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Editor’s Note: Tribe without a flag

In high school I had a friend, two years older than me, who had Judah’s Lion tattooed on his arm. In D.C. that meant Bad Brains and to me it was cooler than cool. Never mind he was a star soccer player, had a hot girlfriend, and drove a brand new Mazda MX-6. I was too square to actually get to a Bad Brains show or to understand the world they lived in. My D.C. was an international city of politicians and bureaucrats surrounded by a black reality I could not touch wrapped in class-stratified suburbs I mostly avoided. But Judah’s Lion spoke to me. I wouldn’t understand anything about rasta until much later in my life, but the idea that there was a flag that signified the continuity between Judeo-Christian archetypes of wisdom and power and black music from the Caribbean to Africa was an idea I could get down with. It was like a beacon light shining a circle on on my quiet, lonely island, telling me I could be something other than a banker or a lawyer or a doctor or even a poet. I could be a soul rebel. A duppy fuckin’ conqueror.

I have a memory of a night in Chicago in 2006 when Bennie Pete, bandleader of the Hot 8 Brass Band, explained to me what the second line meant to him when he was growing up in New Orleans. He compared it to a city bus operating in the spiritual dimension, like wherever you were, no matter how stuck you felt, when you heard that second line coming, you knew you could hop on and it would take you somewhere better. Bennie Pete in the hot, hot hood in NOLA and me in the cold-hearted, tree-shaded cityburbs of the Nation’s Capital; both of us looking for a way out, or maybe more accurately, a way in.

This week’s Rootfire is about the power of the message in the music. Semaj Surreal tells a story about a recording session in Accra, Ghana when he couldn’t sing because the words were wrong.’s Jess Yonover makes a special guest appearance to remind us of the power of Jacob Hemphill’s language of universal humanity, and we’ll also debut a new cut from Through The Roots featuring Eric Rachmany’s sun-drenched vocalizations of self-fulfilment.

A flag is a symbol of something worth fighting for and in our war-weary world it is a ragged representative of idealism. The music asks us what we stand for, what we stand against, and what kind of drum beat we’re marching to.


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A former journalist who’s felt the philosophical and musical impact that Bob Marley and Jamaican reggae have made on world culture, Giles is in charge of keeping the conversation moving and helping the people who use Rootfire to keep it on time.

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