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Bunny Wailer, Mutabaruka trace Rasta Journey

Published:Sunday | March 13, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Bunny Wailer

Within a matter of weeks, it will be 50 years since Haile Selassie of Ethiopia's 1966 visit to Jamaica. Rastafari in Jamaica had started over three decades before the trip, including singing praises to the continent as Burning Spear reminds us in Calling Rastafari, that "we were chanting Africa before His Majesty come to Jamaica".

After the state repression that dogged the Rastafari movement from the beginning and hit an ignominious high with the brutality centred on the happenings at Coral Gardens, Montego Bay, St James, in 1963, Haile Selassie's visit was a relief to Rastafari.

And within a decade of that visit, Bunny Wailer's Blackheart Man, the title track and opening song of his 1976 album, traced the journey of Rastafari from social reject to some measure of respect. He is not the only Jamaican recording artiste to have done so, as Mutabaruka's poem, 'I Am De Man' (from the 1991 album Blakk Wi Blak ... K ... K ...) also speaks about the movement of Rastafari through the Jamaican society.

However, although they come to a similar conclusion that Rastafari has made significant strides, Blackheart Man and I Am De Man have different starting points. Bunny Wailer starts from his childhood, when he was made to be afraid of Rastafari, while Mutabaruka begins from an adult stage, where the 'I' he speaks about may be himself or a Rastaman who has been through the isolation of living in the harshest social conditions.

In the first verse of Blackheart Man, Bunny Wailer sings:

"Growing in neighbourhood for such a long time

That is filled with fear

I can't go here, I can't go there

And I ain't supposed to go anywhere

Anywhere at all

When I asked my Mom

If she could let me go out and play

Like little children do

She said be careful of the stranger

Giving candies to children and then take them away

He lives in the gullies of the city

He is the Blackheart Man

Even in the lonely parts of the country

He is the Blackheart Man"

From the start, Mutabaruka's I Am De Man, positions the persona at that point of being feared, living in squalor:

"I am de man you love to hate

I use to siddung inna de slums a Ghost Town and Trench Town, Back O' Wall

No clothes to hide my nakedness

Filth and mosquitoes smelling

Biting 400 years of black flesh

Scarred by whips and sticks

I am de man

Locks entangled in your nightmares of Medusas and Gorgons"

It is a fearsome image, which Bunny Wailer is able to dispel in the second verse of Blackheart Man, as he has firsthand knowledge of Rastafari, when "curiosity has brought me a little common sense". He sings:

"Trodding the road of life, I have come to this one conclusion

That everything is equal under the sun

All that is created by Jah mighty hand

And He said knock and it shall be opened

Seek and ye shall find

Wisdom is found in the simplest things

In the nick of time..."

As I Am De Man, continues, Mutabaruka talks about marijuana smoking and bare feet on the hot tarmac, before moving to the social movement of Rastafari in one fell swoop at the end of the poem with "Yes, I am de man you love to hate/Look, I am now your next door neighbour".

Bunny Wailer eventually finds himself in the same position as the Blackheart Man, being subject to "my share of humiliation". And while Blackheart Man is fading out, Bunny Wailer's lyrics about how the perspective on the man who was once in the gullies has changed. "Now it is the Blackheart Man who is the wonder of the city".