Bob Marley Timothy White - Essay

Timothy White

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kaya [is] a bit of dreadlocked deja vu with an intriguing twist. Their seventh Island lp contains two selections that appeared previously on Soul Revolution (and the British African Herbsman package): "Sun is Shining" and "Kaya." (p. 74)

Seems there's nothing new under the Caribbean sun—but guess again. Where the original "Shining" was an ominous, melodica-paced ballad about desperate love, the revised treatment is a steamy dance track…. [Similarly, Kaya has] been supplanted by a full, celebratory sound. Here, the intoxicating joys of kaya (ganja) are touted, rather than its mystical fringe benefits.

Throughout Kaya, the dark, menacing tone that characterized such Wailers classics as "Concrete Jungle," "Burnin' and Lootin'," "Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)" and "Want More" has been replaced by infectious happiness and elation. Songs like "Easy Skanking" and "She's Gone" evince the uplifting approach begun on Rastaman Vibration and Exodus, and carry through on those attempts at weaving pop-rock and R&B into the reggae fabric…. In short, this is superior party music.

And where Burnin' ended with a stern, spare reading of the portentous "Rasta Man Chant," Kaya closes on "Time Will Tell" in the reverential calm of a black spiritual. (pp. 74-5)

What goes on here? Has Robert Nesta Marley sold out?

Hardly. As with the controversial rockminded Rastaman Vibration and the militant disco tempos on Exodus, Marley continues to expand the boundaries of a music he helped create. Many, however, will charge that his reggae has traded a "roots" feel for a facile commercialism.

Such barbs are understandable when one listens to a Wailers release like "Punky Reggae Party," a 12-inch Tuff Gong single rushed out in Jamaica and England to capitalize on the New Wave-punk affinity for reggae…. [But the] heavily criticized Exodus album and "disco" single were stunningly executed and marked the first time reggae had cracked the U.S. R&B charts to garner a significant non-West Indian black audience. The excellent Kaya should make further inroads in this direction….

Reggae has … grown and changed to the point where it needs a new name beyond vague adjectives like "rockers" and "militant." Meantime, the Wailers, as always, remain in the vanguard of this metamorphosis with the revolutionary and, yes, commercial Kaya. (p. 75)

Timothy White, "Funky Kingpin: Souled Out," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1978 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), May, 1978, pp. 74-5.