Two things from television today made me think. First, in the News, Gerry McGeough was convicted of attempting to kill a postman. Not that he had a homicidal hatred of postmen. For him, Samuel Brush was simply “the enemy”, based on a twisted concept of culture and nationality that made McGeough think that he was unfranchised in his own land and forced to resort to violence. As for Brush, he joined the part-time military to protect what he thought of as “his community”.
The other televisual delight was a documentary of Toots and the Maytals, or more accurately, about Toots himself, Frederick Hibbert. Toots was one of the pioneers of reggae who went on to become an international star. I admit to not knowing much about the origins of Jamaican popular music, but it’s clear to me that Toots, Marley and their contemporaries are the foundation of much of today’s pop music.
Obviously such luminaries as Eric Clapron, Bonnie Riatt, Willie Nelson and Keith Richards agree. They all collaborated with Toots on a grammy-award-winning album ‘True Love’ in 2005, covering his back catalogue.
Watching the programme, I felt strongly “this is my culture”. Perhaps an explanation is required. I am not Jamaican. I have no recent African heritage. But music is my life. Popular music, rock’n’roll. If I trace my culture, my heritage, it isn’t imaginary Irish High Kings; it’s Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, Robert Johnson, and back, somehow, to Africa. That’s the source, but there are major tributaries: Bach and Vivaldi, klezmer, madrigals, gamelan, Gilbert & Sullivan, and a million other things.
And Reggae. I feel it strongly: these are my people too.
Clearly, that’s ridiculous. But it’s not more ridiculous than any concept of “Irishness”. “Nationality” is a sham, a scam, promoted by politicians who have nothing but division to offer. Music does not stop at borders, nor does any aspect of culture. They play bagpipes in Lancashire. Any Irish speaker can completely understand Scots Gaelic. Ireland is a major hub of English literature.
I advocate an inclusive culture. Let us choose the broadest possible circle of our heritage. And let us never desire to kill those who disagree.