ICON: Bob Marley
THE LIFE and times of Bob Marley and his influence on post-colonial music is the focus of a course being offered this month at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, part of New York University's (NYU) Tisch School of Arts in lower Manhattan.
The course, 'Bob Marley & Post-Colonial Music', is being taught by Vivien Goldman, known in NYU circles as the 'punk professor' for her initial offering of a course on punk and other pop music phenomena.
British-born Goldman, an author and former journalist, comes to the subject of Marley with an inside knowledge, having worked closely with him for many years and was there when reggae was but a quaint novelty known only overseas to West Indians and hipsters.
As a young university student in Britain, Goldman was attracted to the activism spirit of reggae, and after graduating took a job in the early 1970s at Island Records where she had responsibility for promotions and pushed to get a then unknown Marley and other reggae artists to mainstream audiences.
UNIFYING FORCE: The Reggae singer pictured in 1977
She later took a full-time writing position at a music paper where she continued to cover the reggae beat, travelling with Marley, the rising star, watching him in the studio and at home, and writing from inside the movement.
"I was on fire about reggae. Bob was so brilliant. He was a man I was able to get to know and break bread with," Goldman recalled. "As a witness to history during this formative period, I was privileged to see these extraordinary culture-changing events."
What she was witnessing up close was this nascent island music's global ascent. She has subsequently written two books on Marley and continues to cover Afro-Caribbean and global music.
The course is a three-week intensive winter programme that is open to anyone with a high-school diploma and offers applicable credits.
Goldman has taught similar unconventional courses at the Clive Davis Institute where she has been an adjunct professor for some seven years.
Previous topics covered include Reggae Music & Island Records and the music of African sensation Fela Kuti.
The Institute has turned conventional learning on its head by its active pursuit of new, experimental topics which have proven to be extremely popular.
The Bob Marley course even got mentioned on NBC's comedy special, Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago.
The course content will examine Jamaica's history and culture and its connection with Britain, Marley's evolution as a musician, his creative partnerships, the business of his music, and his commitment to Pan-Africanism and Rastafari as a way of life.
Goldman stresses Bob Marley and reggae's power as a unifying force.
"Bob awoke so many people to the ideas of Garvey and Rasta. He built the bridge within the Pan-African community without excluding people of other races.
"It is huge that he struck that balance with black empowerment and at the same time got out that message of unity with everyone. We all tuned into that idea of higher self and empathy for others. For me, reggae is personal."
What is revolutionary about reggae as well is not just its global reach but its impact on the former colonising power, Great Britian.
Jamaica's honoured folklorist Louise Bennett said it best - 'Colonisation in Reverse' she called her poem about West Indian immigrants' impact on the United Kingdom in the Post World War Two years.
Reggae, the loudest expression of Jamaican culture, has burrowed deep into Britain's cultural space and psyche.
"I was one of a large generation that was shaped by Jamaican culture," says Goldman, who is of Jewish ancestry, and was born and raised in England.
"It was the culture that did the work. People in the UK were indoctrinated and changed by Jamaican culture without ever getting to the island. It was a kind of cultural colonisation that happened after colonisation," she observed.
"I wonder if Jamaica realises how phenomenally influential it has been on English culture?" the reggae lover opined.
"In dance music, rave music, warehouse music. They would never have happened if not for first-wave, post-war Jamaican immigrants bringing with them their insistence on having a good time in a rather drab post-war England. Reggae has seeded so many other forms - punk, rap, hip hop, Spanish music - reggaeton."