When I think of Bob Marley I think Lauryn Hill’s cover with him for Turn Your Lights Down Low and when I think of Lauryn Hill I think of my aunt. She used to play The Fugees throughout my childhood.
While I’m on this I got my girl L one time! one time!
Hey yo L you know you got the lyrics!
I heard he sang a good song, I heard he had a style,
And so I came to see him and listen for a while.
And there he was this young boy, a stranger to my eyes,
Strumming my pain with his fingers (one time),
Singing my life with his words (two times),
Killing me softly with his song
Whilst I haven’t listened to any of these artists actively since then, Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley have only very slightly, framed some of the most wholesome interactions with family that I have in my childhood.
This is the same for Marlon James’ incredible novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. Winner of The Man Booker Prize 2015, Bob Marley is never mentioned but frames the lives of several people living and working in Jamaica during the 70s. He opens up with a character by the name of Bam-Bam who grew up in the slums. Language, like all creoles, takes on a new and lively form that simply English can never articulate. But James achieves something rhythmic and musical with Bam-Bam, who is my favourite character. He is tough, hard, but sensitive in the world around him covered in death, drugs and machines. Bam-Bam explains:
“Rasta don’t like when women loose and you both get to midnight raving, and I grab meself and rave too from either seeing it or hearing it, and then you write a song about it. The boy from Concrete Jungle…”
“Gun hunger worse than woman hunger for at least maybe a woman might hungry for you back. At night me don’t sleep. Me stay up in the dark shadow, looking at it, rubbing it, seeing and waiting.”
I haven’t finished the novel, in fact it feels like I have barely started, but the words of Bam-Bam hit me like a ton of bricks. Creole reminds me of grandparents and the struggle they endured to try and assimilate themselves into English. I could concentrate on other characters, and I probably should, but Bam-Bam reminds me of my family. Of my nana whom was pregnant with my mother who had to catch a public bus miles from her home into the city to buy nappies for her child whilst she was in contractions. She then had to walk back, because giving birth in the home your husband built is necessary in Tongan culture. Such struggles of violence can never be fully understood.
If you’re a person of colour please read this book. The violent and rhythmic language will be familiar yet confronting. I am not I am not sure how I feel about a white man lending me this book. I don’t think people understand. Maybe I don’t understand….
“…I could kill anybody and it would be the greatest killing ever and now I didn’t have the greatest killing ever and now red wasn’t the reddest red and blue wasn’t the bluest blue and the rhythm wasn’t the sweetest rhythm and all these things made me sad but also something that I can’t describe and I want one thing. To feel good again and right now. Right now.”
Coloured people are never granted the greatest killing, which is the killing of colonisation for the rise of coloured self-definition in language, art, and society. Such big words have been used many times that they mean nothing…but yesterday I had to listen to an old white man who is fluent in Spanish and Spanish translations…use sacred Spanish poetry to make his poem about sex and death more “meaningful”…and…there is something very wrong in that…a soft killing…white people often forget the damage they have caused and continue to take….there needs to be a space afforded to coloured people…
James’ novel along with coloured music, along with coloured readers, is the frontline step in coloured self-definition…and I hope to follow. It is time to be awarded the greatest killing…in order to feel good again…