“Buffalo Soldier”: the song came to mind while reading Marlon James’s “A Brief History of Seven Killings” this month. As I progressed through the book, every time I put it down (or switched off my Kindle, or exited the Kindle App on a computer) it was “Buffalo Soldier” that went through my mind. I was prompted to dig out my old CD of Culture’s “Two Sevens Clash” and enjoyed hearing it again after many years, but it hasn’t displaced Bob Marley’s posthumous hit from my brain in the last two weeks.
The book deals with events surrounding “The Singer” (Bob Marley, though he is never named in the book). In the last 100 pages (of 686) the song is first anticipated, and then referenced. By then it was already firmly planted in my ears, somehow. There is a reference to Buffalo New York further back (page 286). Maybe that’s what did it.
The song is anticipated in one of the chapters “written” by the ghost of Sir Arthur George Jennings, dealing with The Singer’s death (page 599-600):
But the singer is sly. In time people will see that he prophesied over the very thing, singing of the false honour before it was even bestowed. Before the sickness took him. I hear him sing in his sleep, about Negro soldiers in America. Black American soldiers … under the command of the paleface to butcher Comanche, Kiowa, Sioux, Cheyenne, Ute, and Apache. Fourteen black men in dirty boots take the Medal of Honour for killing a people and an idea. The Indians called them Buffalo Soldiers.
And then on page 669 Josey Wales refers to it:
The Singer. That song that came out after him dead. “Buffalo Soldier.” It make me think.
Until I sat down to write this piece I hadn’t heard the song for months. It was in my head, which is where earworms live. And like January’s earworm, and unlike February’s earworm, it wasn’t the whole song, line by line. It was just part of it, the chorus part, over and over again. I didn’t get as far as lines like “When I analyse the stench / to me it makes a lot of sense”, it was “Buffalo Soldier / Dreadlock Rasta / Stolen from Africa / Brought to America”, over and over again. You’ll find the whole song here.