For 24 hours every May 11, radio stations in Nigeria and around the world pay tribute to the legend of Robert Nesta Marley also known as Bob Marley. I used to think that this practice was limited to Nigeria until I went to Kenya. The whole country virtually shuts down and all the bars become annexes of a Marley stage concert with beer and weed competing with the sound of music for control of the air.
Yesterday, I attended a similar concert, this time in celebration of the birth of the reggae legend. Three live bands brought their guitars, drums and saxophone to St. Louis. An old cultural capital of the midwest, St. Louis never fails to surprise with new experiences and discoveries of new previously unknown treasures of jazz, live music, good food, drinks, and company. The only addition to this peculiar night was the bellow of weed smoke floating around the bar. Add to that a large collection of hippie-looking, slow talking, heavily bearded crowd members with half-closed eyelids who add “duuuuude” to the end of every sentence and who have to shout in order to be heard above the music, then you have an idea.
How a phenomenal music legend from a small Caribbean island became a global export being celebrated thirty years after his death is already a heartwarming story. Amidst the blare of the saxophone and good music, one of the true purposes of life is laid bare: to affect the world with beauty, and strength, and love, in a way that leaves it no chance of recovery. And music does that better than all the other art forms.
The house of the African American composer of rag-time music Scott Joplin is at 2658A, Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis.
Now a national historical site, it was renovated a few years ago and refurbished with artifacts from the period when Scott Joplin himself lived there, composing in the process his famous The Entertainer. I did say he was African-American, right?
The other thing to say about his life was that much of what has been written about him were obtained through words of mouth. The man himself wasn’t famous enough in his lifetime to deserve much tabloid ink (even though Wiki said he achieved some fame for his compositions and was dubbed “The king of ragtime”. Much of the details of his life in this house itself are shrouded in mystery. The only agreed fact was that he did live there for two years in the early 1900s, and that he wrote The Entertainer while living here. The tune came back to fashion in the 1970s selling into the millions.
(“Ragtime” was the name of a musical form. I never did figure out why they chose to call it that.)
In 1976 Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to music.
I was singing Fela’s Lady as loudly as possible in the shower today for no reason. It’s a phase that comes and goes. A particular song finds its way back into my consciousness and remains there for days until something else knocks it off. Without doubt one of the musician’s most danceable and happiness inducing tunes, Lady has taken over my consciousness; not just the singing part of the track but the nice arrangement of horns, guitars and drums that introduce it. I now have reason to believe that Fela included so much instrumentation time on his tracks and little singing time so that when the listener feels like listening only to the sounds, they can be catered for without having to endure his voice, or politics.
My weekend has begun. It mostly begins on Thursday evenings when all classes are done. What I’ve been doing since then out of class work is scouring the internet for new places to visit. My search has led me to the Scott Joplin’s House in St. Louis and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts Centre also in the city. I have tonight to get much of my course work out of the way then take to the road. I can’t think of something more fun to do this weekend.
Now, those interested in Fela’s ballads should do well to check this out. One of his most famous slow jamz is titled Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am as well as Dog Eat Dog and Observation is No Crime. Needless to say, I’m so extremely jealous of those discovering Fela’s music for the very first time. Even for me listening to them again in intervals of weeks, I still get the same thrills of the very first time. Enjoy the weekend, good people.
Note on photo: Seen at the International Institute last week. I never knew that Joseph Pulitzer was an immigrant. He came into the country from Hungary.