Dennis and Bob. Bob and Dennis. Two of Jamaican music’s finest and most beloved artistes. Legends both. Bob, the songwriter, international star and soul rebel supreme; Dennis, the voice, the Crown Prince, your favourite reggae singer’s favourite singer. I can’t imagine my life without them. And neither should you. And it’s February. And Dennis was born in February. And so was Bob….
On my way home. Or back to Toronto. Whichever.
Yesterday, while celebrating Bob Marley’s birthday, I argued the merits of ‘Is This Love’, one of Marley’s more well known but I feel under appreciated songs. Well, it seems I’m not the only one who really values the song. In the past few months singers extraordinaire Bilal, Corinne Bailey Rae and up and coming songstress Mara Hruby have each put their own spins on the tune.
Personally, I feel that Bilal’s interpretation is the most unique, perhaps re-imagining the song in the most interesting fashion, while young Mara Hruby’s version makes me want to find a lady and step out on the dance floor. Corinne Bailey Rae’s? It makes me want to cuddle up with that same lady by the fire after our dance. Take a listen to the three versions. What do you think?
I’m on record saying I really dig love songs. If you’re here, or if you know me you also know I love reggae. Stands to reason that I dig love songs “inna reggae style”. And I’ve already mentioned my appreciation for Bob Marley’s naturalistic approach to writing love songs, the manner in which he captures the complex alchemy of human emotions and motivations in simple and easy to understand terms. ‘Is This Love’, from 1978s Kaya (and featured on the record-breaking Legend Anthology) is perhaps the clearest embodiment of this approach.
Now, many Marley fans and enthusiasts, especially the female ones, rave about Exodus’ ‘Waiting In Vain’, and rightly so. And though that song garners the plaudits and the accolades, I think ‘Is This Love’ whose clear, plain and plaintive expressions of love never fail, is a flat-out better tune. The lyrics have everything. Love? Devotion? Sacrifice? Faith (religious and otherwise)? What more can a person express to their prospective lover?
In this tune Marley articulates a scenario, assumes a posture familiar within popular music and definitely within the confines of reggae mythology, that of the loving pauper, the man of modest means who may lack financial resources but not love.
For comparison, check the lyrics to Gregory Isaacs’ take on ‘Loving Pauper’:
“I’m not in a position to maintain you,
the way that you’re accustomed to,
Can’t take you out to fancy places,
Like other fellows that I know can do…
…Financially, I’m a pauper,
but when it comes to lovin I’m alright.
Or the Techniques’ version of ‘Queen Majesty’, a reggae classic, itself an interpretation of the Impression’s ‘Minstrel and Queen’:
“Queen majesty, may I speak with thee,
So much I have longed , I’ve longed to speak to you alone,
Though I agree, I’m not of your society,
I’m not a king just a minstrel yeah,”
All three songs are classics and are liable to get couples on the dance floor or to make couples out of strangers. But a spiritual component, a marriage of the secular and sacred separates ‘Is This Love’ from the others.
We’ll be together with a roof right over our heads;
We’ll share the shelter of my single bed;
We’ll share the same room, yeah! – for Jah provide the bread
With the first two lines Marley economically expresses his desire to protect his lover, to share with his lover even though he has limited means. Marley then adds “for Jah provide the bread”, making it clear that what he lacks in a material or financial sense can be overcome by the lovers’ combination of faith and trust in each other and faith and trust in the creator. And is there a more romantic image than a couple sharing a single bed, limbs intertwined like roots?
Marley then caps it off by stating:
I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I – I’m willing and able,
So I throw my cards on your table!
Simply magic. Simple magic.
Oh, and Happy Birthday Bob.