The song I sing today is, ‘War’. This was a song recorded and made popular by Bob Marley. It first appeared on Bob Marley and the Wailers' 1976 Island Records album, ‘Rastaman Vibration’, Marley's only Top 10 album in the USA. (In the UK it reached position Number 15 in May 1976.) The lyrics are almost entirely derived from a speech made by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie 1 before the ‘United Nations General Assembly’ on 4 October 1963.
Bob Marley, along with fellow Rastafari, worshipped Haile Selassie 1 of Ethiopia as the incarnation of God and referred to him as ‘Ras Tafari,’ or ‘Jah’ or ‘The Lion of Judah’ which Marley does in many of his songs. To Marley, Haile Selassie was not only one of the most prominent African leaders of his time, but he was also identified as God returning to earth as ‘King of Kings, Lord of Lords’ (Revelation 19, 16); imperial titles born both by Haile Selassie and Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II before him. It was Menelik II, who created this self-styled imperial title in the late 19th Century after he succeeded in uniting Ethiopia. Marley did, however, accept Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity eight months before his death.
Haile Selassie gave the ‘War’ speech on October 4, 1963, calling for world peace at the 1963 ‘United Nations’ General Assembly’ in New York City. This historical speech was spoken a few weeks after the ’Organisation of African Unity’ (OAU) was founded in Ethiopian capital city Addis Ababa, where Haile Selassie chaired a summit meeting gathering almost every African head of state (The King of Morocco having declined the invitation).
This U.N. speech resounded even louder as Haile Selassie made a name for himself on the international scene in 1936 when he spoke at ‘The League of Nations’ in Geneva. There, Haile Selassie warned the world that if the members of the League did not fulfil their obligation to militarily assist Ethiopia against the invasion by fascist Italy, the League would then cease to exist as a matter of fact and the rest of the member states would suffer the same fate as his country. Three years later, ‘World War Two’ broke out. This visionary speech granted Haile Selassie much respect around the world, eventually leading to British military support, which helped free his country in 1941. Addressing the world again in 1963, Haile Selassie's words bore full weight.
In picking this utterance for his lyrics, Bob Marley thus projected two dimensions of the Ethiopian Emperor: the head of state as well as the Living God whom Rastafarians saw him as.
‘War’ is probably the hardest of all Bob Markey’s songs for a non-Jamaican to sing. I first heard this song in the New Millennium when I twice visited Trelawny in Jamaica to work with 32 schools in this old Caribbean slave capital. I was setting up a Trans-Atlantic pen-pal project between 32 Yorkshire schools and 32 Jamaican schools to help increase a better understanding of the two cultures and to decrease, through greater awareness, discrimination between both black and white pupils. I also worked in liaison with the Jamaican Minister for Education and Youth Culture to get this project off the ground., along with the Custos of Trelawney (Mayor).
In conjunction with the pen-pal project, I wrote four books whose publication were funded by the 32 Yorkshire schools in the ‘Trans-Atlantic Pen-Pal Project’ along with the shops and business enterprises of Mirfield where I then lived. This funding enabled two thousand books to be shipped to Trelawney at the start of the New Millennium, which was sold and used to raise necessary funds to replenish school supplies and vital stock. We raised tens of thousands of pounds for the 32 Trelawny Schools and the Government even placed these four books of mine on the educational curriculum in Trelawny.
It seemed easier to attract the cooperation and assistance of the Custos of Trelawny and the Jamaican Minister of Education and Youth Culture after Nelson Mandela had phoned me personally at my home in Mirfield to say that he had read my ‘African Trilogy’ storybook and highly approved of it. He said that liked its contents immensely and considered all three stories to be ‘wonderful’. Soon after Mandela had personally endorsed my work, it was reported on ‘News 24 ‘. The Jamaicans loved Mandela and were, therefore, more than pleased to be associated with my books. By the time I arrived in Jamaica the first time, I was being approached by numerous educational officials and government dignitaries, who asked me to write a story that showed the Parish of Trelawny to be as important as New York in the record books. It took much research but I eventually discovered the facts that demonstrated this and wrote a story called 'Bucket Bill' (a nick-name that the Jamaicans in Trelawny affectionately bestowed on me thereafter).
While visiting one of the Trelawney schools out in a woodland part of the province, for the first time in my life, I got a sense of how uncomfortable and threatened one black person would probably feel in a crowd of white people in England. I was the only person in a town of black-faced residents that had a white face, and my educational guide (who was armed and employed to ‘protect me’) was at a nearby shack buying two bottles of pop to cool us both down in the hot afternoon sun. Everyone who passed me as I waited for my drink, looked at me suspiciously. This was the first time I ever felt ‘out of place’ because of my skin colour. The tables of cultural unease had been temporarily reversed!
Suddenly, a Jamaican carrying an extremely loud radio passed by, and booming from his ghetto blaster was Bob Marley singing ‘War’. As the other town residents heard the song blasting forth, they joined in singing in the wide-open street and banging anything that reverberated like the sound of a war drum as they gyrated their hips to the beat of the music. This behaviour was so usual that all residents who heard the song gyrated whether they were young or old and from a cross-section and strata of class.
When I got back to England, I made a point of reacquainting myself with the ‘War’ song of Marley’s and learning the words for my own personal satisfaction. My son, William, and my brother, Peter, have one significant thing in common with myself. All their lives, they have bucked the trend, resented the interference of authority for ‘authority’s sake’ and have rebelled in one way or another against the establishment and their employers. Then again; I would have to concede that all the Forde Family, from our parents down have!
Have a happy birthday, Will and Peter. Love from your father and big brother. x
Love and peace Bill xxx