I discovered Reggae music in 1972, shortly before joining Makerere University. I do not recall exactly where I first heard the music, but the musician was Jimmy Cliff. The combination of rhythm and melodies, with lyrics that were as moving as they were meaningful, Jimmy Cliff’s music was the perfect companion at a time when Uganda was sinking into its long and dark years of despair. But more to the point, it was music for a young lad escaping teenage and struggling with the challenges of adulthood. It was also music that got the heart beating in tandem with tender thoughts of a girl friend miles away on school holidays.
Born James Chambers on April 1, 1948, Jimmy, then aged 24, became a passion. His song “Vietnam” hit a cord with my emerging anti-war sentiments. I knew the lyrics by heart.
I collected every Jimmy Cliff LP that was sold in Kampala or Nairobi, including Wonderful World, Beautiful People; The Harder They Come, The Harder They Fall… and so on. In later years, his 1983 LP “To The Power And The Glory” became a favourite. It was always a joy to see my daughters sing and dance along with Jimmy Cliff.
The song “Many Rivers To Cross” became my anthem, with many rotations on my turntable in Northcote Hall, Makerere, often enjoyed in the company of great friends, some of whom are now deceased. Beautiful memories of Edith Mpaka of Toro, India Musokotwane of Zambia, John Masembe of Buganda, Stephen Mwesigye Ruhindi of Nkore, Ephraim Musiime of Kigezi ……… flow back in torrents.
MANY RIVERS TO CROSS
Many rivers to cross
But I can’t seem to find my way over
Wandering I am lost
As I travel along the white cliffs of Dover
Many rivers to cross
And it’s only my will that keeps me alive
I’ve been licked, washed up for years
And I merely survive because of my pride
And this loneliness won’t leave me alone
It’s such a drag to be on your own
My woman left me and she didn’t say why
Well I guess, I have to try
Many rivers to cross
But just where to begin, I’m playing for time
There are times I find myself thinking
Of committing some dreadful crime
Yes I have so many rivers to cross……
Here is the original, with a salute to my departed friends:
The lyrics tugged at my heart then. They still do, though I suppose it is more accurate to sing, as Jimmy does, “Many Rivers I’ve Crossed!” Here is Jimmy singing an expanded version of the same beautiful song, more than 40 years later! His voice very much as alive and sweet as it was back then.
Cliff’s song: “Sitting Here In Limbo” was the perfect companion in moments of lonely longing to see the face of a beloved girlfriend.
I still listen to that music with a joy that has only increased over the decades. I listen and sing with joy because I surrendered all to Jesus Christ, who has helped me cross so many rivers even when I seemed to be about to drown. I listen to Jimmy with a triumphant heart.
I did not discover Bob Marley until I went to Lesotho, a country that was miles ahead of East Africa in its appreciation of trans-Atlantic music.
His music became a daily staple in our house, occasionally relegating Jimmy Cliff to the shelves for months on end. His music was varying anthem for the struggle for human rights.
I consider Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” to be among the Top Ten most beautiful musical works. This is music that was so absolutely perfect, so suited for the time – still suited for this time. His guitar was…. Oh, well… just listen to him play.
I often played Marley’s Three Little Birds, with those reassuring words “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” whenever things got tough in those long, depressing winters in my early years in Canada. And things turned out all right.
No Woman, No Woman, Nuh Cry was (is) a deep message that spoke to us about courage in the face of adversity; about the hypocrisy that shares space with goodness. “Don’t shed no tears…”, he urged. Carry on. (The words were changed later to suggest that he was saying No woman, no cry.)
A Reggae Musician that I came to know late was Peter Tosh who, together with Bod Marley, had been a member of The Wailers. He came to Calgary, Alberta in 1984 and had the house rocking. His Album “Mama Africa” became a favourite in the 1980s, when our continent seemed to be in the throes of self-destruction.
Born Winston Hubert McIntosh on October 19, 1944, Peter Tosh was shot and killed in Kingston, Jamaica on September 11, 1987.