ROCK / RIFFS: Roots, rock, reggae: Bob Marley double: Michael Franti of the Disposable Heroes on 'Zimbabwe' and UB40's Jim Brown on 'Stir It Up'

Wednesday 12 August 1992 23:02

AFTER THE riots in LA I started picking up on Bob Marley a lot, mainly because of his ability to put the political and the personal on the same track - something that's really missing today.

Marley sings: 'Soon we're gonna find out who is the real revolutionaries / Cause I don't want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.' That's a really important statement. In LA we released all this energy, we had people who had never done anything suddenly getting involved . . . we have to direct it all into something positive so it's not just burning and looting. We have to address true authority, rather than the symbols of authority.

The song was written around the emancipation of Zimbabwe: it's really powerful, anthemic. The piano and bass do this intro which makes it seem like a spiritual anthem, very dramatic, but then it settles into this totally different groove, almost in a different time signature.

It's also soulful - it's loving and expresses passion . . . it's about people, not just nationalism. I love bass, and there are incredible bass riffs in it. The rhythm of the song is this very simple skank, and the whole thing is amazing, this mixture of politics and feeling. The reason there's this freedom in Zimbabwe is because of the people, and he's worried it might be destroyed. He's just expressing his concern. MF

'Zimbabwe' is on Bob Marley's Survival (Island CID 9542)

'STIR IT UP' has the classic Wailers line-up from the mid-Seventies: the Barrett brothers on bass and drums, Bunny Wailer on percussion and Peter Tosh on guitar. Tosh and Wailer are also doing backing vocals, which was their real speciality. One thing I love about this track is that it shows how Bob Marley created his own genre inside reggae. Marley made that one-drop roots style very popular. The one-drop means you get two strums on the guitar, then on the third strum you get a syncopated 'drop' - a blow on the snare drum and bass drum at the same time. This beat really pinned the music down and gave it a softness and a sexiness.

I also like the track because it was an introduction to reggae for a lot of rock people - it was part of the Wailers' Old Grey Whistle Test session in about 1974. You have to remember that Bob Marley would have been a great artist in any musical style, even rock, because he was charismatic.

There was a consciousness that flourished in the Seventies and inspired UB40, but this song isn't political at all, it's a sexy song, a love song, pure celebration: 'Stir it up/ Little darlin', / Stir it up . . .' You hear in his voice that it's heartfelt. People mythologise him, but I don't know if Bob Marley was a criminal or an angel. Nor do I care.


'Stir it Up' is on Bob Marley and the Wailers' Babylon By Bus (Island TGDCD1)

(Photographs omitted)

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