“One Love” on the Nile: Bob Marley’s Influence on Egypt
By: Kwame J.T. Ismail, Int’l correspondent
Bob Marley is arguably the reason that the world at large is familiar with all things Jamaican. From his locs to his patois, to his wardrobe and music, his impact has truly been felt all over the globe. On a recent trip to Luxor, Egypt, I was reminded that Bob Marley’s legacy lives. As I arrived in Luxor from Cairo via the sleeper train, I was greeted on the platform by a taxi driver eagerly waiting for tourists. Upper Egypt, as the southern part of the country is known due to the direction of the flow of the Nile, has been decimated since the global recession and the 2011 revolution. Western media reports since 2011 have labeled Egypt as a country of unrest, which has directly led to a sharp decline in tourism. The Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, Hatshepsut’s Temple, and about a dozen of Egypt’s tourism destinations are located in Upper Egypt between Luxor and Aswan. Luxor and Aswan virtually depend on tourism to survive.
So, as I disembarked from the train, the taxi driver greets me with, “One love brother.” My first reaction was confusion and irritation. I was exhausted from the journey, as the sleeper train bed was not the most comfortable for my 6 foot 2 inch frame and I just wanted to get to my hotel bed with as little complications as possible. However, his words were a completely uncommon vernacular from any other I had been by greeted during my preliminary three day stint in Cairo. He tried to take the bags of my travelling companion and I, but we refused, for fear he was leading us to the land of tourist traps and hustles. As I walked out of the station I noticed a curious sign that read: “This way to the Bob Marley Hotel.”
For the rest of my stay in Luxor, I would be greeted by horse carriage operators, shop owners, pedestrians, and overzealous teenagers with, “Hey Bob Marley,” “Rasta never die,” “One love brother,” and the occasion Bob Marley lyrical serenade. I then had to ask my tour guide, “Did Bob Marley ever visit Luxor?” His answer was, “no.” He then explained to me the economic situation of Egypt post revolution, people’s resentment towards the Muslim Brotherhood, and the current administration. People in Luxor liked deposed President Hosni Mubarak. During Mubarak’s 30 year presidency, the tourism industry thrived, engulfing 90% of the economy of Luxor and attracting tourists from all over the globe.
After images of the Egyptian revolution were plastered across western media outlets, the country was labeled as unsafe. Now in the aftermath, Upper Egypt continues to suffer. Children roam the streets selling small goods like toilet tissue to earn money for food. The physical infrastructure of Luxor has suffered as well. The horse carriages are sparsely used by residents. “Before 2008, the horse carriages were only used by tourists. That is because there were so many tourists that walking around Luxor was time consuming for the tourists. There used to be so many people in Luxor, especially along the Corniche. Now, people struggle to entice customers. Even the ferry boats that used to run up and down the Nile have been left parked. So many people are without jobs in Luxor” as expressed by Muhammad Khalil. Khalil grew up in Luxor and his family still lives near Karnak Temple. The economic situation has become so dire that he himself has moved to Qatar to make enough money to support his wife and three children.
This desperate economic situation has been a catalyst for the rise of the popularity of Marley’s music in Luxor. Marley’s music serves as anthems for the down trotted, the impoverished, and the revolutionaries looking for a change to their current physical and spiritual situation. His music echoes the theme of returning to Babylon. That return to Babylon is what the people are waiting for. They see Marley’s music as a direct reference to Luxor. There is even the Bob Marley Hotel (Hostel) near the train station that receives positive ratings on Trip Advisor. In the bars around Luxor, you will find Egyptian and Jamaican flags paying homage to Marley.
The city of Luxor will return to Babylon once people realize that Egypt is a stable nation. As a tourist, I felt secure. Just as people flock to Beijing to see the Great Wall, the Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple, and the other Luxor historical sites will see an uptake in tourism once more. I may have been annoyed with the response to my hair, but after conversing with the locals, it became evident that it was less about pandering to tourists and more about establishing a genuine connection to their legendary idol.