November 10, 2005

Bob Marley "Africa Unite: The Singles Collection"

For years, I've scoffed at Marley; having been co-opted by hippies and Eric Clapton, it's been difficult to take him seriously, because his legacy is no longer his own. So I've had a self-imposed moratorium on Marley, and, to be honest, I didn't really think I was missing anything. His associations--mostly posthumous--turned me off, in a major way. Who wants to be associated with hippies? Friends don't let friends listen to hippie music. Also...I am ignorant about reggae. I confess to this sin, and I'm not embarassed by it. I don't know what makes reggae good or bad; I don't know the elements of style required to properly judge the music, and because of this, I've avoided reggae music for most of my life.

Still, my curiosity gets the better of me, and when given the opportunity to accept Africa Unite: The Singles Collection, I did so--because an opportunity to learn is an opportunity to grow, and a life without growth is not a life worth living. Instead of offering up someone's opinion about what Marley's best numbers are, Africa Unite is an unquestionable collection of Marley's single releases. Plus, this official compilation seemed designed for souls like me, those who might not be able to discern Marley's greatest moments, or who seem to be a bit overwhelmed when trying to enter into the jumbled mess that is Marley's discography. (If you want to witness musical insanity, consider that Marley's discography, who only released a handful of records while alive, contains well over 150 compilations.)

Even for those who don't know much about Marley's music, many of these songs are well known; "No Woman No Cry," "One Love," "Get Up Stand Up," "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Is This Love" are all classics, and all appear here. But it's the lesser-known songs that really impress and make the record compelling. "Wait In Vain" is a warm and lovely little love song about impatience and frustration, while early song "Soul Rebel" shows Marley had found his political voice quite quickly in his career. "Three Little Birds" is perhaps my favorite; it's a small, little song that's quite positive in nature, with Marley sweetly singing, "don't worry about tomorrow, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right." It's a beautiful and simple little song, and its melody will quickly place itself in your mind and you'll have difficulty getting it out. (This is a good thing, though!) The title track (appearing here as an updated remix by Will.I.Am) is an interesting political number, and the hip-hop update actually serves the song quite well. The album's rare jewel, the previously unreleased "Slogans," is brilliant and is surprisingly relevent to today's political climate. In it, he sings "Can't take no more sweet talk from the hypocrites," while he intones that he "Can't take these slogans no more."

"Bob Marley, poet and a prophet," sang the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I rolled my eyes then. I'm not rolling them any more. Africa Unite: The Singles Collection is an excellent primer for those of you who have yet to experience the Marley experience. For those who have already developed their love for the man and his music, there might not be much for you here, but this is an essential collection for the curious.

--Joseph Kyle

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