This plea for solidarity came out in 1983 and we’re no closer to it 36 years later. Black Uhuru makes a pretty convincing case, laying out the universal basics of our shared needs. Our underlying common grounds should be self-evident, so evident it shouldn’t take even a reggae song to lay out the obvious. Everyone wants the same things, fundamentally. We just can’t seem to get around the mentality that getting those things needs to come at the expense of other people having those same things. Keeping your children warm and your family protected should not take away from warmth and safety of anyone else, and yet violent tribalism outweighs both empathy and common sense. If people insist on behaving like feral dogs fighting over the last scraps of garbage in a time of plenitude, it’s chilling to think of what will happen when resources become scarce. The concept of solidarity remains an abstraction, an ideal to talk about from the solitude of our individual corners, a hippie pipe dream – anything except a real call to action – when it needs to be a philosophy for day-to-day living. It’s something we should all think deeply about and internalize, but instead we’re spinning out into nihilism and despair.
Black Uhuru is my favorite reggae band. I like being able to say that; it impresses people who really care about reggae. I would hate people to think I’m a basic bitch who only listens to Legend by Bob Marley. I need them to know that I’m the kind of insufferable person who communicates entirely in obscure music references. Anyway, it’s not because I actually really want to impress that one guy or whoever. I can admit that I don’t, in fact, know that much about reggae music. There’s a world of it that I don’t know about. Everything after about 1990 is a blank map to me. And it would be cool if someone offered to educate me about it.
If you’re asking yourself what sinsemilla is, you’ve got no business listening to Reggae music and you should go back to whatever suburb of Salt Lake City you came from. Sinsemilla is a strain of cannabis cultivated in a very specific way so as to result in particularly potent psychoactive properties. So he’s got some really good shit growing in his backyard, is what it’s saying. You really can’t separate Reggae culture from drug culture, although the drug culture we American live with doesn’t have the religious component. Which is unfortunate, as it seems like we’re really missing out on an opportunity to commune with God, while the Rasta get to elevate themselves spiritually as the elevate themselves chemically. Honestly, American marijuana culture is just another primo example of white people ruining everything, which is why I like to stay far away from it and from white dudes who wear Peruvian knits. I take my Reggae straight, or drunk, as it were, but I don’t get high much. It ain’t my culture.
I love how this Black Uhuru song throws you for a little bit of a loop. First you’re lulled by the groove, like you can just zone out to it, then at about halfway, the chorus kicks in with a strong reminder of just where reggae culture came from. It’s not just a groove, it’s a raised fist. Which is what reggae music is all about; it’s a Trojan horse that teaches political lessons under the guise of music you can groove to. I’ve always appreciated Black Uhuru for their songwriting, for striking a balance of making strong points but writing them poetically.
What reggae music really needed in 1982 was more vocoder. So thought the members of Black Uhuru, and it turned out they were right. Black Uhuru really took roots reggae into the 80’s and kept it relevant and stayed abreast of new technology, pretty much singlehandedly. They dabbled with synthesizers and electronic effects and studio trickery, vocoders included – just enough to sound timely, but not so much as to lose their sense of rootedness. It sounds like island music, and it recognizably like 80’s music. That’s a tough balance to strike, but Black Uhuru had an amazing run of classic albums throughout the decade and all the way into the 90’s.
Did some do-gooding NGO pay Black Uhuru to write a PSA to teach at-risk youth about the dangers of crack? Because don’t let the innocuous name of the song fool you, this is a song about the dangers of crack. Coming out in 1990, it was very politically relevant, if you’ll recall the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s, and those eye-catching D.A.R.E. (to keep kids off drugs!) shirts that washed up in every thrift store in the 90’s. It was an epidemic, apparently, because for complicated socio-economic reasons crack cocaine was somehow considered different from the regular kind. Basically, cocaine was a popular party treat amongst the wealthy and glamorous for decades, but when low-income type people started getting their hands on it, it was suddenly air quote an epidemic air quote. It was aslo a real problem, though, seriously. Because unlike the wealthy and glamorous, low income type people can’t just trot off to rehab or purchase a cleansing blood transfusion or send their children away to boarding school for safekeeping or just not work or do anything productive for months on end while they’re on a binge. But they still want to enjoy the mind-numbing pleasures of blow, or heroin, or whatever intoxicant is trending. It’s the exact same thing that’s happening now with the opiod epidemic. The crack epidemic waned away as the economy went into an upswing in the 1990’s. Right now the opposite is happening and a lot of people see no better future for themselves than quietly dying of an overdose. We all know that the “Drugs are bad, mmmkay?” approach is no deterrent at all. We all know that fucking t-shirts don’t help, and singing songs about it doesn’t help much either, no offense to everyone who wrote songs about it. Thumbs up for all the good intentions, though.
Here’s a rare live Black Uhuru performance. Not dated, but appears to be sometime in the early 80’s, probably near the release of Sinsemilla. That album is one of Black Uhuru’s finest and an absolute must-have for Reggae fans. Or, really, just an across-the-board classic beyond the confines of genre. Reggae often gets shafted as some kind of ‘special interest’ music, either targeted to stoners or lost under the broad ‘world music’ umbrella. I’ve always tried to promote Reggae for its political relevance, rather than its better known fun side, and Black Uhuru has always been my prime example. Their music is undeniably fun, but the social consciousness of their writing is their real strength. What do they want you to push til you push it over? The racist slave-economy capitalist system of oppression, of course, though they wouldn’t phrase it quite that dry.