You’ll notice here this series has changed its title half way through, from 12 ‘Rules’ to ‘Lessons From Life’. Seems more appropriate.
Many years ago, when I was still at school, we were all required to give a talk about a hobby or something that we enjoyed doing. Despite being a hormonal teenager, I side-stepped some rather more compelling interests and opted instead to share my passion for reggae music.
Reggae had reached the UK from Jamaica. Immigrants from the West Indies in the early 60s brought their music with them: ska originally, evolving into reggae over the course of the decade. When I first heard it in the late ‘60s, it had the familiar rhythm with an emphasis on the off beat that Bob Marley would later introduce to the wider world. I didn’t know that’s what it was doing then, of course, nor was it in any way familiar to me, a white middle-class boy in the north of England. I knew instantly on hearing the opening bars of whichever track I encountered first (I wish I could remember more clearly which it was; either Jimmy Cliff’s Wonderful World, Beautiful People or Harry J’s Liquidator) that I loved it. I still do, whichever it was.
So to my school talk. I gave some background to the genre and played snippets of different songs on my trusty cassette player, but I did it so apologetically, as if half embarrassed by my love for the music. Reggae wasn’t respectable back then, being seen by cooler kids (and they were all cooler than me) as a medium for throwaway novelty songs. I felt too, although I certainly wouldn’t have put it this way back then, that I was misappropriating another culture’s heritage. I felt a fraud, not being Jamaican myself. All of which is why, after a few minutes, the teacher interrupted my presentation. ‘Never,’ he said, ‘apologise for something you love.’
While I didn’t then go on to complete my talk with unabashed enthusiasm, I gave a lot of thought to this trendy chap’s wise words (I can’t, alas, remember his name; he wasn’t one of our regular teachers) and eventually incorporated it into my emerging, rather fuzzy philosophy of life. I determine I will never again apologise for anything that means something to me, regardless of what others might think.
Flash forward 50 years. I write a short piece about my abiding love for reggae music for my writers’ group. Another member happens to be involved in arranging a Black History Month celebration event and is having trouble finding contributors (there aren’t a lot of black people in this part of northern England.) Consequently, she asks me to talk about reggae and play a little of the music, via Bluetooth, at the event. While on the night I feel and admit to being an utter fraud – particularly when quite a few ethnic folk turn up – this time I make no apologies.