Nigel R Telesford

“Bob Marley’s story is not just a Jamaican story only, but also includes and involves Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean region as a whole!”

So said Trinbagonian Music Sociologist, Meagan Sylvester recently as she represented our twin-island at the White House in Washington DC, USA during an educational event designed to celebrate Marley's birthday, the start of Black History Month in the US and Reggae Month in Jamaica.

Moderated by Author, Institute of Caribbean Studies’ Founder and President and National Caribbean American Heritage Month Chair, Claire A Nelson, Ph.D., the event was held on Wednesday, February 7 between 2 – 5 pm at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC and featured singer, songwriter, storyteller and scholar, Njelle “Njara” Hamilton; Political Scientist, Ken Irish-Bramble and Author, Researcher, Podcaster and Music Sociologist, Meagan Sylvester.

Panelists were asked a series of questions designed to initiate discussions on topics such as: “Bob Marley’s musical contribution to Black Consciousness in the US”, “How his music made a difference to the black Diaspora political space”, “The impact of Marley’s musical interpretations on the black diaspora narratives”, “The intersectionality of themes in his lyrics and how those lyrics speak to and of the trauma experienced by our people” and finally, “How might his music be reintroduced to the new generations?”

Music Sociologist, Meagan Sylvester is all smiles at the White House in Washington DC. Click on her image to visit her website.

The Caribbean team responsible for the success of the Black History month event held at the White House recently

The panel of Caribbean scholars at the White House recently for Black History Month

Keet Styla and the Therapi Band at the White House

Sylvester expressed great pride at being the only Trinbagonian included on the panel and contributed to the discourse from her extensive research in the field and within the genres of Reggae, Calypso, Dancehall and Soca industries.

The former Education and Research Officer at TUCO, currently Assistant Professor, Africana Studies and Managing Editor of the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) Journal, Sylvester spoke to the impact of Bob Marley’s musical contribution to Black Consciousness in the US, the Caribbean and Trinidad and Tobago: from highlighting the fact that this music has been used in retrospect to analyze aspects of the civil rights movement in the US, other social movements in the Caribbean and specifically serving as a musical reference point for the February Revolution/Black Power Movement in Trinidad in 1970.

Additionally, Sylvester opined about the intersectionality of themes in Bob Marley's lyrics which speak to global issues affecting women and motherhood (Johnny Was), war, (War/No More Trouble), crisis (No Woman No Cry), trauma (Survival), and the black reality (Buffalo Soldier).

As a music sociologist whose scholarship and research has focused on the narratives of resistance in music, Sylvester shared that in particular Bob Marley's reggae music speaks to issues of resistance and rebellion against the status quo and has often been used as a linchpin to spawn other types of music similar in content, such as Trinidad's Ragga Soca music sung by 2023 Road March King, Bunji Garlin.

Meagan Sylvester checks out the flags at the White House

This is especially evidenced by Garlin’s six "fire" songs, (against crime and corruption (“Fiery,” 2008; “Blaze De Fire,” 2005; “Fire Brigade/Warrior Cry,” 2004; “Fireman,” 2006; “Hold Ah Burn,” 2011); against racial profiling and police brutality (“Bun Ah Fire” with Prophet Benjamin, 2006). In making her case, Sylvester also included: MX Prime's repertoire as Maximus Dan in “Kick it Way” and “Earthquake (Building Shake)”, and General Grant's late 90s mega hits, “Shot Call” and “Pure Hate”.

This occasion marks the first time that an all Caribbean-based panel was at the White House for the celebration of Black History Month, as it is usually a critical time of remembrance of Black History by African-Americans.

Of course, one can’t have a music event celebrating Bob Marley, without music and to further cement Caribbean-American relations, the accompanying musicians for the event comprised of talent from the Caribbean-based band, Keet Styla and the Therapi Band out of New York, which is led by vocalist Keet Styla – who was formerly known in the music world as “Designer”, a recognised Calypsonian from Trinidad and Tobago.

Other Therapi band members present and performing at the event were: steelpannist, Kareem Thompson (Trinidad and Tobago); Conga drummer, Keith Marcelle Jr, (Trinidad and Tobago) and Bass guitarist, Colwyn Mitchell (Guyana).

The band played several reggae songs from Bob Marley, namely: “Exodus”, “Buffalo Soldier” and “Get Up, Stand Up” and also shared the spotlight with musician, Stephen "Cat" Core of Third World accompanying on cello when they all played the classic closer, “Redemption Song”.

Caribbean panelists at the White House in Washington DC for the Black History month event. L-R: Meagan A Sylvester, Ken Irish-Bramble and Njelle Hamilton