Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Michael Abrahams | Jamaica, reggae, music and Marley

Published:Sunday | September 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM

“One good thing about music, when it hits, you feel no pain” – Bob Marley

The phenomenal cultural influence of Jamaica never ceases to astonish me. Our country is so small that it is a mere speck on some world maps, and absent on many others.

Last summer, I had an experience that was absolutely amazing. I visited Paris with my family, my wife, daughter and two sons, in July. The World Cup was in progress at the time, and my daughter, who is clueless about football, but has a serious crush on Cristiano Ronaldo, purchased a Portugal football jersey with his name on the back.

One day, while sightseeing, my daughter wore the shirt. Paris has an excellent underground train system, the Paris Metro, and we utilized the service to get around the city. That day, when we boarded one of the trains, there were no seats available in our cabin, so we all stood together, while holding on to the poles and rails that were available. Shortly after the train departed the station, some young men, who were part of a group, noticed my daughter’s shirt and asked her if she was Portuguese. She replied that she was Jamaican. The smiles on their faces broadened when they realized that a Jamaican family was in their presence. “Jamaica!”, they exclaimed, followed by “Bob Marley” and hand gestures simulating smoking a spliff. One of them mentioned “Buffalo Soldier”. At first, we did not realize what he said, because of his accent, but when he and his friends began to belt out a lusty acapella rendition of the song, we recognized it and smiled.

Shortly afterward, one of the young men located the song on his cell phone, which he held in his right hand, while he played it via Bluetooth on a portable speaker which he held in his left. As the music blared through the device, the group of young people started singing along loudly. They did not know the words of the verses that well, but they were obviously familiar with the chorus, which they sang with vigour. “Woy yoy yoy, woy yoy yoy yoy, woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy yoy yoy” reverberated throughout the cabin.

The song ended, but not the jollification. They followed up by playing the iconic “Is This Love”. By this time, there was literally a party on the train. Other passengers, who were not part of the group, and were of varying ages and ethnicities, joined in. They were singing, dancing and laughing. Some took out their cell phones to record the merriment. Meanwhile, goose bumps took over my body while I experienced a kind of high that bordered on euphoria. When the group of young people who initially engaged my daughter and were playing the music arrived at their stop, as the line, “I want to know, want to know, want to know now” played, they departed the train, and one of the young men sang “Got to go, got to go now” and waved goodbye.

It was a surreal feeling. In my mind I was asking myself “What the hell just happened?” These people literally threw an impromptu party on the train at the mere mention of the country of my birth and residence.

Several things came to mind as I reflected on the experience. Firstly, the fact that my country’s cultural influence is overwhelmingly disproportionate to its size. Secondly, the enduring popularity of reggae globally, a phenomenon that many Jamaicans do not appreciate. Thirdly, the power of music to be a source of positive energy and to unite. The music on the train influenced strangers to sing and laugh with one another. For a moment, age, ethnicity and gender were irrelevant, as people absorbed and basked in the exuberant vibe.

Finally, the enduring legacy of Bob Marley and his music. The man is no longer with us physically, but his music is so powerful, it is as if he never left us. It has transcended time. For example, his compilation album "Legend", released in 1984, ranks third among all albums by weeks on the UK Albums Chart. In the USA, “Legend” hit a milestone in 2017 by logging 500 non-consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200 chart, becoming the second longest charting album in the chart’s 60-plus year history. Only Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, released in 1973, has spent more weeks there. In other words, since “Legend” entered the chart, no other album has surpassed its run. As Marley sang in the song “Nice Time”, ”…think about that!”

You can watch “Is This Love” here:

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams