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“No Woman No Cry”: Bob and Rita Marley, Jamaican Decolonization, and the Black (Hetero)Sexual Relation
October 12, 2011
2011-2012 IRW Distinguished Lecture Series
(De)Generations: Reimagining Communities
Michelle Stephens, English and Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies, Rutgers University
In my talk I will explore the different meanings we might attach to Bob Marley’s musical legacy, both in terms of the live versus recorded nature of his continued prominence in the First World after his death, and in the erasure of his real-life, gendered, intimate relations with Rita Marley and his other female counterparts during his life and career. Here I turn to the black soundscape of Jamaica that emerges in the 1970s, exploring the voice as an echo, as a medium through which to rediscover the meaning of blackness as human, sexuated flesh, and the meaning of that flesh in the context of a newly imagined, national, community. The incorporeal Marley, re-read in the context of his real intimate relations and their impact on his decolonized black male subjectivity while he was alive, is articulated in Rita Marley’s echoing of his voice in her recent autobiographical account of their musical marriage. Their black love letter, the duet, becomes a trope for the black Word re-made as flesh, the recovery of an intimate form of black discourse, the sexual language of a decolonizing black unconscious.
In addition, however, and in line with the seminar’s focus on “representations and meanings of belonging and non-belonging implied in genealogies and generations,” Marley’s musical discourse was representative of a diachronic history of race, colonialism, war and politics defining black Jamaican subjects’ relations with others outside their black nation, newly independent in 1962. In “Society Must Be Defended” Foucault outlines the genealogy of this discourse in his discussion of the discourse of race war. As much as the notions of Jamaican belonging and non-belonging inspired by Marley’s lyrics reflect Foucault’s genealogy, Marley’s embodied performance implied an intersecting set of prescriptions and regulations on the behavior of black bodies in intimate relation with each other, within the nation. These prescriptions and regulations are as important to tease out as Marley’s liberatory discourse, especially since they have persisted across generations, governing the musical language ad embodied performances of Jamaican masculinity performed by Marley’s sons. My discussion explores these connections between the black sexual relation, the black family and generations, and the imagining of decolonial political community in the specific context of a newly independent, decolonizing Jamaica.