Tue | Apr 21, 2015

New York university teaches Marley

Published:Sunday | January 6, 2013
Bob Marley

Deon Brown, Gleaner Writer

New York:

The life and times of Bob Marley and his influence on post-colonial music is the focus of a course being offered this month at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, part of New York University's (NYU) Tisch School of Arts in lower Manhattan.

It has long been argued that Marley's music provides a lifetime of learning. That it should now take up residence in a university setting may well be the natural order of things.

Robert Nesta Marley, after all, belongs to a pantheon of international artistes whose art and work contributed to the ideas of the 20th century and have certainly assisted in shaping the 21st.

The course 'Bob Marley & Post-Colonial Music' is being taught by Vivien Goldman, known in NYU circles as the 'punk professor' for her initial offering of a course on punk and other pop music phenomena.

Goldman, a British citizen, author and former journalist, comes to the subject of Bob with an inside knowledge, having worked closely with him for many years and was there when reggae was but a quaint novelty known only overseas to West Indians and hipsters.

Spirit of reggae

As a young university student in Britain, Goldman was attracted to the activism spirit of reggae, and after graduating took a job in the early 1970s at Island Records where she had responsibility for promotions and pushed to get a then unknown Marley and other reggae artistes to mainstream audiences.

She later took a full-time writing position at a music paper where she continued to cover the reggae beat, travelling with Marley, the rising star, watching him in the studio and at home, and writing from inside the movement.

"I was on fire about reggae. Bob was so brilliant. He was a man I was able to get to know and break bread with," Goldman recalled in an interview.  "As a witness to history during this formative period, I was
privileged to see these extraordinary culture-changing
events."

What she was witnessing up close was this
nascent island music's global ascent. She has subsequently written two
books on Marley and continues to cover Afro-Caribbean and global
music.

The course is a three-week intensive winter
programme that is open to anyone with a high-school diploma and offers
applicable credits.

Goldman has taught similar
unconventional courses at the Clive Davis Institute where she has been
an adjunct professor for some seven years.

Previous
topics covered include Reggae Music & Island Records and the
music of African sensation Fela Kuti.

The Institute
has turned conventional learning on its head by its active pursuit of
new, experimental topics which have proven to be extremely popular. The
Bob Marley course even got mentioned on NBC's comedy special,
Saturday Night Live a few weeks
ago.

History and culture

The course
content will examine Jamaica's history and culture and its connection
with Britain, Marley's evolution as a musician, his creative
partnerships, the business of his music, and his commitment to
Pan-Africanism and Rastafari as a way of life.

Bob
Marley's music is the sonic telling of a nation's story. The arc of his
work reflects the evolution of experiences and the emerging self of a
Jamaica transitioning from 300 years of colonial rule into the
determined stance of Independence.

Like other
musicians of his generation, Marley started out sampling mento and ska,
Jamaican early native music and experimented with Black American
R&B before finding his own sound.

With reggae,
he became an original voice of an Independent Jamaica whose music was
helping to shape its identity and giving it worldwide
recognition.

Reggae's richness was the intensity of
its sound and message. This was a music with attitude, force and
meaning.

The audacity was in its beat and rhythm; the
revolution in its spirituality, politics and psychology; the bonding
chord in its humanity - in its global call for peace, love, equality,
justice and righteousness.

That it emerged in the
1960s - a period weighted with the politics of oppression and the
decolonisation movement - made it the music of its times - connecting
with oppressed people in not just the African diaspora but audiences
everywhere concerned with ideas of fair play and
justice.

Goldman stresses Bob Marley and reggae's
power as a unifying force.

"Bob awoke so many people
to the ideas of Garvey and Rasta. He built the bridge within the
Pan-African community without excluding people of other races. It is
huge that he struck that balance with black empowerment and at the same
time got out that message of unity with everyone. We all tuned into that
idea of higher self and empathy for others. For me, reggae is
personal."

What is revolutionary about reggae as well
is not just its global reach but its impact on the former colonising
power, Great Britian.

Jamaica's honoured folklorist
Louise Bennett said it best - 'Colonization in Reverse' she called her
poem about West Indian immigrants' impact on the United Kingdom in the
Post World War Two years.

Reggae, the loudest
expression of Jamaican culture, has burrowed deep into Britain's
cultural space and psyche.

"I was one of a large
generation that was shaped by Jamaican culture," says Goldman, who is of
Jewish ancestry, and was born and raised in
England.

"It was the culture that did the work. People
in the UK were indoctrinated and changed by Jamaican culture without
ever getting to the island. It was a kind of cultural colonisation that
happened after colonisation," she observed.

"I wonder
if Jamaica realises how phenomenally influential it has been on English
culture?" the reggae lover opined.

"In dance music,
rave music, warehouse music. They would never have happened if not for
first-wave, post-war Jamaican immigrants bringing with them their
insistence on having a good time in a rather drab post-war England.
Reggae has seeded so many other forms - punk, rap, hip hop, Spanish
music - reggaeton."

Bob Marley and his musical cohorts
have grandfathered it all.

In early roots reggae we
hear the purest form of the musical dynamism that revolutionised the
world.

The university course at NYU's Clive Davis
Institute is a nod to Marley's greatness and the continued impact of
Jamaican indigenous sound.