Nicholas Riviera A retrospective
Index Acknowledgements______________________________________ Page 3
Beyond all expectations__________________________________ Page 4
Initiation_______________________________________________ Page 4
Primary School _________________________________________ Page 5
Involvement ____________________________________________ Page 6
What changed it all ______________________________________ Page 6
Inspiration _____________________________________________ Page 7 Meeting Bob ___________________________________________ Page 8
Becoming a Wailer ______________________________________ Page 9
The last goodbye ________________________________________ Page 9
Back to my roots ________________________________________ Page10
Sources _______________________________________________ Page 11
Acknowledgements I would like to start by thanking to those people that were significant for my life and career. The first person I want to thank is the one that made this book possible. It would not have been possible if it were not for my grandfather, the man who devoted his time to teach me about music and life. He led me to an understanding of music and life that is still a key factor in my days. I would also like to mention my parents that have played a very important role; they have always encouraged me to fulfill my goals, even though they wanted something else for me. My friend Andy Warhol Jr. has also influenced me and thanks to him I got to know a new world that I felt in love with. There is a special mention to Robert Nesta Marley, Bob, for letting me be a part of his band and his life. He inspired me greatly during the time we spent together and thanks to him I was able to sort some personal conflicts I used to have.
Beyond all expectations
When I went to Jamaica in 1978 I did not know what to expect, I knew he was a kind, easy-going man willing to share a moment of his time with everybody. To my surprise, our informal meeting in the street turned into an audition that changed my whole life. Meeting Bob was a transcendent event itself, but being chosen by him was the greatest moment of all. Iâ€™ve been an admirer of his work since I was young; when I first listened to his songs, I immediately felt influenced by his spirit and the message he was trying to convey. A message concerned with unity, freedom and the fight for human rights.
Initiation I was born on May 20, 1950 under the name of Nicholas Riviera, my mother was a teacher at the Scranton high school in Pennsylvania and my father worked for a paper company all his life. My parents wanted me to become a doctor like my older brother Bill, who is now working in pharmacology for a big company in New York, but my love for music and to the man I have admired the most was stronger. It was an average family with two sons, but having a black grandfather was somehow different in the United States at that time. Acha NicolĂĄs
Dauntay Manilow was my grandfather’s name, he was born in Cape Town in 1894 and emigrated to North America right before the apartheid. I used to spend my after-school time sitting in the piano with him; we had countless afternoons playing jazz music together. It was because of him that I felt in love with music and decided to become a musician. He gave me a double bass for my 4th birthday, soon after that, we started a jazz trio together with a friend of his, just for the sake of playing. He was teaching me how to play that enormous instrument, which required a chair for me to step on it if I wanted to reach the lower pitch notes, nevertheless I loved it.
Primary School Although I was not very fond of school matters, I used to be a good student. I was not the teacher’s favourite but I made my way through it. When I finished primary school we had a festival for our promotion and I wanted to play there.
I knew my grandfather had stopped playing a few years earlier but, although I insisted, he did not want to tell me why. I was able to persuade him into performing at the festival, now I was high enough for my double bass and I just wanted to show off a bit. We called Morgan Wood, who used to play with us when I was younger and the band was ready. The show was a success, they all loved our trio. Morgan even met one of my teachers and invited her out after the festival.
Involvement When I finished secondary school and a new world was opened to me, I got to know Bob Marley’s music. It was funny because I got to Bob through Andy Warhol Jr. He was a shy kid that I met when we were five. He used to spend his time immersed in his drawings that were a sort of collage portraits with frames, contrasting colours and ink. Later, his father would become a famous pop artist using that same technique. My friendship with Warhol Jr. was quite enriching, he was into every political argue or mobilization with very solid ideas and a strong conviction. He was also an adherent to the Rastafari movement and even though I was in love with jazz music, we played on a reggae band for some time and I got involved with the movement too.
What changed it all I spent some years playing in different jazz bands, but feeling uncomfortable with what I was doing, there was something I did not know yet and I had to find it out. One morning I went to my grandfather’s house, I took my bass with me and invited him to play some of his favourits. That was something I knew he couldn’t resist. Thinking I could take a profit out of his good mood I decided to ask him again why he had stopped playing and finally I got my answer. He told me a story that was the breaking point in my life. I will retell it whit his own words. It was another night at the “holy groove jazz club” in Chicago. We were playing there regularly for a few months every Tuesday and Sunday nights. One Sunday night we were playing Cool breeze, one of Dizzie Gillespie’s most popular songs and the audience was really enjoying our performance, except for two white guys hanging around in the bar, annoying everybody. They were both drunk and eager to cause trouble. I was immersed in my solo when I heard a woman screaming, I looked around and saw one of these guys holding a beer bottle on his hand, he looked at me right in the eyes and I was able to see what his intention was. Suddenly, he threw the bottle to my head, while at the same time he approached to the stage shouting “you fucking nigger, I will take your ass out of here”. My head was already bleeding but he thought I could use a few more punches. I woke up in the hospital with three broken ribs, the head bandaged and an inscription made with a sharpened object in my chest that said; “die nigger”. After that episode I decided I was not going to play in front of an audience again. Acha Nicolás
When I listened to Bob Marley’s song War, which is based on the speech of Haile Selassie I Emperor of Ethiopia to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963, I thought of my grandfather and his story. The song says: That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; that until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes (...) everywhere is war. This song made me think of my own roots, my family, my grandfather’s years in Africa and what black people were living in every part of the world.
It was a hard time for African people in the 70’s the Apartheid was at its higher point. It was a system of racial segregation enforced by the National Party governments of South Africa between 1948 and 1994, After the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, who was the most significant black leader in South Africa, black people were feeling impotent, with low self-esteem, suffering the lost and the exclusion of their society and political system. It was a time in which a positive message would not hurt anyone, and there appeared Bob Marley and The Wailers. He became an activist for human rights, striving for black people’s freedom and trying to make them think that a positive outcome was possible.
I arrived to Jamaica on April 1978, Bob was living in Trenchtown, the poorest district on the island. I knew he had a rehearsal studio called Tuff Gong and that’s where I went to. I just wanted to meet him, but the result was absolutely unexpected. We were having an informal chat outside the studio when he invited me in. The rest of the band started to come but Aston Barret did not, bob told me that they had fall out some days before and Aston had quitted the band. It was something unbelievable being in the studio with bob Marley’s band and no bassist. I couldn’t resist telling him that I was a bass player; he thought I was joking and immediately gave me a bass asking me to join them.
Becoming a Wailer Our meeting became an audition and, to my great surprise, they offered me to be a part of the band for the next tour in Europe. Something I could have never refused to do. This is how I became a Wailer. We went on tour for the next six months around Europe. Playing in front of thousands of people in the biggest cities we were able to notice that our message was being embraced in every country. Lots of human rights’ organiz ations were support ing us and asking our participation all around the world.
The last good bye Although he would deny it, we knew that bob’s health was very bad. He insisted on continuing with the tour but one night when we were at a hotel in Praga bob fainted and he had to be hospitalized. The tour cancelled and we all went to our homes, except for bob, who was taken to a hospital in Miami, U.S.A. he died on the morning of May 21, 1981.
Back to my roots I returned home and went directly to see my grandfather, who knew I was in the city and was waiting for me, we had a long chat about music, our careers and why I stopped playing jazz. He told me how glad he was that I had been involved in a movement for black peopleâ€™s rights. I saw it in his eyes, in a way he was telling how proud of me he was for having the strength that he had not. I told him that he was my inspiration and if I was not his grandson I would be probably being knocked out at a bar
I do not know why but after I came home and had that conversation with my grandfather, I realized I started enjoying playing jazz music again. I have formed a band and we are playing regularly every Tuesday and Sunday at a jazz club in Chicago. Happily, there are almost no more racists and we can play without being hit just because of our colour.
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