Amazing isn’t it? Amid the 385 or so Bob Marley compilations which have rolled out in the 25 years since his death, another one seems to habitually eke its way out with some new spin on the man.
Believe it or not, Africa Unite is the first time Marley’s singles have been collated onto one disc. Curiously, Island are also shifting out six of the singles featured on here as re-releases over the coming weeks. It is all held under the rather vague banner of the Bob Marley Foundation’s Africa Unite concert which took place in Ethiopia last February to commemorate what would have been Marley’s 60th birthday.
It’s all very wonderful for collectors, but on the face of things, it is wearisome not to view Africa Unite with a frown of scepticism, or cynicism for that matter.
On listening to you never feel any honest sense that this is an album befitting of the title. This is partly due to the fact that most of Marley’s singles weren’t the songs about Africa, although his music did inspire a unity and appreciate for black music.
Much of Marley’s music contained articulate social observations, championing the ideals of brotherhood and equality. Marley was notoriously conscientious, throughout his lifetime, of the strife and inequality which dogged Africa and the world’s peoples. It was the foundation for their most political album, 1979’s Survival.
While the likes of Concrete Jungle and Exodus touch on the issue of existence, life and hope, Africa isn’t explicitly a theme on the record except for Survival’s one contribution, Africa Unite, which is subject to a nondescript “remix” from the Black Eyed Peas‘ will.i.am.
The one real eyebrow raiser is the previously unreleased Slogans. It was recorded in a Miami bedroom in 1979 before being stored along with many of Marley’s unreleased demos. It was restored by Marley’s sons Ziggy and Stephen, who overdubbed the acoustic original and secured the services from none other than Eric Clapton for the guitar parts. Clapton’s accompanying solos are just right, not too prominent and complimenting the reggae melodies well, crafting a gem of a song.
While it would be unfair to dismiss Africa Unite outright as yet another crude money spinning Marley gimmick, it is notable how plain and transparent a product it is. If Bob Marley were around now he’d have balked at the prospect of lumping together his most popular songs and sticking the Africa Unite sale sticker on the front. It isn’t progress; it’s patronising, both to the legend and to the issue.