I’ve been a huge Bob Marley fan for quite a while, which is why I made the protagonist of my novel-in-progress INDIAN SAM an even bigger Marley fan. The novel is set in the Southwest, and while I was doing some research a couple of years ago, I discovered a musical convergence I hadn’t expected to find.
It turns out that the Hopi Indians embraced Bob Marley back in the 1970s and are still huge reggae fans.
They sing about oppression, and we feel that here. And they sing about peace and unity in the world, which is what our religion teaches us. But it’s the beat, too. It has the same feel as our tribal drumming.
Jennifer Joseph, Hopi painter and graphic artist
Marley reportedly wanted to visit the Hopi reservation in Arizona, but he died before he had the chance to do it. Freddie McGregor, unofficially the “Ambassador of Reggae,” was the first reggae musician to play a gig on the reservation. He returned to perform there at least five times.
In the 20 years preceding 2003, there were nearly 60 reggae concerts on the reservation featuring groups such as Black Uhuru, Third World, Burning Spear, and Steel Pulse.
Eventually a homegrown reggae artist emerged in the form of Hopi/Diné singer Casper Loma-Da-Wa, who listened to reggae on the radio while helping his grandfather in their cornfields when he was growing up. He has released several CDs, including Honor the People, which has a lot of songs I really like, including Ideal, Last Train (to Hopiland), Love Life, and this one, Brother Leonard (Set Him Free) dedicated to Leonard Peltier.
In this video produced by the Culture Collective, Casper Loma-Da-Wa talks about his music:
The Hopi reservation is just about as far out of the way as you can get, so it would have been likelier for the Hopi to have missed the emergence of reggae music altogether. That reggae not only made it onto the reservation, but connected in such a deep and profound way with the Hopi audience who received it is pretty amazing. I think Bob Marley would be gratified to know how much impact his music continues to have in some of the most unexpected places.
- Bob Marley: A Messianic State of Mind (ninepaths.com)