Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle”. . . [No] Man’s an Island


In “[No] Man’s an Island,” Anthony Best explores the prescience and implications of Bob Marley’s lyrics and melodies with relation to the many migrations of Caribbean peoples and their search for a “better world” in the Diaspora. Best explores the rhythm and irony of Marley’s “Concrete Jungle” to speak about the trajectories of islanders abroad and their development of multiple identities. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

[. . .] The persuasive percussion of Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle” is poignant in the mind of a West Indian dreamer living abroad – a dream, an aspiration, a notion of bettering, opportunity and access. The 20th century’s passage of flying north for a “better life” is ever lucid, as Marley extols his irony in a snow covered Canadian reality. It begs a question that may prescribe a characteristic of the West Indian in the quest for exploration. “Did we forget where we came from?” Did we forget that we are a transient people? Our journey is one of millions of us traversing continents and boundaries for over 500 years, making migration “what we do”. Yet, abandonment of the only world one knows for another to which we “dream-to-belong” must stem from a tradition of Exodus – a theme Marley also exquisitely appraised.

The West Indies, circa 1960, was ambient with longing and desires. Island people imbued with ambition brought on by the social and political movement towards independence and enfranchisement were itching to excel. The attitude of “island life, no problem” was searching for new meaning and like poetry in motion, arose a consciousness, an awakening that was pungent with the aroma of “selling out”. The yearning – that dream for a mulatto landscape – was like trading in the wrought iron manacles of plantocracy for a tight fitting pendant of island abandonment – a fettered disconnection. The picture postcard may have depicted a passive, subservient people – cane cutting, grinning mango eaters – a metamorphosis of Thomas Carlyle’s “Pumpkin Easters”, but in the shadows of the former barracoons and town dwellings a different type of tropical storm was brewing.

[. . .] Villagers in fishing communities like Bathsheba, Barbados needed a soldier, an activist of change, a hero even. The neighbour’s son sailing off to an uncertain destiny would do. As any casual survey of Caribbean anthropology would reveal, one by one, men and women fled villages and neighbourhoods from Jamaica to St Lucia, leaving empty seats in church pews on Sunday mornings and classrooms without teachers, as sons and daughters climbed aboard ocean going vessels, some never to return.

Marcus Garvey, the god-father of the awakening, led and men like Sir Frank Worrell followed as the first black man to captain the West Indies Cricket team. This meritorious triumph reverberated accolades of panoramic proportions. CLR James, Che Guevara and Sir Garfield Sobers, and later, others like Michaelle Jean (born in Haiti and former Canadian Governor General) continued to break free from their shores and as leaders embarked on actualising their dreams and hopes, and in time were elevated as national Caribbean heroes. They gave validation to ambitions of new nations that they could manage their own affairs, and lit cinders of possibilities to a hapless people through their successes and achievements. These collective outbound journeys in themselves gorged new pathways of a hope and promise that the greener grass, those golden streets lay in waiting for anyone who dear to dream, and was victorious acquiring a ticket to ride. Like the bursting of a dam, laborers, nurses, teachers and service workers left in droves to northern territories in search of their golden calves. [. . .]

Marley’s narrative described people on the move, geographically and psychologically. Millions of women and men migrated from holy-sounding rural communities like St. Ann, St. Joseph and St. Andrews with steadfast ambitions of fame, security or personal enlightenment. Driven by false promises, they mustered the courage to abandon their known world for the unknown. And yet, while Bob Marley’s Concrete Jungle speaks of a sweet life out there to be found, did the West Indian really have to leave the islands to find it?

For full article, see

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