It may have been snowing outside last night, but the more than 300 people inside the Kilimanjaro Club seemed oblivious to the weather. They had been transported to Jamaica via videotapes of Bob Marley, the late reggae superstar from that country.
The tapes were part of a tribute marking the 38th anniversary of his birth. "I felt the occasion could not go unnoticed," said Dera Tompkins, a friend of Marley's and the primary organizer of the event. The evening was free, in keeping with the philosophy the musician expressed in one of the tapes. "This music comes from the masses of the people," said Marley, who died of cancer in May 1981 at age 36. All of the tapes were donated, as was everything else for the affair, including the sound system, all the performances and the use of the club. "All of Africa and America were well represented in this effort," said Tompkins, pointing out that the souvenir program had been designed by an American, printed by an Ethiopian and was being displayed in a club owned by an African.
"Bob didn't get to complete his job and people like me and Black Sheep a reggae group have to carry on the culture," said Tompkins.
The tribute began with performances by Niyabinghi Drummers and Allalake', a female trio that sang Marley compositions. Oral tributes to Marley were delivered by Damu Smith, an American; Babatundi Olatunji, a master Nigerian drummer who was one of the first people to bring African drumming to this country; and Satta Blue from Jamaica, who said, "We are here to pay tribute to Bob Marley. He appealed to those that are disheartened. We say to you, Bob, 'We love you. Thank you very much.' " All three were upstaged by six-year-old Shareece Norris, who was called on for an impromptu reading of a poem she had written. It began, "Bob Marley is gone, but not forgotten . . . He told us to stand up for our rights."
Some of last night's crowd sang along with the Marley tapes that were interspersed throughout the program, with many jumping out of their seats and dancing in the aisles. At least half of the crowd wore African garb. Many also wore their hair in the dreadlock style of the Rastafarians, to which Marley belonged. The club had been decorated with Marley posters, balloons and streamers in red, yellow and gold.
South African Terry Mphahlele, who reports on African affairs for WHUR-FM, began her tribute by alluding to the weather: She spoke of Marley as "the only man who could bring people out on a night such as this."
"When it rains in Africa on the day some sort of ceremony is to be held," said one member of the audience, Amina Dickerson, "it's considered a blessing from God, and this was our winter blessing--snow."