way. Each day there seem to be more causes we need to fight for, more injustices to correct, more ignorance leading to catastrophe threatening to wipe out our mother, our planet. How do we decide which cause to get behind? Whether it is fighting to end wars, to end poverty, to end disease, to end injustice, to end any of the -isms, to end rudeness, bigotry, cruelty, human trafficking, to end the waste and overconsumption that leads to climate change, how can we all sing from the same hymn book? How can we unite to sing one song?
The beauty of an orchestra is in its diversity. So many different instruments playing different chords, playing different notes. There are stringed instruments, wind instruments, the percussion and more, and yet together they can harmonize to make one beautiful, soul caressing sound. Years ago there was a beautiful song which unfortunately became best known for the ad it became. One beautiful line said ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony’. We can differ in race, religion, political ideology, but surely we can find a way to live more harmoniously.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! May you have a song in your heart, and hear music wherever you go!