May 3, 2012

Bob Marley and my dreadlocks experience

Bob Marley literally changed my life. His music and message had a profound effect on my personality and the way I see the world and experience life. I feel it saved me from utter sadness and a bleak life.

As I grew up I developed a very introvert, reserved, and shy personality. I had rejected happiness, I had rejected love, I had rejected my dreams, I had rejected even music. The way I felt about life and about myself stayed engraved forever in a poem I wrote when I was seventeen or eighteen years old. I have translated it below into English:

Not even a murmur
nor my voice says
The crying is not heard under the morning light
The smiles are not seen under the tardy twilight
The infinite silence of the soul, where a worthless treasure rest comfortably

Everything is silent
It seems as if the true sense of living is hidden
And we rest in a bed of lairs
It is the inaudible sound of this motionless body
It is the inaudible sound of this rational soul
It is the vivid meaning of death

The catastrophe of dreams
Silent soul

The poem meant that I was trapped in my body, unable to express myself to the fullest of what I am. If I was trapped within myself, failure in all senses of the word was guaranteed and thus there was no difference dead or alive.

During those days the only type of music I would listen was classical, music from the great composers, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, List, Chopin, Dvorak, so on and so on. Nothing else I liked to hear, I did not like Colombian traditional rhythms nor Latin American music in general. As a teenager I did try to explore other genres, actually my cousin used to hear trance, I was very curious about it and borrowed a CD from him. Once my aunt realized I was hearing trance she lectured me angrily, telling me how my soul would burn eternally in the lowest pits of hell if I listened to trance. A few years later, a good friend of mine, a friend that have been a very good influence throughout my life, recorded for me on tape Bob Marley's most popular album: Legend (1994), a compilation of his most popular songs. This was perhaps the beginning of my transformation. I was also influenced by the group of people I was hanging out at the time, many of them listened to Bob Marley all the time.

I felt identified with his music. Bob Marley understood the pain and sorrow we bear on our hearts, but he didn't linger in that pain eternally. He rose up, he fought, he was not defeated, he was victorious. For example, in the song Concrete Jungle from the album Catch a Fire (1973) he says:

No sun will shine in my day today
The high yellow moon won't come out to play
Darkness has covered my light
And has changed my day into night
Now where is this love to be found, won't someone tell me?
'Cause life, sweet life, must be somewhere to be found
Instead of a concrete jungle where the livin' is hardest
Concrete jungle, oh man, you've got to do your best

No chains around my feet, but I'm not free
I know I am bound here in captivity
And I've never known what happiness is and I've never known what sweet caress is
Still, I be always laughing like a clown
Won't someone help me?
'Cause, sweet life, I've got to pick myself from off the ground

Say for example, from the album Survival (1979) and the song of the same name:

We're the survivors, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
Thrown in the fire, but-a never get burn
So I Idren, I-sistren,
The preaching and talkin' is done;
We've gotta live up, wo now, wo now!

As I started listening more and more of his music, a seed was planted in my soul, a wish to change. Yes, I was far from the person I wanted to be. Yes, I was unhappy with myself and my situation, but life is a fight, I had to get up, I had to stand up, I could not give up the fight.

When I was about twenty or twenty-one years old I attempted for the very first time to get dreadlocks on my hear, but I was unsuccessful. My technique “back-combing” was not very efficient and after a few weeks my hair would go back to normal. I tried a second time right before I traveled to Sweden but unsuccessfuly. In Sweden, this was the beginning of the year 2005, I tried once more but they were still not strong enough. 

It was early March, the winter was at is coldest, way below zero. I had decided to go on a trip with exchange students up north, across the polar circle to see the northern lights, the aurora borealis. All the students got together at Norlands Nation (one of the student associations in Uppsala) to take the tour bus up north. All of a sudden my eyes caught sight of this tall Italian chick with beautiful long blond dreadlocks! I thought she was extremely cool, but didn't dare to talk to her at all. I was still too shy to approach her. Like Mr. Marley said: and what is to be must be, it was for me to befriend her. On one hand, I did not know any of the exchange students and was too shy to integrate, on the other hand the dreadlocks chick was too socially awkward, so eventually we started hanging out together. She knew a great technique to make dreadlocks, it was using a crochet needle and with it you would pretty much knit and knot until the lock was strong and secured. She promised to do dreadlocks on me and once we were back to Uppsala I visited her every night from eight to ten to get my dreads done. It took about too weeks but finally they were completed. At the beginning they were just a couple of inches long, after five years they reached below my waist.

Tanai with baby dreadlocks, about six months old

Having dreadlocks was an amazing journey. Contrary to expectations people loved them, everywhere I went my dreads were the object of positive comments, men and women would come to me just to say “nice hair”, “cool hair”, “I love your dreads”. Once on a bus, an old lady, perhaps around 70 years old sat down by my side and told me that she had been to a Bob Marley concert in Stockholm, the year 1980. She said it had been an amazing concert, I believed her. I never imagined how attractive would be for some women my dreadlocks, more than you would bet... they were like fishing rods, every single one of my 37 dreadlocks. Once I was at the nightclub from Snerikes Nation (another of the student associations from Uppsala), I was leaning my back against the wall close to the bar, waiting for my friend who was buying some beers. All of a sudden three gorgeous Swedish girls stood in front of me and started rapping some Swedish hip-hop song, all giggly and excited. Those are just a couple anecdotes...

Perhaps the only negative side is the stereotype that every person with dreadlocks smokes marihuana. Some times people, mostly teenagers, would come to me asking if I had marihuana or if I knew were to buy. For your information, I never have smoked marihuana, as a matter of fact, I have never smoked anything at all.

Then one day I realized that things had definitively changed for the better. I was stronger, my self-esteem was healthier, I was experiencing a confidence I had never known before. I was enjoying my life, I loved the person I had become. So after almost five years of being a rastaman I decided it was time to close that chapter and start a new one, and so I went to a saloon and got them cut.

 Bye bye dreadlocks (R.I.P. 2009)


  1. Jah bless! Love your dreads. Oh why did you cut it? And by the way what happened to the dreadlock chick? Peace!

    1. Haha, I cut them because I felt it was time for a change. ;) The dreadlock chick? We're still good friends!