It would be hypocritical to say, “I hope when these few lines reach, you will be in good health.” Your passing is untimely. Whether we are fans of yours or not, you came to represent the child in us: the yearning to be forever young. This is especially so for those of us who grew up with you. As long as you maintained media attention with your music and your antics, you seemed ageless and that kept us from having aged.
You certainly had your impact on us in the Caribbean and in Jamaica in particular. Well it started with you and your brothers. You all burst on the scene just when we were as a people trying to sort out who we really were – something you seem to have pursued your entire life. The black power and civil rights movements were at their height in your country and we, while we had had been independent from Britain for seven years, did not feel as if we really had political power.
People of African descent with dark skin were in the majority and we had a man with woolly hair as our prime minister but most of us were still viewed as strangers within the gates – at least that’s how it seemed when you visited most offices in Kingston.
That situation stirred social and intellectual foment that impacted all aspects of our life and culture. Although there was a general discontent, there was no unified response. We grouped into different social political and religious camps. The political camps were left wing and right wing but the right was more unified.
We had Marxist socialists and democratic socialists on the left and hovering in a sort of no-man’s-land we had the Rastafari which started in the 1930s as a poor man’s self empowering reaction to African disenfranchisement and by 1968 was gaining acceptance across all classes. The common banner for our agitation was ‘consciousness’.
Those of us in high school in 1969/70/71 were groping for an identity. We embraced the American Soul movement. We were saddened by the slaying of Martin Luther King Jr; our girls were wearing unprocessed hair in the style first known as the Makeba and then we all, boys and girls, tried to outdo Angela Davis’s huge Afro, which itself came to be personified as soul.
The big Afros of you and your brothers qualified you as part of the Soul movement that shared space with Carlos Santana, Exuma the Obeah Man, Last Poets, the Wailers, the Abyssinians, Hugh Roy… But at some point, Soul lost its radical edge and was excluded from the Conscious movement. The Soul boys (girls) with their big bell bottom pants, platform shoes, and funky music came to be seen as an American plastic, bubblegum subculture with folks like you and your brothers as their leader.
A soul bwoy (girl) would be regarded derisively by those of us conscious brethren (sistren) with our gun mouth pants (sisters in long skirts), bushy hair and Clarke’s booties.