Thu | Nov 23, 2017

Story of the Song | Songs for Selassie

Published:Sunday | July 23, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Sizzla
Bob Marley
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Today, July 23, is the 125th birthday of HIM Haile Selassie.

Sizzla is one of those who has recorded the monarch's coronation date in song. It is included in Mash Dem Down, on the 2002 album Da Real Thing.

Mash Dem Down, a song of faith in the inevitability of prevailing over one's opponents and obstacles ("come we go mash dem dung nah lose/all dem a wrinch an a frown stumbling blocks will have to move"), gives the coronation date in the context of instructing youngsters on how to live:

"Little children

I say to honour your mother and your father

Tell you again I say to love one another

Praise Selassie I crown in Addis Ababa

Second of November 1930 ...'

The image of Haile Selassie and Empress Mennen on their thrones, looking composed and serene, is striking and powerful. The Natural-Ites, in Picture On The Wall, literally put it in a place of paramount importance in the home. The song starts with a question-and-answer narrative:

Q: The I have a picture of his Majesty Rasta?

A: Yes iyah, Jah live y'n

Q: And the I have a picture of His Majesty dread?

A: Yes iyah, Jah is within I

Q: And the I dem have a picture of His Majesty Rasses?

Chorus: Yes I

Then, singing, they confirm:

"In my house there's a picture on the wall

Rastafari sit upon his throne"

Jacob Miller died in a motor vehicle accident in 1980, one of his signature tracks being the slow Chapter a Day. Musically, the introduction is dominated by the organ, giving it a distinctly church atmosphere. A song of deep faith, in a spoken section, Miller expands on Emperor Haile Selassie's titles, part of which he had already sung. Miller includes the titles in his exhortation:

"The works of His Majesty Haile God Selassie I the First, ever ruling God who ever stands firm and show all leaders of the world that he is Kings of Kings and Lords of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, Earth Rightful Ruler, His Majesty God Haile Selassie I, give thanks and praise, Jah Rastafari!'

 

Made into reggae

 

At least two of His Imperial Majesty's addresses to the highest world body have made it into reggae. The most widely known is War, by Bob Marley and the Wailers on the 1976 Rastaman Vibration album.

The lyrics are almost verbatim from Haile Selassie I's speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963.

Poet Mutabaruka notes the potential world-changing effect of Selassie's speech to the League of Nations in 1936, speaking to Italy's use of chemical weapons against Ethiopia.

In Great Kings of Africa, by Dennis Brown, Ini Kamoze, and Mutabaruka, the poet says:

"Now the King of Kings Haile Selassie

Was invaded by the fascist Mussolini

If the world had listened to this little man

World War Two might have never begun.

Haile Selassie I died on August 27, 1975, at 83 years old in circumstances that remain obscure. Bob Marley and the Wailers responded directly to the news of His Majesty's death with Jah Live, released shortly after news of the death broke. The single was included on the, Songs of Freedom, box set.

In Jah Live, Marley sings, "Fools say in their heart/Rasta your God is dead/But I an I know/Dread it shall be dreader dread."

And nearly two decades after Selassie was reported dead, Capleton observed, "A say Selassie dead an dem cyaa show no tomb."